Apple Sponsors Public Transit Stop In Chicago
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
It is commonplace now: Big companies paying top dollar to put their names on pro sports stadiums.
But the City of Chicago is putting a new twist on corporate sponsorship, as Chicago Public Radio's Tony Arnold reports.
TONY ARNOLD: Here at the North and Clybourn Red Line stop on Chicago's North Side, commuters have seen a dilapidated station with rusty walls turn to bright white. That's because Apple paid to renovate the station, which happens to be right next to Apple's new store. In exchange, Apple gets first dibs on naming rights and advertising at the station.
Soon after that deal was on the books, the cash-strapped Chicago Transit Authority announced it wants to find corporate sponsors for everything, from its buses, train stops, even its train lines. And many riders, like Michael Levine(ph), are literally groaning about the sponsorships.
Mr. MICHAEL LEVINE: Ugh.
ARNOLD: Levine says the whole idea leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
Mr. LEVINE: Once you get in bed with the corporate sponsors, they'll, like, they'll renegotiate next year for, like, more space on the side of the train or whatever.
ARNOLD: But some economists like Charlie Wheelan from the University of Chicago beg to differ. He says advertising space on the CTA is valuable and should be exploited.
Mr. CHARLES WHEELAN (Economist, University of Chicago): What do you do when you're about to get on the train? You stand there and look up at the board announcing when the train's coming. You do it over and over again even when the information doesn't change. So you got folks standing around, looking around, and that's exactly what advertisers want.
ARNOLD: Wheelan thinks the CTA should have been doing this 20 years ago. They could have brought in money to assist the agency that cut service earlier this year to balance its budget. Last year, New York's MTA agreed that Barclays Bank could sponsor a subway station in Brooklyn for $4 million. Wheelan says it's tough to know how much Chicago's transit system could rake in from its eight train lines and more than a hundred train stations and bus routes.
Mr. WHEELAN: You've got to look at this deal not relative to whether you like it or not, but what are the alternatives? Would you prefer higher fares? Would you prefer less service? Would you prefer higher taxes?
ARNOLD: So that's leaving commuters wondering which sounds worse - the Red Line brought to you by McDonald's, or fares going up beyond 2.25? The CTA's search for sponsors is the latest in a string of private companies upping their presence as Chicago landmarks. Earlier this year, Mayor Richard Daley announced the city is receiving bids for private companies to decorate its downtown bridges around holidays. A sample drawing showed giant tacky ghosts coming out of the bridges with a big pumpkin on top as a sample of what the Halloween season would look like. Take note, future CTA sponsors - no giant ghosts on trains. Daley defended the extra money, even if he didn't seem to like the design.
Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago, Illinois): You see, they are just ideas, so don't panic when you see these. So you have to understand, these are just ideas. But it's something that could generate some money.
ARNOLD: Daley is retiring next year, but his successor will face more trying economic times. Chicago's bond rating has taken a beating lately, as the city council recently passed a budget that relies on borrowing to fill a $655 million gap. But back at the North and Clybourn Red Line stop, Imari Siler-Hyatt(ph) says there's a bigger issue at stake than a corporation's name attached to the Red Line.
Ms. IMARI SILER-HYATT: The service cuts have been terrible. And I don't really see too much else is happening except the stations are getting sponsorships from whoever they want. And now they get naming rights and - I don't know. It just doesn't feel Chicago, you know?
ARNOLD: Still, Siler-Hyatt says if it takes corporate sponsors to keep her from paying more to ride the train, it might be worth it.
For NPR News, I'm Tony Arnold in Chicago.