‘Hey, Spark Arena!’: Clive Ormerod on renaming a mainstay of New Zealand entertainment

“A big part of Spark has been bringing awesome experiences to our customers and to New Zealanders mainly through partnerships – it’s something we’ve been working really hard at,” Ormerod says about the telco taking on the naming rights to Spark Arena.

And it’s still working hard because taking on the naming rights to the arena is one thing, but getting New Zealanders to swap Vector for Spark when referring to it is another.

The former has been a familiar name since the arena opened 10 years ago, and thinking about how to influence New Zealanders to acknowledge the change, Spark called in the help of local media by reminding them to start using Spark Arena when discussing the venue.

One of those media outlets was The Breeze Auckland, and it responded to the challenge so well, it created a whole song dedicated to Spark Arena.

Each week, DJs Robert and Jeanette have a Song for a Suburb segment and at the end of April, it created a Spark Arena rendition of the Macarena.

With the lyrics: “Now there’s a change you might not have seen’a/still the same place just down from the marina/tell you what it is so you won’t need a subpoena/hey Spark Arena!”, Spark was so impressed, it asked them to do a repeat of it from inside the arena. 

Those efforts were followed by Spark’s unveiling of the Spark Arena brand, by Design Works, in a near-minute long video shared on its social media. It shows the making of the new Spark Arena sign: from the painting of the giant lettering to using a crane to get it up on the roof.


As well as making the name change apparent, Ormerod says there’s also a broader ambition to get New Zealanders talking about Spark Arena and have it put on the map.

For years, people have headed to Vector Arena as a destination. But now, they’re heading to Spark Arena, so it kicked off a campaign lead by Sherson Willis which saw a giant location pin (created by Spur) dropped outside of the arena.

“We know how much people use Google Maps or other technology on their phones in terms of wayfinding and to get directions and know where they’re going, so the team built the campaign very much central to getting Spark Arena on the map by dropping a large pin outside it,” Ormerod says.

He says the pin has the added benefit of being a striking feature outside the arena and people have been taking photos with it.

The combination of the activations has acted like a public service announcement as much as it’s been a campaign for Spark, and Ormerod says New Zealanders have adopted the new name well.

“It’s caught on really well, we’re very happy,” he says.

Taking over the naming rights to the arena is another step in the journey Spark’s been on for over three years to built experiences for its customers through partnerships. The first of which was with Spotify, and for three-and-a-half years, it’s given customers on selected mobile plans a free subscription to Spotify Premium.

That’s since been followed by partnerships with Lightbox, global music promoter Live Nation and strong relationships with local record labels.

And while its Spotify and Lightbox deals give customers digital experiences, Ormerod says the new Spark Arena turns it into a physical experience which is just as powerful, if not more.

“When you start to put that all together, we start to be able to provide all New Zealanders really awesome experiences that are hopefully better through all the partnerships we are able to bring together.”

A common theme across Spark’s partnerships is music, which Ormerod explains comes down to the fact music resonates with all New Zealanders, no matter their demographic.

“We know music is something everyone loves; it appeals to everyone – all cross sections of New Zealand.”

He adds live music events have the benefit of delivering “unforgettable moments”.

What’s on offer

While changing the name of a venue Kiwis have been familiar with for 10 years is already a huge effort for Spark, Ormerod says the main change people will feel through the arena is the ability to be better connected.

Leveraging another partnership, this time with Huawei, Spark’s installed free WiFi throughout the venue. The technology allows for up to 10,000 visitors and concert-goers to share their experiences on social media.

It’s a huge improvement to the arena which prior to its new name had no connectivity internally, and Ormerod says it’s another feature it’ll be working on to raise awareness.

Furthermore, Spark is using its position to give its own customers extra benefits.

Backstage tours and early access to tickets are a few perks Ormerod says it will be pushing for its customers, adding there could also be opportunities for preferential queuing and seating at certain gigs.

“We want to make sure we give our customers the opportunity to have experiences that go above and beyond,” he says.

“We want people to understand that Spark can’t be beaten on the value added service we bring.”

That understanding will no doubt prove to be a driver for customer acquisition. But on top of that, Ormerod hopes it will differentiate Spark from other brands that don’t offer the same level of experiences.

“Brands that can provide their customers awesome experiences are brands that compete well above just physical product,” he says, adding that it’s aiming to deliver great experiences across all its touchpoints from in-store to its partnerships and now through the arena.

“And that’s ultimately what’s in it for us, is making sure that we’re a brand that also connects emotionally with our customers and New Zealanders.”

New name, new look

With new technology inside, Spark’s also made its mark on the outside of the arena with a huge new illuminated sign in Spark colours.

Ormerod says it partnered with Philips to introduce some new innovation to the space, using 9500 high-intensity full colour LED lights that allow the sign to change to any of the four brand colours—orange, green pink and purple—or any colour relating to an event or a cultural movement it wants to celebrate.

Those colours will then follow visitors inside.

“It’s really about the coming together of Sparks identity and the arena’s identity and making sure that graphically and from a design perspective, the reverence and vibrancy of our brand is reflected strongly internally,” Ormerod says.

With Spark’s presence now undeniable at the arena, all eyes will be on the Vodafone Music Awards later in the year to see if it moves the event to a new venue.

The event’s called the arena home for a number of years, but when Ormerod is asked what he thinks will happen, he simply says he has no idea.

Spark’s social media team is also no help, as its response to a Facebook comment about how “awkward” it could be gives nothing away.

Facebook has also seen Spark face questions about what it means for music fans who aren’t Spark customers, why the sign looks like it does, as well as some requests for artists.

Looking into the future, Ormerod says Spark will continue with activations at Spark Arena by tying them around the majority of the events it hosts, whether that’s having brand ambassadors there to help visitors understand there’s free WiFi or through other Spark promotions. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when Little Mix, Ariana Grande, J Cole, Harry Styles, Cat Stevens and Bruno Mars take to the stage later in the year as they’re among a number of acts already lined-up for the arena.

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