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Schooled By Dubai Do


Naming Rights
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This ad, which appeared on page 14 of the March 10 issue of Business Week and on page 93 of the April 19-25 issue of The Economist, kicked off the recent debate about selling naming rights to Toronto subway stations, when, as reported by the Post, Commissioner Peter Milczyn pulled out the ad at last week’s TTC meeting and remarked, “I was flipping through The Economist the other day. One of the world’s wealthiest jurisdictions is selling naming rights. It would be interesting to see what we could do here in Toronto.” (See also the Star, Globe, Sun, Torontoist, blogTO, and Steve Munro coverage and discussions, as well as this detached-from-reality Sun editorial.)

Beyond all of the obvious philosophical issues surrounding the corporatization of public space, and the questionable suggestion that we should be taking city-building tips from Dubai, some of the problems with this idea include:
• No company, as noted by Steve Munro, could or would shell out for more than a fraction of the cost of building a station. As basic, non-interchange stations come with a price tag of $70-100 million, the majority of the money would necessarily have to come from government sources. Even the highest-end naming-rights opportunities for private facilities rarely exceed half that much. (Bell, for example, put up $25 million to turn the Toronto International Film Festival Group’s now-under-construction HQ into the Bell Lightbox; Air Canada paid $40 million to gets its name on MLSE’s arena.) When it comes to funding public infrastructure with private money (problematic in itself), it’s important to consider what sort of investment might entitle the transference of (symbolic) ownership. If the public pays for something, why should someone else get their name on it? Why are we subsidizing their advertising?
2008_5_1_CityForSale.jpg• Naming rights aren’t sold so much as rented. Air Canada’s deal with MLSE is up in 2015. Sony’s deal with the City of Toronto for the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts is up in 2017. Buildings, public and private, are becoming like banners ads on a website.
• The public doesn’t get to find out with whom the City is negotiating a naming-rights deal until a contract has already been signed. That means the public gets no opportunity to express concerns if a particular company is especially inappropriate for whatever reason.
• The last thing the federal and provincial governments need is one more excuse to not adequately fund transit. Once something is paid for with private money, it’s extremely difficult to convince a government to restore public funding to it, even if the public purse overflows in the future. Privatization is most often a gradual process of the erosion of the public realm, and accepting corporate contributions (whether “donations” or sponsorships) is one way to absolve the government of its responsibilities. Philanthropy is not a sustainable way to build infrastructure.
• Even a “donation,” as opposed to an explicit sponsorship opportunity, would not be much better, as the company would receive a generous tax break: it would still be our money going into building or maintaining a station, someone else would just get their name on it.
• Lifted entirely from Munro: “Station naming will be very much like the One Stop situation: companies would line up around the block to name Bloor-Yonge because of the exposure, but nobody will want Chester (although I kind of like the idea of a Big Carrot Station). Do we start choosing where to build stations based on whether they can get sponsors?”
The TTC ended up voting to ask staff to report on the matter. The Post notes that only Vice-Chair Joe Mihevc and Commissioner Sandra Bussin dissented, although Chair Adam Giambrone expressed his distaste for the concept in the Star. While it wouldn’t have been entirely unreasonable to argue that there would be no harm in asking for a report (aside from the wasted staff hours), that didn’t turn out to be the case. OC Transpo, the Ottawa region’s transit agency, is now seriously considering the idea as a direct result of the TTC’s move; the Canwest-owned Ottawa Citizen published an editorial in favour, as well as a subsequent letter in response.
Says the original Citizen report, “If [OC Transpo Manager of Business Development and Community Partnerships Patrick] Curran had his way, the Terry Fox transit station could become, say, the Terry Matthews station — if the price is right and the name sits well with bus riders.” Because, of course, the people in our society most deserving of public recognition are those who can afford to pay for it.
Scan taken from hypermediate. Graphic at left by Jonathan Goldsbie, modified from one by Dave Meslin.
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  • Astin

    My first thought (other than revulsion to the idea) was that the leasing of names becomes problematic. So you pull into Rogers station today, but 10 years from now it becomes Bell station? That just becomes confusing over time. Especially if names expire asynchronously. Could there be two Bell stations if they buy up the rights on more premium location before their current one runs out? Does it become Bell East and Bell West?
    The TTC needs bigger solutions than this. Rethinking their entire fare system would be a start. Zoned fares, debit fare cards, a redesign of entrances to make hard for fare-cheaters to get in, etc., etc.. That said, it is a system that was poorly designed for scalability, but putting in extra tracks for express routes and more lines would be far too expensive.

  • Patrick Metzger

    Firstly, the title’s a stretch but I think it’s worth it.
    Secondly, as I meant to point out when I read Steve Monroes’ thought earlier, it’s preposterous to suppose that someone would or should pay the full price of building a subway station in return for naming rights. They’re not buying the station; they’re just advertising in it. If they pay full price, they should then be entitled to the ongoing revenue stream from the station, and also be responsible for its operations and staff. Now there’s a model that won’t work.
    For naming rights, though, the more I think about, the more I like the idea. I really don’t care if my subway is funded by a faceless corporation or a faceless government or both, and the aesthetic of most of our stations would, IMO, be improved by more advertising.

