August 1st, 2012

Public Naming Rights — And Wrongs

By Ed Fouhy

It’s come to this: The MBTA wants to sell naming rights to its most visible stations. The transit agency is always cash-starved for reasons we’ll go into another day, so selling the names of 11 stops including iconic stations such as Park Street, Downtown Crossing and South Station would, we’re told, fund improved maintenance and more Wi-Fi in rail cars.

Here’s another opinion. Changing the names of those stations, indeed selling marketing rights to public property — T stops are public property— is a lousy idea. Sure, we’ve seen baseball stadiums like Chicago’s venerated Comiskey Field changed to U.S. Cellular Field, and once the Houston Astros thought it would be a good idea to change the name of their stadium to Enron Field. That didn’t work out very well.

But now comes this new way for marketers to get the names of their companies in front of consumers. Maybe it’s just me, but somehow it doesn’t feel right to give visitors directions like “Going to the airport? Hop on the Green Line at the Apple MacBook station in the Back Bay, change to the Blue Line at the Wal-Mart station and get off in East Boston at the SpaghettiOs’s stop.” It’s bad enough that Dunkin’ Donuts advertisements encircle and disfigure the pillars that support Logan Airport’s swooping – and publicly funded— traffic ramps.

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