April 24th, 2008

What's in a Name? Possibly A Lot of Money

By Jeff Gray
Globe and Mail (Canada)

TTC officials are to study selling off naming rights to new subway stations and rapid-transit lines, an idea that, if ever approved, would make it possible for the Coca-Cola Light Rail Line to pull into Wal-Mart Station.

Peter Milczyn, one of nine city councillors who sit on the Toronto Transit Commission, floated the idea yesterday, noting that the wealthy city of Dubai has offered to sell naming rights on some stations in its new subway.

Cash-strapped Toronto, he said, should consider doing the same as it expands its transit system.

“Carlton Station could very well have been Maple Leaf Gardens Station, and the Leafs could have paid for it,” Mr. Milczyn said yesterday, acknowledging this name would be an anachronism since the team moved almost a decade ago to the Air Canada Centre.

“ ... Beggars can’t be choosers. We have no money.”

While the commission voted to have TTC staff at least study the idea, both TTC chairman Adam Giambrone and vice-chairman Joe Mihevc - key allies of Mayor David Miller - say they are against it.

Mr. Mihevc called the idea “outrageous” and said the TTC’s long-standing policy of naming stations after streets or landmarks was necessary to help passengers navigate the system. Torontonians, he said, were upset enough about advertising on vehicles and inside stations.

“The feedback I am getting from residents is that they are tired of the shrink-wrapping of the vehicles, the station domination,” Mr. Mihevc said.

“They want us to go in the opposite direction.”

Glenn Young, vice-president of media for IMG Canada, a firm involved in countless sponsorship deals - and whose parent is involved in Dubai’s plans - said corporate naming rights for Toronto’s subway stations would be very attractive.

In addition to the captive foot traffic, it would allow corporations to be seen supporting public transit, and could be worth millions if accompanied by exclusive advertising rights inside.

“I think it’s a very cool idea,” Mr. Young said, although he added that stations would need a geographic element along with the sponsor’s name to avoid confusing riders.

The TTC has previously pondered modifying station names, such as changing Osgoode to Osgoode-Opera House because it is near the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

The commission also voted, in a closed session yesterday morning, to approve the tentative agreement its negotiators reached with its largest union last week.

Union members will vote tomorrow on the three-year deal, which includes 3-per-cent annual wage hikes and benefits improvements.

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