Would you sponsor a subway stop?

In a recent sponsorship deal out of New York, international banking giant, Barclays, has earned the naming rights for arguably the busiest subway stop in Brooklyn. In return for these rights, Barclays/Forest City Ratner Development Group will be paying the Metropolitan Transit Authority $200,000 annually for the next two decades. The deal which hinges on the completion of the Atlantic Yards project is expected to go into effect sometime in 2012. The Atlantic Yards project is being spearheaded by Forest City Ratner and will include shops, condominiums, with the focal point being a basketball arena named Barclays Center.

atlanticsubwyThis monumental (and relatively inexpensive) sponsorship deal was inked without much media attention, and oddly no public outcry. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the MTA has been trying to sell the naming rights of a subway stop for nearly five years with little to no interest among marketers. So even with little attention, after all it is just one subway stop in Brooklyn, many questions could be raised.

Where is the line crossed between public space and private branding? We are already bombarded with advertisements and marketing material everywhere we go, why should we have to see them when we are trying to find out which track our train is arriving on? Also, even with little sponsor interest in the past, if this project is a success, how long until we see Bank of America Grand Central Station, or the Lexus Station at Columbus Circle? Going further into public territory, what if one day we see state and national parks using corporate branding in order to take in revenue? Welcome to the Nike National Park at Yosemite!

Now take a step back. What is wrong with adding some money to organizations like the MTA? After all the MTA is a broke entity, and this type of income can help to prevent proposed rate hikes and keep trains running on time. Is the public willing to put up with a few more signs and logos, rather than dealing with increased fare prices and under maintained/over crowded subway cars? I think so.

We still have a few years before we will be able to label this sponsorship deal as a success or failure, but for now we can ponder the possibilities and make our own decisions about the benefits / pitfalls of blending corporations with public space.

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