MTA Ups the Advertising Assault on Commuters
The MTA will do just about anything to make a buck.
The cash-strapped agency announced Wednesday that it would offer up the front of its iconic MetroCards to advertisers for the first time and drop its rates for ads on the back of fare cards to try to attract more business.
"For those with a message and a desire to reach millions of people in a novel, attention-getting way, there is no better way to advertise," MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said in a statement announcing the new policy.
While the agency has sold ad space on the back of MetroCards since 1995, it has struggled to sell them recently. Over the past five years, MetroCard ads have only fetched from $16,000 to $165,000 annually, according to the MTA, and it has been unable to find more than one advertiser per year since 2009.
The idea to splash ads across the front of MetroCards was Lhota's, according to Paul Fleuranges, the MTA's senior director of corporate and internal communications, who said that every part of the card aside from the black strip on its front and space for an expiration date on the back was available -- as long as the ad doesn't violate MTA rules. So for the first time, the MTA and MetroCard logo may not be printed anywhere on the card if the ad policy works.
Fleuranges said people will still recognize the card, even if it doesn't have the agency's icons.
"Everyone's gonna know it's a MetroCard," he said. "It's quite clear it's a MetroCard."
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said some transit purists may "flip out" by the MTA's decision to let companies put their brands on the front of cards, but said he didn't mind since it meant the possibility of extra money for the MTA's coffers.
"The horse is out of the barn. They've been advertising on the back of them for a long time now," Russianoff said of the MetroCards. "They put ads on the turnstiles. It's not like the system has been pristine."
"I share the MTA's desire to get revenue from sources other than the fare," he added, "but I'm skeptical that charging premium rates from the front of MetroCards will yield a lot.
The MTA didn't have estimates for how much it expected to raise from the changes, and had not published the rates for how much the ads on the front of cards would cost. After dropping the price Wednesday for its back-of-the-card ads, color ads now go for 17 to 51 cents apiece. The MTA also said it would give a 20% discount to companies that use MTA messages alongside their ads.
While the agency is expected to raise fares by 7.5% in 2013, it is scheduled to also announce plans next week to add service, some of which was slashed during the MTA's "doomsday" cuts in 2010.
As Russianoff noted, the MTA has been looking for alternative places to advertise. Last year, it raised about $225,000 for selling ads on its website -- a record for the agency -- and it expects to make even more in 2012. The MTA has also started selling ads to run on its oversized "On the Go" info tablets at subway stations and commuter rail hubs, and hopes to make more money on its new digital subway station entrance signs.