Chicago Seeks Corporate Sponsors For Public Transit

Imagine giving public transit directions to your urban home in the future. “Oh, yeah, you take the Target Red Line, transfer at Comcast Station to the Apple Gray Line headed Fox Sports Westbound, and finally get off at Taco Bell Station.” Seem crazy? Well, you have to name transit stations something, and both Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority are exploring the idea of selling naming rights to stations. They’re not the first city to do this.

Any new names for Metra stations would include the old station name — the town, neighborhood or address — with the corporate or organization name added on, said Metra executive director Philip Pagano.

“I’m not sure whether (the old name) is first or second, but definitely it’s going to have to be there,” he said.

Several mass transit systems — such as those in New York and Boston — have sought to sell naming rights to transit stations. In 2008, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals agreed to pay the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to rename a high-profile bus route the “HealthLine,” according to news reports.

Is this a good solution to transit budget shortfalls?

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  1. lockdog says:

    I would also like to propose the Verizon Eiffel (cell) Tower, the Statue of Liberty Mutual, Pillsbury Grands Central Station, and the Washington (Outlet) Mall.

  2. barb95 says:

    I guess the movie Idiocracy was right.

  3. pantheonoutcast says:

    Is it just me, or does it seem like every day this country is looking more and and more like some Philip K. Dick short story?

  4. veg-o-matic says:

    All I know is that Boston’s South Station is festooned with Apple ads and it is AWFUL.
    Such a beautiful building sullied by Mapple.

    • ekzachtly says:

      I kind of like when they do that. Last year, Harvard station was decked out for Spore for a couple of months before it came out. Granted, South Station is nice looking and Harvard is grungy, but it’s always nice to have a change of scenery on the T.

    • jesusofcool says:

      And public transportation is still fairly awful (I sooo hate you green line). I’d be in favor of this if it actual brought the upgrades Boston direly needs.

    • West Coast Secessionist says:

      So do you oppose all ads in subway stations, or just hate Apple so much that it makes your soul burn with self-righteous anger whenever you see their logo? I hate Wells Fargo and Citibank with a fiery passion, but seeing their ads in a train station doesn’t bother me.

  5. Michael Belisle says:

    When Apple pays $4 million to upgrade a station lest it remain an eyesore near their shiny new store, you’d think they might get some naming rights.

  6. colorisnteverything says:

    Willis tower anyone?

    • absentmindedjwc says:

      the difference being that they bought the building… if you spend $840 million on a building, you could call it whatever you want.

      • humphrmi says:

        Willis didn’t buy the tower. They leased 140,000 square feet of it, and as part of their lease agreement, acquired the naming rights. If naming were based on ownership, the building would be called “U.S. Equities Realty Tower.”

        Go ahead, look it up.

    • dclamster says:

      Sears Tower wasn’t any less of a tacky corporate name…

      • DangerMouth says:

        Sears was an actual person, tho, who named first his company and then his building after himself. You build it, you get to name it, is my feeling.

  7. morganlh85 says:

    Hey, if companies are dumb enough to think that naming something the Tampax Stadium makes me more likely to purchase their products, then go for it.

    • nybiker says:

      I actually do my best to avoid companies that play the corporate john game since I don’t want them (in a people sort of way) to think that I am buying their product or service because they slap their name on the stadium or train station or college bowl game or pga event. Same goes for companies that think “hey, we’re the official beer sponsor of mlb so you should buy our water!” Now, if consumer reports did a report on the best-tasting beer (where do I sign up for that job?!) and said that of all the beers available, that x-y-z beer was the best one, and x-y-z was then the official beer of mlb, only at that point would I consider getting their beer. Othewise, being the official dickwad of mlb is just a money transaction. Same goes for the makers of uniforms and hats (hey, new era, get out of the dugouts, will ya?!).

  8. myrna_minkoff says:

    Why must every stationary object in this country have a corporate logo slapped on it?

    • humphrmi says:

      Why?

      1. Municipalities are going broke.
      2. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes or fares.
      3. Things need money to run.
      4. Companies are willing to pay for naming.

      I’m not saying it’s right, but you asked “why”.

    • DangerMouth says:

      Why stop at stationary? Busses make great rolling billboards..

    • AnxiousDemographic says:

      One answer is that we no longer have heroic persons to name things after; another is that perhaps corporations are the new heros.