  • Mark Ostler

    “the aesthetic of most of our stations would, IMO, be improved by more advertising.”
    Only if the ads were well designed, which many are not. Ad design is not aesthetically pleasing in its entirety. Some ads are. Some stations look like crap, but some ads look a lot worse.
    Here’s my take on the situation IF it were implemented (I don’t really think I agree with the idea, but this is IF…): I agree that a company who leases the naming rights to a new station shouldn’t have to pay for the entire station. However, they should pay whatever the TTC decides (if they eventually decide to go ahead with this) the standard price should be PLUS the cost of changing every single TTC map in the subway cars and at the stations, and having new print maps produced.

  • Val Dodge

    One of my lottery fantasies is to buy the naming rights to something and insist that it be called by its original name.

  • Svend

    The current names are important, how else would you know where you are on the street map?
    If some politicians are too dim and are grasping at these “ideas” as solutions to funding problems, let’s elect a new batch.

  • s20451

    I would be annoyed if, say, Dundas Station was to be called called “Bell Station” or “Scotiabank Station,” as that would be confusing. The name “Dundas” is descriptive, in terms of telling you the station’s location.
    However, if Dundas Station was to be called “Bell Dundas Station” or “Scotiabank Dundas Station”, then I would keep calling it “Dundas Station” and wouldn’t care so much.

  • Miles Storey

    Of all the public things to attach a company name to transit stations seem like the dumbest.
    Transit stations are named after their location for a reason. No matter what the transit authority calls the station it will be known as its location by the public. People would simply drop the company name, as s20451 mentions above. Any company considering this kind of sponsorship would quickly realise there’s little value in it compared to the kind of exposure Air Canada gets with the ACC for example.
    I’m sure it would be cheaper for a company to simply buy permanent advertisements in the station than put their name on the place.

  • PickleToes

    Oh no, commercialism! Come and watch as the leftards run for cover!

  • David Topping

    …and the rightards jump to making ad hominem attacks rather than debating the merits of an argument.

  • Patrick Metzger

    Please, let’s just treat each with the dignity and respect that we all deserve as human-tards.
    I don’t have any issue with using street names vs other nomenclature (the precedent exists – Osgoode, St.Andrew, etc), though it would be a lot easier starting from scratch as in Dubai than changing them wholesale.
    Also, if the naming rights were sold the deal would have to be in perpetuity, or 100 years or similar to avoid frequent, confusing turnover like the Okeefe/Hummingbird/Sony Centre. The city would have to have the right to maintain the name, even if the company underwent a name change, went under, or got bought out. Some companies would likely be averse to that.
    Anyway, it’ll never happen here. It’s just fun to argue about it.

  • Sammy

    I kind of agree with “s20451″. I wouldn’t mind so much if the sponsor name was just appended to the front of the Station name.

  • uskyscraper

    It’s nice to think idealistically that ads don’t belong in public space, but we’re headed for Blade Runner like it or not, so let’s discuss this seriously.
    There is precedent for this – in New York, 47th-50th St station is called “Rockefeller Center – 47th-50th St”. A station out in Queens is called “Slattery Plaza”, after the Slattery Company’s shopping center next to it.
    Therefore, I don’t mind if the destination is descriptive and an ad at the same time. Would anyone have minded if Dundas station had been called “Eaton Centre” station instead, or Don Mills was named “Fairview Mall”? If CIBC wants to buy rights to nearby King Station and call if “CIBC-King” station, I can live with that. Yes, “Home Depot” station is stupid, but less so if there is a Home Depot right on top of it and maybe even plausible if the entity is not a short-term retail lease but a permanent landmark. The list of possibilities is short but it’s not out of the question to explore.

  • rek

    This is some ridiculous Grade-A bullshit right here.
    Let’s look into selling the naming rights to streets and postal codes and schools and police stations and cemeteries and rivers while we’re at it.

  • Miles Storey

    How about selling naming rights to streetcars? We’d all be waiting eagerly for the Brass Rail special.

  • x_the_x

    rek, I think you meant to end your first sentence with a colon.

  • rek

    I certainly did not. This city and the TTC have consistently demonstrated they can’t figure out how to deal with corporations in a way that produces any significant benefit for anyone but the corporations involved. Putting this idea into their head is like telling a 4 year old that bleach tastes like chocolate.

  • AR

    I wouldn’t sellout my name for money, even if I could get a car or some cosmetic surgery, but I guess some would. The names represent a part of our city’s culture, our identity and our dignity. George Yonge must be rolling in his grave.

  • andrewpmk

    Obviously it would only ever make sense to sell naming right to new stations. If you sell naming rights to existing stations, then everyone will just call them by their old name, making the exercise completely pointless. Think how everyone calls the Rogers Centre the SkyDome while everyone refers to the Air Canada Centre by its official name.

  • Patrick Metzger

    Who knows who George Yonge is? Noone! But everyone recognizes the Nike swoosh!

  • AR

    Don’t worry, we’re all just a Wiki search away from knowing.
    I’m sure you know what Yonge is though. In fact, I bet more people in this city could tell you what Yonge is than what the Nike swoosh represents.
    Besides, it’s not just about the person whose name is used, but what that street name represents in the city’s history.

  • TokyoTuds

    No question that public buildings that are government owned and provide a public service should not be “named”. This includes subway stations, post offices, elementary schools, public libraries, fire stations, and the like.
    A stadium or a performing arts hall is a different animal. For profit activities happen therein, and the buildings are sometimes privately owned.
    Also, the comment above about Osgoode or St. Andrew not being a street name, the fact is that those names were chosen due to some sort of destination point, or permanent and publicly recognisable landmark. Look also at Museum Station for another example.