February 11th, 2001

The Next Stop Is Sponsored by . . .; Name Sales Mulled for Boston Subway

By Pamela Ferdinand
Washington Post

State transportation officials, looking for new revenue, are taking a cue from professional sports arenas and seeking corporate sponsors to purchase naming rights for subway stations here.

Sponsorship, which would allow businesses to plaster their names on and around stations in the nation’s oldest and fourth largest subway system, could raise as much as $ 20 million in the next five years, state officials said.

Private advertising in public spaces is on the upswing, with commercials showing up in a variety of venues.

One company sculpts mini-billboards in sand at a New Jersey beach. Others place advertisements in nightclub and restaurant restrooms. Advertisements roll on movie theater and automated teller machine screens. 

But Boston’s mass-transit corporate sponsorship plan is the first of its kind, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

It leaves state transit officials with visions of green revenue streams. But it has more than a few commuters—and at least one consumer advocate—seeing red.

“This is a hucksterism that degrades history and community in favor of crass commercialism,” Ralph Nader wrote recently to Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci (R), who supports the plan. “Once you start selling off the names of history, where will it end? When you rename the Harvard Square . . . stop for McDonald’s?”

Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Kevin J. Sullivan said the Boston transit system is not in trouble: Its annual budget totals about $ 1 billion and it has no debt.

But federal support for public transportation has declined, and transit fares, which were raised to $ 1 last year along metropolitan Boston routes, remain among the lowest in the nation.

More money is needed because the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system, became financially independent last year for the first time in its 104-year history.

“This is not a bailout,” Sullivan said. “This is to inoculate the [transportation authority] down the road against any larger increase that may be necessary in terms of rate restructuring.

“The fact is that it does not help to go back to the riders to put onerous rates on them, which will turn them away from public transportation and get them back into the automobiles that Mr. Nader finds so distasteful,” he said.

State officials will not accept sponsorships from alcohol or tobacco companies, Sullivan said. The state’s transportation department continues to fight a lawsuit brought by a pro-marijuana group seeking subway advertising rights.

The transportation authority intends for names to go to established companies, with the Green Line’s Lechmere station, named after a now-defunct company, serving as a reminder.

“If we are going to be pioneers on this, we have to get it right,” Sullivan said.

A subway station is not a sports stadium, however, and Massachusetts officials may be overly optimistic in their revenue projections for an arrangement that one marketer said has “virtually no value.”

Promotional opportunities are limited, hyphenated names can decrease the value of naming rights by 70 percent, and no one can guarantee corporate longevity or name stability, said Dean Bonham, chairman of the Denver-based Bonham Group Inc., a sports and entertainment marketing firm.

“Any company that writes a check for $ 20 million or even $ 5 million is writing a check either because they are either philanthropically inclined or mentally challenged,” Bonham said. “The public officials in Massachusetts shouldn’t expect to see a line of corporate executives around the block with checkbooks in their hip pockets.”

Commuters offered mixed opinions of the plan one recent Friday as they hustled through South End/Back Bay station, its facade draped with advertising banners for Macintosh computers.

One woman said the terminal would feel like entering another “walk-in commercial” in a city that lost the Boston Garden and gained the Fleet Center.

“It’s almost dehumanizing the history of Boston,” said Rebecca-Starr Price, 25.

Tom Magee, a longtime station vendor, suggested private sponsors could be a good thing, especially for a terminal with no heat. “They might decide to put some money in this building,” he said, his breath misting in the chilly air as he poured coffee for customers.

This is not the first time the state’s Department of Transportation has experimented with corporate dollars. The transportation authority accepted nearly $ 500,000 from Citizens Bank in exchange for having an ATM and its name added to the State Street station for four years.

Massachusetts Turnpike toll plazas carried the BankBoston name for three years for about the same amount.

More than 400 vendors have adopted two-mile highway portions in exchange for signs, and businesses can pay for their names to be printed on toll receipts.

Some private institutions already have naming rights at some subway stops for free, including Harvard University, the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts and Prudential Insurance, but they may have to pay in the future.

Existing station names will be printed in bold, before the names of sponsors, so riders will not be confused, officials said.

To Nader, who founded his nonprofit Commercial Alert to oppose excessive corporate marketing, linking the corporate names with the old station names just makes it worse.

“That puts a taint on it,” he said. “It’s creeping commercialism, and it destroys basic values.”

