Winner stays: Spark takes its brand to the Auckland streets with The Boroughs

In a bid to get Spark connected with young Aucklanders, a group it struggled to reach in the Telecom days, the company is partnering with Kiwi NBA player Steven Adams and the Auckland council to bring five high-tech basketball courts to the city.  

Arnna Conroy, Spark’s senior brand and content marketing manager, says research showed that basketball was one of the top three most popular sports for young Kiwis. And this has no doubt been boosted by Adams’ involvement in the NBA.  

“This is about engaging with young people’s passions,” says Conroy. Spark wanted to get involved with New Zealand basketball somehow, but didn’t think a traditional sponsorship was the best way to go about it. 

Spark canned its All Blacks sponsorship last year in favour of moving its money into areas where there was a bit more clear air. And at the time Kellie Nathan, who’s now at Pumpkin Patch, said: “For Telecom, the All Blacks sponsorship didn’t work. We didn’t feature strongly enough in our tracking as an All Blacks sponsor to get the attribution we needed to justify the investment. There are so many others involved who have done a lot of work to build up a presence. So rather than be one of many, we said ‘let’s own something and develop it from the grassroots up’.”

It’s also trying create experiences rather than just ads, as evidenced by the launch of Spark Lab. Basketball is a good fit for its goals. And Steven Adams is quite possibly the only person who threatens to claim Richie McCaw’s title as the country’s most loved athlete. 

From this came ‘The Boroughs‘ project, with Spark identifying five areas within Auckland (North, South, East, West & Central) and matching them up with ‘sister courts’ in the US. 

  • Rucker Park, Harlem – Sister Court to Otamariki Park in South Auckland
  • The Cage, Manhattan – Sister Court to Victoria PArk in Central Auckland 
  • Downtown Courts, OKC – Sister Court to Avondale Central Reserve in West Auckland
  • The Hole, Brooklyn – Sister Court to Pt England Reserve in East Auckland
  • Venice Beach, LA – Sister Court to Hooton Reserve in the North Shore

Steven Adams and coach Kenny McFadden joined media at today’s press conference to explain the project further.


Len Brown and co. have been talking about public-private partnerships a lot recently, and Spark, along with its agencies Dynamo, Touchcast and Sherson Willis, has been working with the Auckland Council for over 18 months on this project. It plans to build five high-tech courts completely out of its own pockets as well as committing to fund the upkeep. Spark would not disclose how much it is planning to put into the project but said that, all going to plan, the first court is due to be open in February 2015.

Full control off the courts will be given to the communities they reside in. And local players will be able to organise games and tournaments as they wish.

Each court will be a Spark Wifi hotspot. Interactive technology will also be incorporated into each of the courts, which is looking to be a world first. It is not entirely clear what this technology is at present but it will most likely be for capturing game play to share through social media.

“It’s all about getting down to the courts and showing off your moves,” says McFadden. 

Spark is pushing the project out through a dedicated website as well as an Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. More video content has also been added to the existing teasers, which had no paid media support. 

When asked what the project meant to him, Steven Adams answered by saying “It’s about giving back to the community, getting kids off the street and in to basketball”.

While some have criticised the focus on young Auckland after its rebrand, Jason Paris told NZ Marketing that it needed the market Telecom wasn’t connecting with to love the new brand, but he only needed existing customers to like it. And the stock market seems happy with the results, with Spark ranked as the fourth best-performing share of 2014. 

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