When Opening Day dawned at Yankee Stadium last week, fans watching the between-innings entertainment were in for a shock. The Yankees had changed the Great City Subway Race. Instead of featuring the MTA’s familiar 4, B and D trains, the subway cars were now labeled Road Gray, Midnight Blue and Pinstripes. Gone was the connection — albeit a tenuous one — to New York City.
In the ensuing days, fan response has been loud and negative. What started out on my part as an amusing look at the changes has turned into something personal for others. A group dedicated to bringing back the subway designations has popped up on Facebook and already has over 130 members. Others now find the subway race a shell of its former self. It’s just another part of the constant barrage of stadium noise.
Behind the scenes, rumors are flying. At first, it sounded as though the MTA had asked for licensing fees from the Yankees, but as I dug deeper into the behind-the-scenes goings-on, that story changed. In fact, this is a tale that has its origins in the original subway race at the new stadium.
When the Yankees first started the subway race, they asked the MTA for permission to use the transit agency’s intellectual property. The subway bullets, after all, are MTA trademarks, and the authority granted that permission, for free, as long as the Yankees did not attach a sponsor to the race. Here, the story gets a little fuzzy. The Yankees had long had Dunkin Donuts sponsoring the race; the 4 train was frequently slowed by a jelly donut in the tracks. The MTA though didn’t seem to notice a sponsor had signed on until last year when Subway took over.
Following the 2010 season, MTA sources tell me, the authority attempted to reach out to the Yankees to discuss the subway race sponsorship. At no point did the MTA ask the Yankees for money, and one person with whom I spoke said the MTA had no plans to do so. Rather, they were going to ask the Yankees to append a public service announcement to the subway race urging fans to take mass transit to the game. The Yankees though never returned the MTA’s calls, and the authority never had the chance to make this offer.
When reached for a comment, an MTA spokesperson was guarded. “The video race was considered a method to promote taking mass transit to games,” Kevin Ortiz said. ” We are disappointed the Yankees decided to change the look of the trains.” The Yankees had no comment.
So that’s where things stand right now with the subway race. I doubt we’ve heard the end of this, but the Yankees and the MTA appear to be at an impasse. I’m hoping the real subway bullets come back, but in the meantime, I think I’ll root for Pinstripes. It’s a classic look.