February 11th, 2001

The Next Stop Is Sponsored by . . .; Name Sales Mulled for Boston Subway

By Pamela Ferdinand
Washington Post

State transportation officials, looking for new revenue, are taking a cue from professional sports arenas and seeking corporate sponsors to purchase naming rights for subway stations here.

Sponsorship, which would allow businesses to plaster their names on and around stations in the nation’s oldest and fourth largest subway system, could raise as much as $ 20 million in the next five years, state officials said.

Private advertising in public spaces is on the upswing, with commercials showing up in a variety of venues.

One company sculpts mini-billboards in sand at a New Jersey beach. Others place advertisements in nightclub and restaurant restrooms. Advertisements roll on movie theater and automated teller machine screens. 

But Boston’s mass-transit corporate sponsorship plan is the first of its kind, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

It leaves state transit officials with visions of green revenue streams. But it has more than a few commuters—and at least one consumer advocate—seeing red.

“This is a hucksterism that degrades history and community in favor of crass commercialism,” Ralph Nader wrote recently to Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci (R), who supports the plan. “Once you start selling off the names of history, where will it end? When you rename the Harvard Square . . . stop for McDonald’s?”

Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Kevin J. Sullivan said the Boston transit system is not in trouble: Its annual budget totals about $ 1 billion and it has no debt.

But federal support for public transportation has declined, and transit fares, which were raised to $ 1 last year along metropolitan Boston routes, remain among the lowest in the nation.

More money is needed because the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system, became financially independent last year for the first time in its 104-year history.

“This is not a bailout,” Sullivan said. “This is to inoculate the [transportation authority] down the road against any larger increase that may be necessary in terms of rate restructuring.

“The fact is that it does not help to go back to the riders to put onerous rates on them, which will turn them away from public transportation and get them back into the automobiles that Mr. Nader finds so distasteful,” he said.

State officials will not accept sponsorships from alcohol or tobacco companies, Sullivan said. The state’s transportation department continues to fight a lawsuit brought by a pro-marijuana group seeking subway advertising rights.

The transportation authority intends for names to go to established companies, with the Green Line’s Lechmere station, named after a now-defunct company, serving as a reminder.

“If we are going to be pioneers on this, we have to get it right,” Sullivan said.

A subway station is not a sports stadium, however, and Massachusetts officials may be overly optimistic in their revenue projections for an arrangement that one marketer said has “virtually no value.”

Promotional opportunities are limited, hyphenated names can decrease the value of naming rights by 70 percent, and no one can guarantee corporate longevity or name stability, said Dean Bonham, chairman of the Denver-based Bonham Group Inc., a sports and entertainment marketing firm.

“Any company that writes a check for $ 20 million or even $ 5 million is writing a check either because they are either philanthropically inclined or mentally challenged,” Bonham said. “The public officials in Massachusetts shouldn’t expect to see a line of corporate executives around the block with checkbooks in their hip pockets.”

Commuters offered mixed opinions of the plan one recent Friday as they hustled through South End/Back Bay station, its facade draped with advertising banners for Macintosh computers.

One woman said the terminal would feel like entering another “walk-in commercial” in a city that lost the Boston Garden and gained the Fleet Center.

“It’s almost dehumanizing the history of Boston,” said Rebecca-Starr Price, 25.

Tom Magee, a longtime station vendor, suggested private sponsors could be a good thing, especially for a terminal with no heat. “They might decide to put some money in this building,” he said, his breath misting in the chilly air as he poured coffee for customers.

This is not the first time the state’s Department of Transportation has experimented with corporate dollars. The transportation authority accepted nearly $ 500,000 from Citizens Bank in exchange for having an ATM and its name added to the State Street station for four years.

Massachusetts Turnpike toll plazas carried the BankBoston name for three years for about the same amount.

More than 400 vendors have adopted two-mile highway portions in exchange for signs, and businesses can pay for their names to be printed on toll receipts.

Some private institutions already have naming rights at some subway stops for free, including Harvard University, the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts and Prudential Insurance, but they may have to pay in the future.

Existing station names will be printed in bold, before the names of sponsors, so riders will not be confused, officials said.

To Nader, who founded his nonprofit Commercial Alert to oppose excessive corporate marketing, linking the corporate names with the old station names just makes it worse.

“That puts a taint on it,” he said. “It’s creeping commercialism, and it destroys basic values.”

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