Same Sign, Different Words: Controversy Over Mt. Washington Sprint Banner Continues

Jun 26, 2017

The language on the controversial black and yellow Sprint advertisement that blankets part of Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington has been changed, amid legal battles over the sign’s permit.

The 7,200-square-foot banner now reads “Connecting the City of Champions” instead of “Pittsburgh WINS Black and Yellow.” It’s garnished the hillside since early 2016, covering the historic Bayer sign.

City officials have criticized the banner, calling it “an eyesore” and demanding its removal. Lamar Advertising, the company responsible for the billboard, has fought back against challenges from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, which claimed Lamar doesn’t have the proper permit for the sign.

The sign swap coincides with a local campaign by Sprint, which encourages people to share who they consider to be “champions” by using #SprintPGHChamps on Twitter. For each tweet with the hashtag, the company will donate $1 to the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania up to $15,000. The campaign runs until Saturday.

Mark Nachman, Sprint president of the Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia region, said the signage and campaign are both meant to create a community message about the company.

"We want to utilize that space up on Mt. Washington to really generate kind of a community message," Nachman said, "and let the community know that Sprint supports them and that we're proud to be here, as well."

Sprint partnered with a marketing class at Penn State University - Behrend, located in Erie, to come up with the language for the sign, Nachman said. 

In April, Lamar wrote that “the billboard has been, and continues to be a legal advertising sign for the past 80 years.”

Local nonprofit Scenic Pittsburgh has talked about potentially making a Pittsburgh version of the iconic Hollywood sign, while others suggest the area would look best left with its natural foliage.  

Talia Piazza, vice president of Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation board, said residents of the neighborhood are divided on the issue, but many have said they definitely don’t want the Sprint advertisement.

“Some people want it torn down, other people think it could be used as some sort of resource—not only for Mt. Washington, but for the city,” Piazza said. “There really are multiple layers of opinions as far as what the folks in Mt. Washington want to see.”

She said so far, the MWCDC hasn’t been involved in litigation, but ideally she’d like to see an agreement between Lamar and the city, or the neighborhood.

“We think that the Lamar sign and the revenue that’s generated from the advertising dollars that they make, even 1 percent of that could go toward supporting numerous community projects that would not only benefit Mt. Washington residents, but the entire city and potentially the entire region,” Piazza said.