      Yet another answer is that public works are being prostituted out for advertising.

      Sad, I think.

  9. 333 (only half evil) says:

    I’ve thought something like this could be useful for things that the government doesn’t have funds for. But instead of naming rights, I imagined it something like the Adopt a Highway signage – uniform signs that say “This transit station sponsored by Xfinity”.

  10. jayde_drag0n says:

    Has anyone read “Jennifer Government” by Max Barry? This is all sounding very familiar

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      Coincidentally enough, someone left that book on top of the mailboxes in the lobby of my building last week. Yes, I picked it up. And yes, I will be reading it tonight.

      • West Coast Secessionist says:

        You bastard! I lay down my book there for one minute to carry a heavy package back to my apartment and when I came back it was gone! I was so mad!

        I expect it back ASAP. Come see me in apartment 6A.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      Yes. Fun book.

  11. cromartie says:

    Try a trip overseas. Even the light posts, stop light, and road signs have sponsors attached to them in India. Heck, there are billboards in replacement for road signs over the roads.

    Americans have no idea how intrusive advertising can be in the public sphere, though we’re headed in that direction, apparently.

  12. HannahK says:

    I don’t know about Chicago, but I’m picturing North Station in Boston (which is inside TD Garden, home of the Bruins and Celtics) changing to TD North Station. I don’t have a problem with it. Everyone would just shorten it back to North Station, like we do with “The Garden” already.

    If large, Chicago based institutions bought the rights to the stations near their locations, it would probably stick better. It would be smart for the companies, and potentially even useful to tourists who are trying to find big landmarks. But it would be sad to lose historical names, at the same time.

    • nybiker says:

      Here in the big apple, we have 2 new baseball stadiums, one of which retained its name and the other which didn’t. Gee, which one won the world series? (I’m not comparing against Boston, only between the 2 nyc teams). Anyway, both have subway lines servicing them. The corporate john that paid for the non-winning team’s stadium didn’t kick in for the #7 station’s name. So, instead of it being called “Shea Stadium – Willets Pt” (the original name), it’s now just “Mets – Willets Pt. So, not every joint around a stop will pony up the money for a new name. And I’m glad. Why? Because just like when a newspaper reporter writes up a story and has 2,3, or 4 mentions of a corporate john’s stadium or event, I wonder how much they are getting paid (maybe not the reporter, but the paper). Yeah, maybe it doesn’t even happen. But it’s a perception of non-objectivity. I really wouldn’t want to hear the conductor announce “nex stop, Times Square – Trojan Condoms Station”. More to the point, I don’t want the conductor doing advertising. Besides, it takes longer to announce the longer name. And in NYC, the need for speed is imporant (another pet peeve is when they announce some sort of delay for whatever reason and they say “please be patient.” Hey, you’re already at work. The rest of us are going to/from our destinations and the subway isn’t it, so get a move on.)

      • varro says:

        Same thing in Chicago – the stop outside Comiske, er, US Cellular Field is “Sox – 35th”.

        What the stadium namers do is name the stadium/arena from the outset, so you don’t revert back to calling Mellon Arena the “Civic Arena”, or whatever the stadium in Miami is called now “Joe Robbie Stadium”.

  13. Bohemian says:

    So governments can’t tax businesses or they will all fall to their knees and the country will implode. Then government doesn’t have enough money to keep up basic public services. The corporations that whine they can’t pay taxes, living wages, benefits etc. now suddenly have the money to go towards public services, but only if they get to slap their name on it.

    Got it.

  14. RvLeshrac says:

    PIck one: Corporate sponsorship, or taxes. Then shut up about it.

  15. PsiCop says:

    The article’s opening paragraph makes clear at least one of the problems with this: Talking about getting around will rapidly become gibberish, interspersed with meaningless names of businesses.

    There’s also the basic problem of advertising saturation, which is not new, but will be exacerbated by this plan. The more places you put advertising, the more people ignore the advertising, and the more additional places advertisers have to find, to slap their advertising onto. It becomes a vicious spiral. The clamor to find new surfaces onto which to stick advertising, needs to be stopped in its tracks, and the sooner the better.

    I get that cities are desperate for money. But I have an idea: Instead of finding new ways to scarf up more money, try finding ways to spend less, so that you don’t?

    What a novel idea. Why hasn’t anyone thought of it?

