What Are Boris Bikes?
“Boris Bikes” is the nickname of London’s public bicycle hire scheme. The name comes from London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, who championed the scheme after his predecessor Ken Livingstone laid the groundwork for it. The scheme consists of 10,000 bikes, 720 docking stations and is free for cyclists to use for half an hour, with charges applying for longer use. The premise is to “Hire a bike, ride it where you like, and return it to any docking station, ready for the next person”. The launch partner and current sponsor of the scheme until 2015 is Barclays.
The History of Barclays’ Sponsorship Deal
Questions were raised about Barclays’ sponsorship of the scheme from the very beginning. A competitive and transparent process for the rights never took place and the 2010 agreement was apparently brokered between Johnson and Barclays chairman Marcus Agius during a “social occasion”. The deal struck was £5m a year – widely regarded as a bargain – and reportedly discounted due to the associated risks with the launch of such a scheme that had no guaranteed success.
Things got off to a great start, but the scheme has been slowly going downhill. User numbers are falling, promised expansion of the scheme is stalling, and cyclists have died whilst riding the bikes on London’s busy streets. Johnson reportedly wanted to announce a new sponsor before the news that Barclays was ending its current deal in summer 2015 hit the press, but a replacement failed to materialise in time.
Barclays will be ending its sponsorship of the cycle hire scheme in 2015.
The Scale of the Sponsorship
Whoever buys the sponsorship rights will be able to rename the scheme and choose the colour of the bikes. The naming and colour would also spread across other paraphernalia including “vehicles, docking points, pay terminals, staff uniforms, membership keys and public-facing communications”.
The cost of the deal is a minimum seven-year investment of £38.5m, but the sponsor gets huge unrivalled coverage across London. Johnson has also stated that a new sponsor must have the ‘aspiration’ to get more people involved biking.
Who Will Take Over?
1 – Brand Image Needs to Fit
Barclays was a good fit for a London-based sponsorship deal. It’s a British company, its headquarters are in London, and it has a long history of sports sponsorships (see the Premier League and ATP Tour Finals). Bankers aren’t the most popular people, but the cycle scheme sponsorship seemed like a logical next step for the brand to polish over the cracks in its reputation. The new sponsor should be viewing the sponsorship as a missing piece of their own marketing puzzle. The cycle scheme is about connecting London, keeping people healthy, and promoting a more sustainable city. However good their intentions may be, how would a McDonald’s, Coca Cola, BP or Shell deal be received by the public?
Could any of these advertisers be the next sponsor of the cycle scheme?
2 – Colour and Branding Is Key
The sponsorship allows a brand to dominate areas all around London. If used to its full potential, the scheme can be visually striking and attention-grabbing to both cyclists and members of the public. Riders will essentially be parading the sponsor around the roads on portable billboards. A strong visual identity and colour scheme is therefore vital to make sure the sponsor squeezes the full value from the £37.5m deal. How about the striking red of Vodafone, the blue of Samsung, or the yellow and teal of EE?
3 – Big Budget, Big Risk
The new sponsor will not only have to possess deep pockets, but also be able to manage the situation well if the scheme continues to roll downhill. The war between drivers and cyclists in London is heating up and users numbers are falling year on year. There’s a high level of risk associated with the sponsorship, so it won’t be as easy as paying over the money, changing the branding, and sitting back for the next 7 years. Will a brand that’s comparatively inexperienced in sponsorship be able to face up to this challenge?
However, arguably the hardest challenge a new sponsor will face is ridding the scheme of its Boris Bikes moniker, even once he’s stepped down as London mayor. Even after he’s gone, the mayor’s spirit is likely to live on in a 2-wheeled form for years to come.