YOUR NAME HERE: Transit district to sell naming rights for stations, trains & buses

A Coaster heads north under the North Torrey Pines Road Bridge in Del Mar last year.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Advertising program could bring NCTD millions of dollars in revenue, boosting budget for general operations


Naming rights soon could be sold for North County Transit District trains, stations and transit centers under a proposal being developed for the agency.

A widely used form of advertising, the sales provide a significant source of revenue in other transit agencies. San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System, where the Blue Line trolley route is known as the “UC San Diego Blue Line,” signed a 30-year deal in 2015 worth an estimated $30 million with the University of California, San Diego.

The university initially paid MTS $675,000 for the naming rights while the line was under construction. The fee increased to $945,000 in the first year of service, and since then the cost goes up annually adjusted to the local inflation rate.

NCTD’s board of directors approved a contract to develop its program earlier this year with Superlative, Inc., the firm that handles the San Diego MTS naming rights. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Superlative also has contracts with the Los Angeles Metro, San Francisco’s BART, and other transit agencies across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

So far, Superlative has created a list of NCTD’s assets most likely to be named and set a range of values for each one, the firm’s Chief Operating Officer Kyle Canter said in a Zoom presentation Thursday, Nov. 17, to the NCTD board.

Sales are expected to begin in early 2023, Canter said.

“That’s our firm out in the market on your behalf,” he told the board. “We work very closely with (NCTD) staff through that process. Ultimately, it’s going to be a partnership between NCTD and our eventual sponsors, so we try to foster that relationship right from the beginning and through the whole sales process.”

All naming rights deals will be subject to the NCTD board’s approval, he said.

The Sprinter rail line that runs between Oceanside and Escondido is the transit district’s single most valuable asset in terms of naming rights, Canter said. It’s estimated to be worth between $400,000 and $600,000 annually.

That’s because the Sprinter, which stops at Palomar College and Cal State San Marcos, has more riders and more stations than the Coaster, the district’s other rail line.

The Coaster commuter rail, which goes between Oceanside and San Diego’s Santa Fe Station, has naming rights worth $300,000 to $500,000 annually, Canter said. That value could go up if NCTD completes the Coaster’s proposed extension to a station planned for the San Diego Convention Center, which also would provide a stop for Petco Park and the Padres baseball games.

Naming rights for 26 individual train stations and transit centers listed by the firm range from $40,000 to $200,000 annually, Canter said. Leading the list is the Oceanside Transit Center, with rights estimated at $150,000 to $200,000.

A sponsor’s name could be displayed on signs outside stations, on the sides of buses and trains, and on schedules, timetables and other printed and online material.

Revenue from the sales of naming rights is one of several strategies the transit district is working on to provide alternative sources of revenue, said NCTD Executive Director Matt Tucker.

Another strategy is to redevelop transit district-owned properties such as train stations with mixed-use projects including apartments and retail businesses. In addition to providing lease revenue, the projects are intended to address the state’s affordable housing shortage and to increase the number of public transit riders.

The NCTD board voted unanimously in October 2020 to award a contract to Toll Brothers, Inc., to create plans for a large hotel, hundreds of apartments, retail stores and offices at the 10.2-acre Oceanside Transit Center on South Tremont Street in Oceanside.

Development deals also are being negotiated for the district’s train stations in Escondido and Carlsbad.

“We are really doubling down on advancing all these development projects,” Tucker said Thursday, Nov. 17, adding that the entire community benefits from efforts to increase housing, improve the quality of life and provide better connections through public transit.

“No doubt about it, the revenue portion for the district is also very, very significant for us,” he said.

“The big picture for me is to make sure that we have a five-year balanced budget,” Tucker said, adding that the district is still working to restore ridership and fare revenues to what they were before the pandemic took effect in 2020.

Money from the redevelopment projects and the naming rights sales would go into the district’s overall budget and allow the district to expand transportation opportunities in a number of ways, he said.