    • morlo says:

      Spending others people’s money is far too fun to ever think about cutting back.

    • Smd75 says:

      Thats why you retain the normal names but allow the sponsor to decorate the station and name it the like Wrigley redline stop at Addison, or the McDonald’s Redline stop at Chicago, I think it could work

  16. MooseOfReason says:

    They could also be named after people, if a private individual made a donation.

  17. humphrmi says:

    There is a little more background information here that should be shared. The State of Illinois is functionally bankrupt. CTA has been running in deficit spending for years, and even though Metra has been more fiscally sound, they have been putting off critical equipment replacement that cannot be delayed any longer, without affecting service. Even if the state promised more money to RTA (which oversees Metra and CTA) they are six months behind in paying their bills right now, so the RTA will probably never see a dime. The state is probably going to have to raise taxes anyway, but that will all go to paying off the state’s huge debt payment backlog. Ridership is way up, thanks in part to the economy which is pushing more people onto public transportation. Both CTA and Metra have already raised fares this year. Nobody wants to pay even higher fares, and to be honest, raising fares any further would punish the poor disproportionally anyway, forcing some to lose their jobs because they can’t afford to get to work. Public transit in Northeastern Illinois is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    If this helps keep our public transit afloat, I’m all for it. Who cares what they call the lines and stations. As long as they keep getting people to work.

    • Commenter24 says:

      This. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I can think of a lot worse, or more intrusive, things than essentially selling advertising space in order to raise funds. I would question how much money will be raised by the sales, and how much of that will have to go to updating maps and other printed material, though.

  18. nybiker says:

    Is this a good thing? Well, as others have mentioned, I would say yes only if the money paid for a station’s name was used to improve and maintain said station. Either the way Apple apparently did or via the ‘adopt a highway’ method. The wrong thing would be for the New York City MTA to get the money and just put it into their general fund. They can’t manage things now and giving them more money to mismanage doesn’t seem to be the way to go. Of course, as a donor I would expect to be able to audit the books to see that the money was spent properly.
    Too much of the MTA’s budget is derived from sources that fluctuate. Real estate transactions, for one. No surprise here that with less property being bought & sold and with those transactions occurring at lower prices, their tax receipts from the transactions are reduced.
    I am aware of one subway line that has a pre-built naming rights signage already in a station. That is the Hunters Point stop on the #7 line. All the support columns have “HP” signs on them. Well, that should solve the problem for that station. Of course, we have over 400 others, if memory serves.
    From a philosophical point of view, I would say this is all wrong. We are bombarded every day with ads touting this and that. And what happens when a corporate john goes bankrupt? Today it’s the Enron Times Square stop (or is Times Square Enron?) but next week it becomes Times Square MinuteMaid (to use the progression from that debacle). And all the travel databases have to get updated to incorporate the new values. We had to spend money when on the highway signs when Shitty Field (it’s not just me using that name, even the employees use it) went into use. The MTA updates its maps every so often (I don’t know if they have a schedule or just do so when the mood strikes ‘em), but if you’re paying for naming rights are you expecting to see your company’s name on the subway map? It’s crowded enough on the trains and the map as it is. Having to add more information to all the subway stops is going to make the map very congested.
    Now some may argue that not putting the money into the general fund would allow companies to cherry pick the more popular stations or the stations with better demographics. My counterpoint to that is to point out 2 things: 1. Charge more to name Grand Central and Times Square as opposed to 103rd Street (a local stop on the #7 line). 2. On any given line, you pass stations, so you’ll still see the station name. Of course, there are instances where you are a completely separate track (and tunnel) so you might not see the local stops. But still, it’s not like a station is never seen by people. The end result might be that the corporate johns of times square pay for its upkeep, but then the MTA has money to take care of 103rd Street on the 7 train. I do not want to see naming rights money used to reduce whatever the mta is already spending on things. (A la the state & the lottery scheme where they say the lottery helps education – no it doesn’t, as the money goes into the general fund and not into any sort of ‘lockbox’ for education).
    /end of my treatise on naming rights. Thanks for reading.

    • DangerMouth says:

      What, you mean like Candlestick – er, 3Com, er, Monster, er, Candlestick Park?

    • varro says:

      Interesting thing is that European soccer teams do the opposite of American sports teams with naming rights.

