Winnipeg coffers empty as naming rights prove fruitless

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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These types of car wrap advertisements were to become commonplace in Winnipeg. Not so.

During the time I worked at Vancouver City Hall, the issue of naming rights came across my desk a few times. Whether it was the possibility of re-naming Pacific Coliseum to Whitespot Place, or the Queen Elizabeth Theatre becoming Macmillan Bloedel Theatre, it was always a hot topic (those were fictitious examples by the way).

City governments are always on the lookout for easy cash. This is especially true when that cash doesn't involve raising your property taxes. That's where the idea of raising funds through advertising on civic buildings, vehicles etc...was born.

At first glance the issue itself does not appear complicated. Locate a civic building, then find someone who's willing to put their name on it, then sit back and rake in the cash. If only it were that easy (see 41 page Vancouver City report on this subject). In reality, the issue of naming rights for public buildings is complicated and frought with political angst.

What if the potential sponsor goes against the "core" values of the local neighbourhood or community? Should the city set some guidelines around who can and who can't sponsor? Should the naming rights simply be afforded to the highest bidder, regardless of who they are or what they represent? What about people who are worried about too much private sector encroachment on public facilities?

Then there is the thorny issue of which public buildings (or rooms) should be eligible for naming rights. Are public schools off limits? As our Toronto correspondent Eric Mang jokingly pointed out in a previous post, do we really want our K-12 schools named after major corporations like Pepsi or Coke? I think not.

A recent report out of Winnipeg might get civic officials across the country re-thinking how much money they can rake in with naming rights. Especially during an economic downturn.

The City of Winnipeg had anticipated a $1.5 million dollar windfall once they allowed the naming of public buildings to take place. Unfortunately for weary taxpayers, they ended up empty-handed. Not a single penny came in through this new initiative which started back in 2007.

At the time, Mayor Sam Katz was touting this new policy as an easy way to raise cash to help pay for critical road infrastructure and the like. He was fully prepared to allow private companies to put their name on city-owned buildings, vehicles and even services. The whole plan appears to have fallen flat its face.

Winnipeg's budget chair Councillor Justin Swandel told the Winnipeg Free Press that he still holds out hope that some money might trickle in - eventually:

Once it starts to happen, you'll see money coming in. But even a $1-million sponsorship translates over a number of years. It doesn't arrive all at once.

Let this be a warning to all municipal officials that there is no such thing as easy money. Even when it comes in the form of glamorous advertising dollars.

1 Comment

Interesting piece. I assume advertising dollars will remain fairly elusive for another year or so. From the report:

In 1995, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation adopted Sponsorship Guidelines governing corporate participation in programs, events and activities. There were also
guidelines put in place for the naming of parks.

In 1996, City Council deferred entering into a major City sponsorship program, pending a review of sponsorship experience through Park Board and Library Board sponsorship initiatives.

Naming Rights Policy 3

In 1997, City Council approved the guiding principles and implementation of a City sponsorship program for revenue generation opportunities and the acquisition of goods and services.

In 1998, Council approved corporate sponsorship for limited components of the street banner program.

In 2003, the Library Board adopted a sponsorship policy including the naming of rooms within library buildings and in 2004, approved related donor recognition guidelines.

In July 2005, Council approved the development of a comprehensive naming rights policy for City-owned buildings, including those operated by the City and those leased to non-profit tenants. Council indicated at that time that it would not consider any proposals for naming of City-owned buildings until a new comprehensive policy was developed. Council also approved naming of rooms within City-owned facilities subject to terms and conditions outlined in the July 4, 2005 Council report.

I wonder if these policies have carried forward or if there's been a review since 2006.

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