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Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022

Subways Should Get a Line on Business Sponsorships

Imagine at rush hour getting on the Metro Purple Line at Occidental Petroleum Westwood Station and being at Farmers Field fast. No 405, no 10, no 110 followed by the nightmare and cost of parking. Just a calm wait on the Westwood station platform for a scheduled train arriving from the VA or, better yet, Third Street in Santa Monica.

Naming rights can help us build the Wilshire Boulevard subway extension and the 11 other critical public transit projects that 30/10 promises now, rather than in two, four, 30 or however many years it takes until we again see a majority in the House and Senate who believe in the importance of a new New Deal or infrastructure bank for America.

To hear the critics assail the idea of corporate naming rights for critical infrastructure projects like the subway one might think that “Wilshire” was the name of a Greek god rather than an L.A. real estate speculator. For the naming rights to Wilshire Boulevard, L.A.’s grand concourse, we didn’t even get a dime to the best of my knowledge.

If I were king, mayor or Metro’s chief executive, I would be all over this, negotiating with Farmers, Occidental Petroleum, Sony and others for a deal for the naming rights to the entire Wilshire subway extension all the way to the sea.

The time has come to get serious about making the most of the greatest brand around. No not the subway, per say, Los Angeles. If AEG can sell for $700 million the right to name a downtown L.A. football stadium without a National Football League team attached, then L.A. Metro can find Fortune 100 companies interested in buying the rights to name a bunch of new subway stations, trains and track.

In a new film, entirely paid for by corporate sponsors, the director who showed us the underbelly of the fast-food industry turns his camera on corporate underwriting in the film business. You may think whatever you wish of the filmmaker or the reality he takes on, but at the end of the day, the underwriting paid for his movie.

Making a deal

When I brought up corporate and philanthropic sponsorship of the subway with Supervisor and Metro board member Zev Yaroslavsky last year, he replied that no company will do a deal like that. Stations, according to Yaroslavsky, cost in the area of $200 million to build and there is simply no precedent for it.

As I replied then – and am more certain of now – the sponsors go into these deals with their eyes wide open, be it Farmers, Oxy or another major company. The deals are a quid pro quo of the first order and at some price they make sense for both the sponsor as well as the transit agency on the other side of the table. And for a change, the greatest beneficiary of the deal is the customer, the Metro rider whose only interest in any of this is in getting from point A to point B faster than he or she does now.

The value to the sponsor of a deal with Metro must not be underestimated. Which company would not want its name associated with one of the most significant public works projects in the history of Los Angeles? The good will that a corporate social responsibility deal of that magnitude would generate would keep me and many other Angelenos loyal to the sponsor company for generations to come.

Henry Ford was famous for saying, “Big cars, big profits. Small cars, small profits.” Imagine the possibilities when you are “selling” the subway to the sea or all of 30/10. I can’t think of a better win-win for all of the players involved.

Joel Epstein is an L.A. resident, Metro customer and strategic communications consultant focused on transportation and other critical urban issues.  


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