If you regularly see Metro buses around town, you might have noticed that during the football season they will sometimes display “GO TEXANS!” on their marquees, rotating with their route information. They display similar messages for other local teams during their seasons as well. Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez wants them to stop doing that.
It’s nothing personal against the Houston Texans, the Astros, Rockets or Dynamo. Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez just wants Metro to stop picking winners and losers with its digital bus marquees.
This spring, after Sanchez raised concerns, the Metro board of directors adopted a policy with pre-approved messages for display on the destination signs on the fronts and sides of its buses, including ones covering five “major” local sporting teams. Some of the messages, such as “Happy Holidays,” are appropriate, Sanchez said, but others, such as “Go Texans,” are not.
“We have great athletic teams, there’s a lot of great things in this city, but it’s troubling when an appointed, non-answerable board of directors of a publicly funded institution like Metro gets to pick and choose what corporations get to have their name placed on our infrastructure,” Sanchez said, noting that he has only seen the “Go Texans” message.
The complaint is similar to one Sanchez had a few years ago when the back halves of some Houston Police Department patrol cars were made to look like Yellow Cab taxis for what was supposed to be a public service announcement to deter drunken driving. The so-called wraps included the local Yellow Cab phone number.
That inspired the former Houston city councilman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate, who said he plans to seek a third term as treasurer next year, to submit an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which sided with him and – in an April 2011 letter – thanked him for his “efforts to prevent government waste, fraud and abuse.”
First let me say “Hey, look! It’s a story involving Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez!” I sometimes forget the guy exists. As a longtime proponent of Metro selling ads on its buses and light rail cars, I can see his point about this. This space has value, and Metro’s giving it away for free.
That said, my overall reaction to reading this story is “Really? What’s the big deal?” Metro was never going to sell ad space on the bus marquees – some people don’t want them to have ads on the exterior of their buses at all – so the value argument falls short. I see this as just basic civic boosterism. It’s hardly unusual for public officials to publicly state support for local sports teams – I’m pretty sure that if Orlando Sanchez had been elected Mayor in 2003, he’d have been out there leading the cheers for the Astros in 2005 as they made their run to the World Series – and I’ve never known that to be controversial, with the exception of the Mayor of a two-sports team town like New York openly favoring one team over the other. And for what it’s worth, Metro has used its buses and trains to promote things other than the Texans, such as the Houston Zoo and the Museum of Natural Science. Perhaps Sanchez would object to those as well, I don’t know. Again, I gotta say, what’s the big deal?