Monday, 5 May 2008

Metro Naming Rights in Dubai

This being an Olympic Year, the thoughts of IP attorneys turn to the ever-increasing presence of corporate and product sponsorships that will accompany the various athletic competitions: swimming with "Coke" (or whatever software drink purveyor has purchased sponsorship rights), or following the last leg of the 400 meter sprint relay with "Nokia" (or whatever company name adorns the athletic stadium).

With all the anticipated razzmatazz over Olympic sponsors, a full-page ad in the April 26 issue of The Economist caught my eye. Entitled "Dubai Metro Naming Rights", it is an ad on behalf of the Dubai RTA (I assume that means "Rapid Transit Authority") for companies to place their brand on a Dubai metro station, or on one of the two lines of the Dubai Metro network.

None other than IMG is the marketing agent for the name rights program. In case you're wondering, IMG is a world giant in sports and entertainment sponsoring and marketing. For grey-hairs like me, IMG will ever be identified with its promotion of Arnold Palmer, which turned golf into a marketing bonanza and set the table for the phenomenon that we call Tiger Woods.

It is not clear to me how this program will work. Will it mean that instead of calling the station the Dubai equivalent to "Oxford Circus", it will be referred to as the "XYZ" brand station? On the one hand, that seems like a great way to get reinforcing exposure to your brand. On the other hand, calling the station only by the corporate name may confuse the passenger, who will no longer be able to link the name of the station with some kind of geographic or other connection to the site. Or maybe there will be dual names for the station.

In any event, this metro name rights program is an interesting idea. While your brand will not enjoy the intense exposure of hundreds of millions of Olympic-viewing spectators, the games are over in two weeks and, with them, the immediate connection between your brand and the athletic competition. You, on the other hand, will have your name and brand associated on a permanent basis with a site that presumably caters to a large number of passengers and passers-by on a 24/7 basis.

An analogy is the use of sign rights on buildings. It reminds me of that one-time icon of New York City, the Pan Am Building. However, the name recognition that derived from the sign rights apparently did little to save the airline from ultimate business failure, and the building has been called the MetLife Building since the 1980s. In our own day, we need look no further than Chicago, where we find the Sears Tower (the verdict is still out on the ultimate future of Sears) or the John Hancock Building (but I wonder how many non-Americans know that this is the name of an insurance company).

I will be intrigued to see what companies ultimately choose to participate in this program. Will the names that ultimately appear on the Dubai metro reflect local/regional brands (à la John Hancock) or international brands (à la Pan AM), or some combination of the two? For those of you who are interested, you can check out the RTA website , or inquire directly here.

4 comments:

Rob Harrison said...

Naming rights to railway stations is old hat in Germany. Bochum has a Nokia railway station next door to Nokia's production facility on a local suburban line. Now that Nokia has decided to close the facility, it will be interesting to see whether the station is renamed. Of course, Blackberry developer RIM is now moving to Bochum so maybe we shall see the station being renamed Blackberry oder Schwarzbeere

Neil Wilkof said...

Rob,

Are the railway station names connected with a local company presence, such as with Nokia in Bochum, or is there an example of an entire metropolitan line selling of the names of its station to the highest bidder?

Rob Harrison said...

I don't know of the naming rights of an entire metropolitain line being sold in Germany. However, the Jubilee Line in London was named due to its opening during the Queen's silver jubilee year.

Chad Nuttall said...

I'm linking to you. Blog post on naming rights. http://www.chadnuttall.com