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Metro, Which Couldn’t Explain Its Advertising Guidelines, May Sell Naming Rights to Its Stations

What could possibly go wrong

Photograph by Sean Pavone/iStock.

The idea that WMATA might sell naming rights to its stations, lines, or office buildings surfaced yet again on Monday. “I think it’s coming back because we’re under tremendous financial stress constantly,” WTOP’s Max Smith reports GM Paul Wiedefeld told reporters. A proposal for bids closed this past January; Wiedefeld told Smith it’s up to the board whether the transit system goes forward with the idea.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, of course, but WMATA’s record in managing sponsored content doesn’t inspire a lot of optimism that this initiative won’t go south quickly. Metro decided it would stop taking “issue-oriented” ads in 2015 after the anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller tried to plaster the system with cartoon images of Muhammad. That decision led to the system rejecting ads for a women’s health clinic, for a book by Milo Yiannopoulos, for PETA, even an ad about the issue of Christmas.

Metro’s difficulty in articulating how those ads violated its policies gifted it a pair of lawsuits; it prevailed in one and the other now has the attention of the Supreme Court. Even if, for some reason, no provocateurs or even vaguely political entities try to buy the rights to a station, is there any reason to believe in this polarized environment that an Amazon National Landing station or a Chick-fil-A Line would land in the Washington area without a hitch? Not to mention that brands might not be wild the idea of hearing about a service meltdown on “their” property. One way around this potential minefield: Sell naming rights exclusively to companies that design typefaces. At least they’ll fall in line eventually.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.