      American sports teams name the stadium, but the team logos are on the uniforms, with maybe a small logo for the uniform’s manufacturer. European soccer players are running billboards for AIG, yet the stadiums are “non-corporate”.

  19. Smd75 says:

    I believe Apple will be the first to get this opportunity. They are building a new store at Halsted and North, which is right next to the the North and Clybourn redline stop. From what I was reading, at that location, they are having to make improvements to the stop for the store. Apple is funding a good portion of it and including new technology in there. CTA said they’ll let apple name it. IMHO that stop needs a LOT of improvement, itll only help. Nice area too.

    But HEY, if it helps fund the CTA, I dont care. We just had cutback in services, so if this can fix that, im all for it.

  20. dclamster says:

    Sears Tower wasn’t any less of a tacky corporate name…

    • nybiker says:

      IIRC, Sears actually owned the building for a while. So, if you own it, it’s fine. My problem with naming rights is that people are just paying some owner to be able to put their name on it in the mistaken belief that it’s good advertising.
      Think back to the Pan Am Building here in NYC. Of course, now it’s an insurance company has its name on it, but I haven’t looked into it to see if the snoopy company actually owns the building or if they are just another corporate john.

  21. He says:

    It’s a great solution and not doing it is throwing away money. Every train system should do this. It’s one of the reasons Japanese trains rock.

  22. Andrew360 says:

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea, especially if it lowers fairs or provides a higher quality transit service.

    I reduce confusion though, I would use the original station names and add “… sponsored by [Company Name].”

    If Target wanted to add their name to the Red Line, I think that would be fine. Just don’t change the blue line to Target Red Line because then you’d have a mess. “Wait! The Target Red Line or the normal Red Line???”

  23. LogicalOne says:

    It’s no worse than all the politicians who have sold themselves to the corporations.

  24. varro says:

    Portland already does it for the Streetcar stops – of course, the Streetcar is high-profile, taking yuppies from the Pearl District to the South Waterfront.

  25. rdldr1 says:

    I heard from a friend who is an Apple rep. Apple is likely not going to buy out the “Apple stop” on Chicago’s Red Line. It’s way too good of a deal for the CTA, and too much expense for what advertising Apple gains.

    Good luck keeping the North/Clyborn stop clean… the CTA already has problems doing it on their own.

  26. redwall_hp says:

    A little bit of branding is a small price to pay for a respite from ever-increasing taxes. Heck, stadiums for sporting events are usually sponsored in the same matter.

  27. Al Swearengen says:

    Selling naming rights is better than selling off public assets to non-accountable private companies.

  28. dg says:

    Actually the solution to transit budget shortfalls is to:

    1) Stop paying people for not working. Yeah, it happens A LOT with the CTA – way more than they’re aware of

    2) Stop running empty busses

    3) Fix the damn L-tracks so the trains can run ON-TIME and at a decent speed.

    4) Get rid of 50% of the stops – if the busses/trains stopped less – you’d use less fuel, and people would be less frustrated with the things. Stopping every block? Chriminies – I might as well just walk.

    5) Clean the frigging things – the L has smelled like piss for decades…

    6) Put cops on EVERY train and bus. Yeah it costs money. But keeping the little bangers under control – priceless. Lots more people would ride if they didn’t have to put up with the BS…

  29. Conformist138 says:

    Brainstorming time: Can we find a new way to make money BESIDES advertising? Need money for a stadium? Ads. Need money for entertainment? Ads. Need money for buses and subways? Ads. Need money to get the news out? Ads. Need money for x? Ads. Need money for y? Ads.

    A million situations, we seem to have exactly one answer. And you know what that answer really is? Please, giant corporations, officially become our masters and wallpaper every single thing our eyes see with your logos. We must allow them to visually molest our brains, or everything we rely on or hold dear will be taken. After all, if I’m told I must choose between “Verizon Station at 5th” and walking 10 miles to work, I might feel I have no other options than to accept my entire city being purchased and renamed/redecorated.

  30. vladthepaler says:

    The CTA should save money by cutting all service of any kind for a week. It would create a colossal mess and it would show everyone, including those who don’t use public transit, how important public transit is to everyone, for keeping the roads from being even more crowded than they already are.

    As for naming rights… CTA trains and buses are already billboards on wheels. Stations are already plastered with wall to wall ads. Would anyone even notice more advertising at this point?