Nemo? It’s time to sell ad naming rights to storms

Dear U.S. government: In an age of constant budget worries, here’s a simple proposal. Sell advertiser naming rights to major hurricanes and snowstorms.

Apparently the National Weather Service is upset that The Weather Channel has started naming storms … and those nicknames are taking off. The current blizzard hitting the Northeast has been termed “Nemo” by The Weather Channel, and despite the official government weather agency protesting no one should use the name, buzz on Twitter and media news is accelerating. This is the 14th storm The Weather Channel has named, with “Plato” and “Q” coming up soon.

Why let The Weather Channel get away with this for free? Why not turn storm names into commercials, with money going to the National Weather Service? Naming rights have been around for nearly a century, since Wrigley Gum bought the moniker to the home stadium of the Chicago Cubs in 1926. Fees today go from about $800,000 per year to $10 million per year, for 30-year commitments, making the home of the Houston Texans the “Reliant Stadium” to promote an energy company. The average cost is about $2.9 million per year for the 83 major U.S. stadiums and arenas to put your brand name in lights.

Storms get huge ratings … and the National Weather Service is under financial duress. It employs 4,800 employees to predict weather events and issue warnings on tornadoes, floods, severe thunderstorms, Nor’easters, and also supports forecasts for thousands of airports so that plane you’re flying in doesn’t crash. It pulls data from U.S. government satellites, which are aging, may fail soon, and as one observer said, “if one of them goes out, it’s not like simply replacing a burned-out lightbulb.” The service’s government parent NOAA isĀ practically begging for more financial support, and fixing the dying fleet of weather satellites will cost at least $900 million per year.

Advertisers could save our weather system.

Now, consider how much money the government might take in from such ads. If we assume the average big storm affects 100 million U.S. consumers (a third of the nation), and each consumer hears about the storm seven times on the news or social media, that’s 700 million impressions per storm. If the government charged $6 per 1,000 impressions, naming rights would sell for $4.2 million per storm. That sounds like a lot, but remember it’s only slightly more than the average regional sports stadium, and we’re talking about a name that will reach a third of all Americans. Twenty storms a year would bring the National Weather Service a cool $84 million annually. That’s about 10% of what NOAA needs to keep weather satellites operating, a big help.

So would it annoy you to hear the Apple, Banana Republic, or Crayola storms tearing up the coast next year? Perhaps. But the name can’t be any worse than Nemo, it might save the satellites we need to predict devastation … and it would sure make women named Sandy feel better.


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