Setting ‘$ale’: NYC Ferry looking to sell corporate naming rights to avoid sinking money troubles

Rendering of NYC Ferry bearing generic ad
NYC Ferry is seeking to sell corporate naming rights in a bid to reduce financial churn.

The Adams administration is looking for a corporate sponsor to buy naming rights for NYC Ferry, the aquatic transit service that has long been in the red financially.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which runs the ferry system, on Tuesday released a request for proposals soliciting deep-pocketed corporations interested in slapping their name onto NYC Ferry’s fleet of 38 vessels, which travel along six routes and transport 7 million riders per year.

“This first-ever naming rights sponsorship is key to our NYC Ferry Forward plan to ensure that our popular ferry system stays affordable, and that New York City’s waterways remain an accessible method of public transportation,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement.

Interested parties must submit a proposal to EDC by 11:59 pm on July 25.

Adams administration honchos say corporate naming rights are part of its overarching “Ferry Forward” program to reduce fiscal churn at NYC Ferry, which spends far more than it takes in. In 2022, City Comptroller Brad Lander found the city subsidized every ride on the ferry to the tune of $12.88 per ride, even as the price of admission stood at the same cost as a subway ride at the time.

The city has responded by attempting to bring in more revenue to the ferry, including by raising the individual fare to $4. The agency says it has reduced the per-ride subsidy to $8.55 per ride and aims to lower it further.

Last year, EDC approved a new operating contract worth $405 million over five years with Hornblower Group, which runs the ferry system. The contract is worth 2.5 times the revenue the ferry expects to bring in over the same period. Despite that, Hornblower filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier in 2024.

It’s unclear how much money naming rights will bring in for the ferry. Over on the subway, the only station with a corporate naming sponsor is Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn; Barclays plc purchased naming rights in 2009 for $4 million, granting it the rights to the name for 20 years. With 9.5 million riders in 2023, the station served more passengers than the entire ferry system.

Still, naming rights could be in the future for the larger transit system should some pols get their way, what with congestion pricing on indefinite pause.

At the MTA Board’s committee meetings on Monday, Queens Assemblymember David Weprin, a strident critic of congestion pricing, suggested making up the $15 billion in lost capital revenue by selling corporate naming rights to subway and bus stops.

Such a move, however, would likely not raise nearly as much money even if one assumes the MTA could sell rights for every station at the same rate as the Barclays deal.

Correction: this story has been amended to properly note the Ferry’s current per-ride subsidy.