First basketball, now bikes: Spark backs public pedal power in Christchurch

Nielsen data from 2014 shows interest in cycling is increasing across all our major cities, with Christchurch showing the highest interest relative to its population size at 32 percent (since 2010 Auckland’s interest in cycling has increased the most, at seven percent to 29 percent). This is leading to a few tense discussions about safety and appropriate infrastructure to inspire more of it. But Spark has decided to tap into that interest and, in another slightly surprising marketing initiative that it says aligns with its ‘Never Stop Starting’ tagline, has announced it will be helping to launch a public bike share scheme in Christchurch in June. 

According to a Spark communications advisor Sarah Leaning, the Spark bike system will link key sites within the Christchurch CBD, allowing people to move easily between businesses and local attractions.

Spark is getting behind a two-year pilot for the project, which will see Spark Bike stations set up at Victoria Street, Gloucester Street, Re:START Mall, Tuam Street and Worcester Blvd.

The project was driven by local entrepreneur Rob Henderson, who launched a crowd-funding initiative to kick-start the project and he says he received overwhelming support from the Christchurch community.

“Christchurch’s naturally flat landscape combined with the chance for innovation as we rebuild, was what gave us the idea for a bike sharing system here,” says Henderson. “Last year, we crowd-funded to raise the $45,000 required to implement it—and we were blown away by the level of support from local businesses and the public. We’re thrilled that Spark has generously come to the party to cover the daily operation of the bikes, and to make the bike-share system a reality.”

A few years back, a similar bike rental scheme was tried in Auckland and, while it seemed promising, it didn’t survive. But having a corporate benefactor locked in rather than hunting for advertisers is obviously a better way of ensuring that doesn’t happen in Christchurch. 

Departing Spark chief executive for home, mobile and business, Chris Quin, says access to free bikes in the city centre will help to support the rejuvenation of Christchurch by drawing more visitors to the CBD.

“Bike share systems operate in some of the most vibrant cities in the world, where they play an integral part of a city’s public transport mix. When Rob came to us with a similar idea for Christchurch, we couldn’t wait to get behind him. When you look at some of the amazing change happening around the city centre, what better way for people to experience this, and to support local businesses, than through a world-class free bike sharing scheme.”

Leaning says all Spark bike trips under 30 minutes will be free, with stations set up throughout the city to allow for a short commute between docking points. There will be a one-off $4 registration fee for first-time users (pre-registration is required online) and a $4 per hour charge for trips over 30 minutes. Each Spark Bike will come complete with its own safety helmet and combination lock. Maybe they also need to offer some of Volvo’s Life Paint

The Christchurch Bike Share Project has also received support from Aecom, SLI Systems, The Press, Countrywide Property Trust and C. Lund and Son Ltd. It’s not clear if Spark has plans to help bring similar cycle schemes to other cities. 

Reaching out to the community and using its marketing budget to create things of value rather than just ads has become a big part of Spark’s new brand positioning. And, as the younger folk it is targeting tend to use bikes and public transport a lot more, this seems like a good fit.

Last year, Spark announced it was teaming up with Kiwi NBA player Steven Adams on a project dubbed ‘The Boroughs’, which saw it join forces with Auckland Council to open five high-tech basketball courts. And last month Spark and the Ōtara-Papatoetoe local board started construction on the first court at Otamariki Park in South Auckland.

While this bike scheme would be classified more as a marketing campaign than a brand extension, it does show that by thinking about its business a bit differently, Spark also has the potential to move into other areas, as it is trying to do with its Digital Ventures unit. Virgin Group, for example, started out as a record label but has successfully (and occasionally unsuccessfully) extended itself. It now covers transportation (aeroplanes, trains), games stores, finance, telecommunications, video and more and is now expanding its services to include space travel with Virgin Galactic. 

Of course, there is also the distinct possibility of over-extension. Who could forget Zippo Lighter’s strange venture into fragrances, with bottles that were are designed to look exactly the same as the lighters, flip top and all; BIC’s disposable underwear, or these branding missteps

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