Thursday, July 16, 2009

Selling out the MBTA

I remember a while back there was some talk of selling MBTA station sponsorships and many people were upset and even dismayed over it. Some time has passed and I believe we are in slightly more dire straights then we were at that time, it may be time to reconsider this option.

The MBTA is in the hole by what appears to be billions of dollars and many viable projects have been sitting on the back burners for years. The Urban Ring, North/South Rail link, extension of the Green Line into Medford, extension of the Blue Line into Lynn and beyond and the list keeps growing. Considering that Zoo Boston and the Governor just got into a dramatic tift over whether keeping animals alive is more important then giving health insurance to those who need it, I am going to guess cash is running low. The state will not be bailing out the MBTA and neither will Boston and the surrounding communities.

Business is also contracting but more importantly it is seeing a diverse array of advertising options where there used to only be a handful. With most cable providers offering more then 500 stations, newspapers being replaced by millions of blogs and the local radio being usurped by the Ipod it must be hard for an advertiser to reach out to their customer base in a meaningful way. It is not uncommon to see major companies pulling marketing stunts in cities across the country as a way to raise brand awareness. Marketing budgets are down and business is looking for a way to get the most bang from it's buck.

This seems to be where the two forces can help each other. By offering sponsorship of mass transit stations the MBTA would be allowing companies to connect with consumers directly in a forum where people will always be and will have to be. The trick would be keeping it tasteful but it can and has been done.

I envision each subway being put out for a 5 year bidding process (the amount of time is trivial to me, money people can do whatever makes it work.) The company pays the MBTA for the sponsorship of the station and during that time frame gets a certain number of the existing ads in the station and exclusive rights for their product type (no Pepsi ads in a Coke station.) The signs at the station will all be amended to say the official name of the station followed by "serviced by/sponsored by etc COMPANY NAME.) I would imagine part of the package could include wrapping one subway car with your companies ad with an option to redo the ad at cost anytime during the course of your contract. If the economics worked I would also envision exterior signs, schedules and other collateral would include the sponsors name amended to the station name. Of course common decency would have to prevail and many items would be exempt from being allowed to advertise.

As an addition to this I could also envision a community development/business development aspect to this plan. As part of the contract stations below business/retail districts could include a provision to allow MBTA riders without monthly passes to exit and enter within a specified period of time for free due to the generosity of COMPANY NAME. It would be during specific periods of the day/week/year. The company would get a sign thanking the customers for patronizing local stores with a company logo of the sponsoring company reminding them they have "2 hours" before they have to repay to get back on the train. Downtown Crossing, Central Square, Harvard Square, Galleria Mall, Newbury Street, even Fenway/Station Landing could all benefit from consumers making extra stops to patronize the local stores.

I have also heard many people complain about a lack of a night owl service, I do not see any reason why night owl buses would not be equiped with special ads just for the night owl service. The ads on the interiors of the bus could go from the normal ads to more adult themed ads for the duration of the night owl service (liquor and other things that are still in good taste but not 100 percent family friendly.) "Beer company X thanks you for making the wise choise and taking the MBTA" just one of the options.

I understand the reluctance to embrace measures like these but it is better then just sitting back and allowing the MBTA to just fall apart. I also understand that this will not generate as much now as it could have 5 years ago but that is not a good reason to avoid the sponsorships. After all the best time to restructure for the future is when things are at their worst. If we start now maybe five years from now it will be hugely successful and this could result in expanded service.

Picked up by Universal Hub
Expanded on by Boston Irish

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