When Selling Station Naming Rights, SEPTA Can Learn from New York

Forget confusing AT&T Station, here are four sponsorshops the transit agency should pursue right now.

Not overheard at a station somewhere along the Broad Street Line:

“I’m psyched! I’ve got these great seats for the Flyers home opener at the AT&T Sports and Entertainment Complex.”

“Whathaf**k is that?”

“You mean you don’t know? I thought you knew everything about this town. It’s down in South Philly.”

“Oh, you mean the Wells Fargo Center.”

“No, I mean the AT&T Sports and Entertainment Complex. See? It’s right there on that map, down at the end of the Orange Line. Isn’t that why they call that station AT&T?”

* * *

Well, no, it’s not. It’s called AT&T because the telecom company gave SEPTA a chunk of change to pay for the upkeep of what had been called Pattison Station in exchange for slapping its name on it for five years.

That deal, tied to AT&T’s status as the only wireless carrier that can guarantee you a signal in SEPTA’s subway tunnels, expires year after next, at which time I expect the agency to try to ink a renewal at the very least. But before it does, maybe it should pay attention to how they’re doing it in New York City.

The trouble with the AT&T naming-rights deal is that it erased useful orientation information from the SEPTA map. The first purpose of a train station name be to should be to tell you where you are. That can be done with the name of a cross street, a nearby landmark or a neighborhood or community. It can’t be done with the name of a corporate sponsor alone. Visitors unfamiliar with the city now have no way of relating AT&T station to anything going on above it.

New York City Transit officials actually grappled with this very issue when, in 2009 — the year before SEPTA approved the AT&T naming-rights deal — it approved a 20-year, $4 million deal to add “Barclays Center” to the name of its Atlantic Avenue subway and commuter train stations in downtown Brooklyn. (Let me pause for a moment to say that at least when it came to revenue, SEPTA negotiated the better deal: It got $5 million in exchange for only a five-year commitment, leaving it free to go back to the well much sooner.)

The difference is this: The Barclays Center is an actual place — a new sports arena bearing the bank’s name located right above the station. And as the New York MTA now contemplates allowing more such deals to take place, it’s gone and put in writing its let’s-not-confuse-the-riders-about-where-they-are policy. According to a recent New York Times report, renamed stations must still “help orient customers as they navigate the MTA network.” The MTA will also only consider sponsors “with a unique or iconic geographic, historic or other connection to such facility that would be readily apparent to typical MTA customers.”

So much for AT&T Station, which passes neither test down here.

The good news is, even though SEPTA’s rapid transit network is far less extensive than New York’s, there are still opportunities to strike naming-rights deals that still allow riders to figure out where they are. And while my SEPTA sources couldn’t say whether the agency is actively looking for more station sponsors right now, one did say, “SEPTA will look at any revenue source provided it is tasteful and not controversial.”

The AT&T deal passes those tests, but at the expense of letting riders know where they are. That can be solved by adopting New York-style rules for selling naming rights. We don’t lack for potential sponsors or stations to rename. Here are a few we can think of off the top of our head:

Let’s start with one of the busiest Regional Rail stations, Suburban Station. When Penn Center went up next to it in the 1950s, for a while, the Pennsylvania Railroad added it to the station’s name. This time around, why not persuade Comcast to pay for the privilege of having its headquarters atop Comcast Center Station?

A bit to the east of there, managed-services giant Aramark could adopt either 11th Street station on the Market-Frankford Line or Market East Station  — or both — with a deal to give it, or them, the name “Aramark Tower.” The building sits right in between the two.

There are a raft of restaurants that cluster around Second and Market streets in Old City. Any one of them could pick up the tab for the subway station under the intersection, though it’s likely only Starr Restaurant Group could afford the price tag. Continental Station, anyone? (It would even reinforce the area’s Revolutionary-era connections.)

Out in the ‘burbs, we could persuade Live Nation, perhaps, to help out concertgoers by adding “Tower Theater” to 69th Street Terminal’s name. (That’s one station whose original name we should keep as part of any renaming deal, given its importance as a transfer point.)

And these only scratch the surface.

And while all of the potential deals put together wouldn’t plug SEPTA’s looming budget gap, they would at least keep some more stations in good repair — only this time, in ways that wouldn’t disorient the riders.

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  • locustst

    I’m aggravated every time i see AT&T Station for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that no one realized the Pattision Station is P(AT&T)ison Station. Guess there’s no room for creativity in naming rights.

  • Roin

    Uh, NO. In terms of transit, NY can learn from Philadelphia. NEVER the other way around. Ever. Their system is garbage and bankrupt. Ours is well run and just needs more capitol. But it runs all 7 modes which is unheard of. Better city too.

    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      Let’s see: Bus, heavy rail rapid transit, light rail/streetcar, trackless trolley, metropolitan (commuter) rail. I count five. Neither SEPTA nor the NY MTA run ferries, though Boston’s MBTA, which also runs all five of these modes, does and there are other agencies in NYC running commuter ferries. What’s number seven?

      • Roin

        WRONG YET AGAIN! Mta runs poorly, bus and subway. We run the others you mention. There are no trolleys, commuter rail, trackless in New York City run by MTA. Your counting is off once again. Dumb dolt.

        • Roin

          Oh and btw, the metro north and lirr are not railroads except at the very end. They’re heavy rails. Subways basically. Cheaper alternative. As someone who studies civil engineering, you make me laugh.

          And On top of that, being that Mta is bankrupt, they contract out the LIRR and Metro north to a private company.

          • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

            My “five” referred to what SEPTA runs, not what the MTA runs. You said “all 7 modes.” That statement remains incorrect – and you still haven’t told me what the seventh mode is (ferries are #6). Go back and read what I wrote, not what you think I wrote; two agencies – SEPTA and the MBTA – run all five of the land-based surface transit modes, and the MBTA also runs the sixth, water-based one.

            And MNRR and the LIRR are mainline Class I railroads for their entire distances – the LIRR was owned by the PRR and shares its Midtown Manhattan station. Third rail power, which both the LIRR and the New York Central used to reach their Manhattan termini, can be used on any kind of railroad; many British mainline railroads also have third-rail powered segments. Third-rail power doew not a “heavy rail subway” make – see Boston’s Blue Line, powered by catenary once above ground, for an example in the other direction – catenary doesn’t make it a mainline railroad.

            The MTA has the kind of perennial funding crises SEPTA used to have, and will have again if Harrisburg doesn’t get its transportation funding act together. I agree that SEPTA is well run, but I’m not blind to where it can improve – or to dumb things it does; even the best-run organizations do dumb things from time to time. You, on the other hand, seem to be a blind worshipper who also needs to dismiss any outside criticism or comparisons to maintain your faith. And your facts aren’t accurate either, as I just pointed out.

            Thanks for playing, and have a nice life.

          • Roin


            They’re modified class I “railroads”.

            And SEPTA also offers trackless, light rail, commuter rail, intermodal high speed which is its own class.

          • Roin

            My facts are accurate and I have no idea why you pulled crap nj transit into the mess. Again. Unrelated. Mta is a thrown together mess. I don’t worship any thing. I just say it as it is. I am a lover of facts. The fact is, that third rail shouldn’t qualify for a RR. That’s the way it should be. And it was supposed to be that way. But Mta put the breaks on that bill back in the Clinton era because Mta has already found a bunch of third rail they got for a discount probably. And used on their metro north nonsense. So they didn’t want to be required to use catenary like a Real railroad does.

          • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

            Your facts are not accurate, or at least your terminology isn’t: a railroad is either Class I or it isn’t, there’s no “modified.” The New York Central built its electrified system ca. 1910 to serve Grand Central Terminal, and IT, not the MTA, chose third rail to power it; ditto the PRR with its LIRR subsidiary – and prior to its construction of catenary, trains stopped at a station called “Manhattan Transfer” to switch locos from steam to third-rail-powered electric to reach Penn Station. Third rail also powers some electrified railroads in the UK. Regardless what things “should be,” that is the way things ARE, both here and abroad – there are mainline railroads powered by third rail because of decisions made a century ago, and those in the US are engineered to Class I standards, not some modification – any Class I equipment can operate on the third rail-powered tracks.

            And what’s “intermodal high speed”? Did you mean “interurban,” which describes the P&W (now the Norristown High-Speed Line)? I will give you that, and there are only two of those left too; the other’s the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend. So I will concede seven, as opposed to six, though interurbans as a class have pretty much disappeared save those two. But then no agency operates all seven modes; SEPTA has no ferries and the MBTA no interurban.

          • Roin

            You’re right that mbta and SEPTA are structured the same. But mbta is a lot smaller and uses no green energies. It uses old diesel railroad. Ferries aren’t really the responsibility of a transit agency but the job of a port authority. Mbta got desperate. Mbta operates a more condensed system and spends money it doesn’t have much like Mta and cta

            Mta and cta both are umbrella agencies which btw is a crappy way to create transport service. It’s just a really dumb and sloppy move by the crooks in charge of these agencies to create the illusion that they know what they’re doing

            Cta, and Mta all need to be privatized since they’re both hogging up far too much fed money on useless and needless projects. The money is going to irresponsible, non green, poorly run agencies that pocket a lot of the money. Illinois is the most deadbeat state in the country. The umbrella agency of cta and metes should be private. There’s no point in taking a train that’s diesel powered. It’s the same as driving. You’re not being economical at all. You are however, with SEPTA

            I didn’t read your last comment, I just replied. I’m going to turn off notifications now so I don’t reply any more to this stupid conversation. The point is septa is insanely well run. Much more so than its peers that steal money from taxpayers. SEPTA should get more in Capitol, yes. But it deserves 3 times what other agencies get because it just is so much better planned out and better managed.

          • Roin

            Ferries don’t count.

            And I’m sure the Chicago one is a piece of garbage like their CTa and metro currently is.

          • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

            The Chicago, South Shore and South Bend is operated by the *Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.* Its primary service territory roughly parallels the Indiana Toll Road across the top of the Hooiser State.

          • Roin

            And I know the predecessor to Mta decided on the third rail thing. It was a jalopy then just as it is now. It shouldn’t be permitted to use third rail and be called a railroad. It must either use diesel or be called heavy or light rail. The laws are too lenient on mta. And the wallet too open. They have too many subway branches serving the same areas of the city. They need to shut down more. People will adapt. They don’t know how to manage money in the least. Fra made SEPTA get rid of their silverliner IIs which were wonderful. The fra should make the MTA get rid of the third rail for the two “railroads” they have and the SIR. And the fta should sue Mta for operating old subway equipment during the holidays which is unsafe, non Ada accessible, and dangerous. Especially in mta’s hands.

        • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

          The NY MTA is structured like the Chicago RTA: it’s an umbrella agency with several operating authorities under it. Commuter rail is the province of the MNCR and LIRR operating units; two MTA agencies operate buses, and New York City Transit operates subways.

          SEPTA and the MBTA are unique among US transit agencies in being single administrative and operating entities that operate multiple modes including mainline railroad service.

  • brianghoward
    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      How many of those do we WANT to run? :)

      Actually, the little three-wheeled jitney cars, I think, would be a welcome addition to the city’s public transport mix, but the taxicab operators would never let them in, I suspect.