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The Evening Standard recently reported the Conservative group at the London Assembly’s proposal that naming rights for London Underground Stations should be offered to sponsors.

I say proposal; it sounds more like some half-baked scheme cooked up over a boozy lunch or a “take-out” from one of those awful “let’s have a thought-shower and there’s no such thing as a bad idea” sessions.

As an idea, it’s at best ill-conceived and at worst utterly brainless.  Not just because station names play a fundamental role in people’s ability to navigate the system (and therefore must have a reference only to the area they serve), nor because it’s an unwelcome commercial assault on a hugely important part of London’s heritage.

No, there is a third reason that completes an unholy trinity of idiocy, and that is the fact it won’t work; no potential sponsor worth their salt should touch it with a 15-foot pole, and if our esteemed leaders had taken the time to establish that in the first place they could have saved themselves the embarrassment of this nonsense ever seeing the light of day.

I know a bit about sponsorship strategies. Before heading down this particular path, I ran my own sponsorship consultancy for over 15 years advising clients how and where to spend their sponsorship money.

There are two basic criteria a naming rights package must meet before it is worth even putting on a potential sponsor’s consideration list: first, the sponsored property must have had no previous name or title as people will (understandably) continue calling it that (which is why it is a popular strategy with new-build sports stadia); second, there must be no alternative within the name that allows people to “drop” the name of the sponsor in referring to it.

If it doesn’t meet both of these, it’s not naming rights but just more billboard advertising, so the idea is not only bad, it’s also fundamentally flawed.

Good naming rights examples: The Emirates Stadium (Arsenal FC); The Reebok Stadium (Bolton Wanderers FC); The Walkers Bowl (Leicester City FC); The Emirates Airline (OK, no-one actually uses it but the name works…).

“They might as well not have bothered” examples: The Friends Provident St Mary’s Stadium (Southampton FC); The O2 Academy at Brixton (who ever calls it that?); the “whoever is sponsoring it this year” Oval; The FA Cup “in association with” (whoever…).

Get the picture?

My favourite bit of the piece though is their attempt to prop up their shaky “thinking” with “research”:

“Authors of the report said its polling showed support for using sponsorship to reduce the cost of travel. Four in five Londoners (82 per cent) support more sponsorship across the network to subsidise fares, according to their poll. One in three supported renaming an existing underground station in a long-term commercial deal.”

All I’ll say to that is watch this clip, and then decide how much faith can be put in those “findings”.

There’s an old Yorkshire saying which they would have done well to heed before signing off the press release: “If tha knows nowt, say nowt and ‘appen no-one’ll notice”.  Maybe they should stick that on their Nobo board next time they have a “thought shower”.

I have a horrible feeling that none of these reasons are going to stop it happening though…

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