CLEVELAND -- The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was the first transit system in the nation to sell naming rights sponsorships to its assets, and the practice continues to be part of its Marketing and Business plans.
It makes good business sense, says Joe Calabrese, RTA CEO and General Manager.
"Funding is tight for transit agencies across the nation. For new revenue, agencies should consider the sale of naming rights sponsorships to key transit assets," Calabrese says. "Selling naming rights to professional sports facilities has been the norm for years. Today, many college and high school athletic facilities bear the name of a major corporate partner. Isn't it about time for transit to follow suit?"
RTA partnered with The Superlative Group in 2008, and as a result, naming rights sponsorships have been negotiated for:
- The HealthLine – recognized as the top BRT system in North America. The joint 25-year sponsorship is with two world-class health-care facilities – the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals – both of which are located along the route. Service began in 2008.
- Naming rights for individual HealthLine stations have been sold to respected organizations, such as Huntington Bank, Medical Mutual, Cleveland State University, and Bryant & Stratton College.
- In 2014, Cleveland State University entered into a 28-year naming rights sponsorship for the popular 55 bus line, as RTA upgraded the service to BRT. The Cleveland State brand can be seen on 16 articulated vehicles, as well as 19 upscale bus stations along the Clifton Corridor.
"The sales of these naming rights pumps millions of dollars of revenue into RTA," Calabrese says. "While most of this new revenue goes to the bottom line, a portion is dedicated to maintaining a higher level of cleanliness and landscaping on the sponsored services."
Of course, it helps when these services are considered strong community assets.
- HealthLine: Annual ridership has increased by 60 percent since 2008. The service has generated more than $6.3 billion in development along Euclid Avenue.
- Cleveland State Line: Ridership has almost doubled since its inauguration in December 2014.
What is better than money, or at least almost as good? The answer is transit's image in the community.
Partnering with well-respected institutions for these sponsorships has the added benefit of enhancing the image of our transit systems, Calabrese says.
Another public-private partnership
In 2006, RTA introduced Downtown trolley service that was free with a smile. The popular service – which now carries up to 6,000 passengers a day – was initially underwritten by a single source, such as Destination Cleveland (the local convention and visitor’s bureau), the Corner Alley entertainment venue, or Dollar Bank.
Later, when service doubled, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance coordinated a campaign that garnered 14 more sponsors. Although naming rights were not sold, the names of all donors appear on every vehicle. The service remains free today, and is extremely popular with large events, such as the 2016 Republican National Convention.
As RTA and The Superlative Group continue to look for other opportunities, at least one other major employer is giving serious consideration to partner on a sponsorship by supporting a service that connects their numerous facilities to each other and to the community.
"When done properly, selling naming rights is one of those win-win situation for all concerned," Calabrese says.