ODOT will raise up to $8.65 million by letting State Farm put its name on freeway service vans

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Transportation will raise as much as $8.65 million over 10 years by letting State Farm advertise on ODOT vans that patrol highways to assist motorists.

The sponsorship is the first contract nailed down by the administration of Gov. John Kasich, who hopes to generate millions of dollars a year by selling naming rights and sponsorships of roads, bridges and rest stops.

Kasich has said that finding money in highway facilities is a good way to offset gaping shortfalls in the cost of maintaining and expanding Ohio’s transportation network. The main pool for transportation dollars, the federal gas tax, has not been increased since 1993, prompting Ohio and other states to scramble for new funding sources.

About 10 state departments of transportation sell advertising on their safety patrol vehicles, often to State Farm. The contract that Ohio struck is the most lucrative among those, said Kyle Canter, chief operating officer of the Superlative Group of Westlake, which brokered the deal.

The Bloomington, Ill.-based auto insurer will pay $850,000 a year to have its logo displayed on roadside vehicles and signs, with the annual cost rising to $875,000 after four years. Renewal options could extend the agreement for a decade. The service patrol will be rebranded as the State Farm Freeway Patrol.

ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said 20 vans patrol on highways near Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo and Akron-Canton. Two of the four in Greater Cleveland already have State Farm branding.

Canter said ODOT is taking a broad, “holistic” look at other ways to sell corporate sponsorships and advertising.

“From our perspective, this is just the tip of the iceberg as to the potential for ODOT,” he said. “They’re considering far more of their assets for sponsorship than many other states.”

The traffic-report 5-1-1 service and ohgo.com website could get corporate branding, Canter said.

The Ohio Department is looking into unconventional ways to raise money to offset budget shortfalls. One would be to sell roadside sponsorships to companies, such as here with the sign for Miss Shirley’s along a Maryland highway.

ODOT also is looking at sponsored road signs. They would be patterned after adopt-a-highway programs that let scout troops and 4H clubs put their name on highway signs in return for litter cleanup.  Corporate sponsorships would raise money instead of in-kind services.

The Ohio Turnpike also is looking into selling naming rights and sponsorships. It expected to have an assessment of its bridges, toll booths and plazas by early summer. Legends Sales and Marketing, owned by the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, is doing the review.

Turnpike Executive Director Richard Hodges now anticipates the commercial analysis  will be finished late this year.

“We originally were going to look at individual sponsorship opportunities like pet areas, disabled vehicle services or truckers’ lounges,” he said. “During the process, we decided to look at combining sponsorship packages of different opportunities that might appeal to different segments of the marketplace.  So it will take a few months longer.”

In announcing its marketing plans in January, turnpike staff said one potential buyer was State Farm, for the turnpike’s roadside assistance vehicles.
Twenty disabled-vehicle vans patrol Ohio Department of Transportation highways around major metro areas in the state. The vans, which now will soon have State Farm branding, cruise an 111-mile network in Greater Cleveland.

“It’s the same market,” Canter said of the two agencies’ advertising push. “It’s the same sponsorship pool that’s out there.

“I don’t know if it’s a competition but certainly we’ve taken a very strong first step.”
ODOT patrol vans operate from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on major interstates in Ohio. They are often the first to arrive at a traffic incident and also provide services to stranded motorists such as changing flat tires and jump-starting cars.