WMATA probably won’t find extra revenue by courting station sponsorship deals with big DC brands. That’s according to reporting from transit sponsor discussions in NYC and London. Capital One and Kastle Systems don’t want to be associated with Red Line fires and Silver Line deer delays.
NYC’s MTA and WMATA Both Looking at Non-Rider Revenue
We’ve covered Metro’s need for greater revenue and how that need drives changes like increased parking fees, a merchandise shop, and deals to allow food vendors inside Metro stations. To raise other revenue, Metro offers advertising space on buses, inside rail cars, and within stations. NYC’s MTA does a lot of advertising too. But, they’ve explored, and WMATA may try in the future to work out, brand sponsorships of entire Metro stations.
So, here’s what I’m thinking: Capitol South brought to you by CQ Roll Call. Metro Center featuring CVS. The Pentagon defended by Northrup Grumman. Vienna on behalf of EYA, have you looked at our townhomes all located way-the-heck outside the DC core?
Adopting a Station: The Easy Way or the Hard Way
There’s a difference between transactional advertising space and adopting a public transit station, which serves critical everyday needs for commuters. NYC does public-private partnerships with some of their parks. Those arrangements involve adoption, but also include upgrades and maintenance deals. That raises the question of what more brands get from sponsorship, above the existing advertising options. Is it worth it for Bozzuto to adopt the Brookland/CUA metro station if they have to empty the trash and keep the escalator running?
It’s not all butterflies and sunshine for WMATA if they were to welcome a big brand to sponsor and share upkeep duties. “Los Angeles’ transit system canceled its incipient program to sell subway station naming rights after a staff attorney advised it that First Amendment protections would preclude it from rejecting controversial or distasteful bidders.” WMATA has already suffered this censorship wound with several legal battles costing into the millions of dollars.
WMATA Would Face Sponsorship Struggles Like NYC and London
Benjamin Kabak, author of NYC’s transportation news site Second Avenue Sagas, wrote recently about MTA’s struggles on station sponsorship. “No one is going to buy transit naming rights for any significant amount of money, and it’s generally not worth the time and effort of trying to sell them. Let’s move on to better ideas.”
John Bull, editor of London transit news site London Reconnections added UK reporting to Kabak’s NYC tales. “Bluntly, if your service is shit, then that means lots of passengers angry at the metro. They then associate that same anger with any brand doing a ‘takeover’ at the time.” WMATA hasn’t had a good run PR-wise. That perception is arguably Metro’s biggest problem now that ride-, bike-, and scooter-sharing options are available and cheap enough to use when commuters’ time and frustration equal money.
Bull raises an important point that transit stations are also not normal retail or public spaces where brands advertise. “The sponsor will look on the station as just another retail or advertising space, forgetting that there are design, safety, accessibility, and access route issues that can’t be compromised. PARTICULARLY at the most iconic locations.”
“So, basically, station sponsorships require a LOT of pre-requisite conditions AND a lot of work, for a potentially limited return.”If NYC and London, with its worldwide acclaimed London Underground brand, struggle to make station sponsorship work, is there any reason to think WMATA could do so?