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Why sponsoring bike share is the best marketing deal Seattle will ever see (but companies must act fast)

From a Puget Sound Bike Share media value document
From a Puget Sound Bike Share media value document

Simply put, there’s a good chance a marketing opportunity as good as Puget Sound Bike Share will never be seen in Seattle or King County again.

For a few million dollars, your company’s name will become a part of thousands of people’s daily lives.

Sponsoring the upcoming bike share is not just about the eyeballs that will see the 500 (and growing) bikes with your brand emblazoned on them. That alone is valued at $2.8 million per year, almost double the investment.

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A bike share system is a new public transport system. It is something people will use every day of their lives to make short trips to the store or to easily connect to buses and trains leading all over the region. Bike share bikes will turn the heads of everyone who sees them. Visitors and tourists will go home talking about them as a highlight of their trip to Seattle.

Sponsoring bike share is a way to enter the core ethos of the Seattle region. It’s hard to put a dollar value on that, but it’s definitely worth a whole lot more than $1.5 million a year.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a quote from a CitiBank marketing manager:

“People are talking about and sharing the program in such a positive way.  These kinds of opportunities for a brand don’t come by every day.” – Elyssa Gray, Head of Creative & Media, CitiBank

In fact, in the months following the launch of New York City’s CitiBike program (which cost the bank $41 million, much more than Puget Sound Bike Share is seeking), public opinion of CitiBank improved 16 percent in Brand Asset Valuator’s “Cares for Customers” category, and 14 percent in “trustworthiness.” That’s CitiBank, in a city where Occupy Wall Street was born. If bike share can improve their brand recognition, imagine what it would do for a brand people actually like!

Seattle is full of great companies looking to invest in the city. The central city population continues to grow every year, and more and more people are looking for ways to get to the growing number of jobs and destinations, a huge number of which will be within the reach of Puget Sound Bike Share.

Here are some numbers from a recent Downtown Seattle Association report:

  • 56,000 people live downtown, 38 percent of which also work there
  • 196,648 people work downtown. That’s 41 percent of Seattle employees and 18 percent of King County employees.
  • 70 percent of King County’s net job growth in recent years has been located downtown

And that’s just downtown (data includes the Central Business District, South Lake Union, parts of Capitol Hill, Belltown, ID, Pioneer, parts of Lower Queen Anne, parts of Sodo, and First Hill, most of which fall into the Puget Sound Bike Share service area).

Puget Sound Bike Share will also launch in the University District, where residents, staff, professors and the UW’s more than 42,000 students will find your brand’s bikes to be the best way to get around campus and to nearby businesses and destinations.

From Puget Sound Bike Share
From Puget Sound Bike Share

If no major sponsor steps forward, there is also the chance for three companies to sign on as presenting sponsors. This means the brand will be presented on the fender or on the front of the basket on every bike. The cost is about a third of the sponsorship option (about $500K per year).

Under the presenting sponsor concept, the branding of the system itself would be decided with the help of input from the community (though Director Holly Houser said recently it will very likely NOT be called “Puget Sound Bike Share”). Examples of this include Boston’s Hubway, Minneapolis’s Nice Ride and Chicago’s Divvy.

But companies must act fast. The deadline for a system sponsorship is nearing fast. In the coming months, Puget Sound Bike Share needs to figure out whether they will have a sponsored or unsponsored brand and, perhaps more importantly, the scale of the initial launch.

Without adequate sponsorships, there’s a chance that the system will have to be dramatically reduced in scale. As the Stranger’s Cienna Madrid reports, that means only launching in South Lake Union and the University District, areas that already have secured grant funding.

Instead of 50 stations with 500 bikes, the system launch would have to be cut down to 29 stations and 290 bikes. But worse, it would miss some of the most vital and central areas for Seattle employment and transit.

So what do you say, King County businesses? Who is going to become a historic and fun part of our daily transportation system?

Contact Holly Houser.

Need more convincing? Watch this:

Citbike Debuts in NYC from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

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15 responses to “Why sponsoring bike share is the best marketing deal Seattle will ever see (but companies must act fast)”

  1. Starbucks should do this because Star bike is an adorable name. Plus you could have bike share stations located near Starbucks, further increasing the marketing opportunity. It would also be smart to have a handlebar coffee cup holder on every bike.

  2. z7

    Star bike is a great name! And maybe riding bikes in reverse-demand direction can earn you Starbucks drinks to replenish your quads at the top of that hill.

  3. Brian

    How about Amazoom?

  4. Ints

    Don’t forget that PSBS needs to turn the potential negative of the helmet requirement into a positive. One way could be a sponsor just for the helmet part of the network. Children’s, any of the HMO’s or biotechs could see some possibilities with sponsoring the helmet rental. That would also keep sponsors of the bike share from worrying about being directly associated with the helmet share.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Funny you should suggest that. Seattle Children’s already did exactly that with a $500K grant to deal with added costs due to the helmet vending system.

      1. d.p.

        Doesn’t change the fact that people will not be willing to drop $3 extra for every brief trip (on top of membership fees), and that slavish allegiance to a fraudulent 30-year-old study will therefore cost PSBS any chance of success.

  5. Allan

    It seems to me that this could be done a lot cheaper, like with $300 bikes and volounteers to put the decals on them. I have helped my family buy some really great bikes from Performance Bike sales for under $300. It would be possible to get one speed bikes a lot cheaper than that. The bikes are going to be all the same so when people break them, you have a bunch of bikes to pull apart for repairs which would make maintenance cheap too. Anyway it would be idiotic to put something out there that is worth stealing. Probably you could get the cost below $150. per bike and it would be easier to replace broken or missing bikes. I think these bikes will be abused, jumping curbs, locking up the rear brake and sliding the tire down to the threads. Than if you use $150 bikes, how do you justify 1.5 million for 500 bikes. Oh, yeah, the manfacturer will paint 1000 bikes however you want. I figure 1500 bikes would cost $225,000 and that includes 1000 bikes for replacements. So someone is making lots of money on this deal. Sometimes I see bikes at Target, Fred Meyer, or Wal Mart for $69 or $79. They just need better than average assembly. I see at least $1,000,000 of profit per year standing out on this deal, especially after the first year when the bike stands are in or if the city will do it.

    1. Nick


      yes, as you suggest some form of bike share could be done on the cheap. A group in Portland tried it in the 80s, and it failed completely. (search for portland yellow bikes)

      This new generation of bike share works, and works incredibly well. Part of it’s success involves special docking stations, credt card terminals and built-like-tanks bicyclist with proprietary parts. This cannot be had for $300/ bike.

  6. Allan

    Now, for laughs, if we could get one of those radio phone in programs to call and ask about promoting GMO’s on the bikes, suggesting that they need a 20% improvement in attitudes so that they can launch GMO cows and other innovations. That is all they need to launch the cow with two udders and the 400 lb chicken and the long range plan of a Jurassic Park in downtown Seattle.

  7. Austin

    If a business is unwilling to sponsor they will be lambasted in the press by PSBS directer Holly Houser.


    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I have to wonder who did more of the lambasting, Holly or the Stranger.

  8. […] Last we checked, Puget Sound Bike Share was pushing hard to find sponsors for the system so that they could launch in full in the spring instead of scaling back to include only grant-supported areas like the University District and South Lake Union. The full first phase would also include downtown and parts of Capitol Hill and First Hill. […]

  9. […] If the system is going to launch in August, as is now the plan, the needed sponsorships would have to be mostly figured out by mid-February so a purchase order can be made. The name and branding of the system would need to be figured out shortly after that, which means time is running out for a single organization to step up and buy naming rights to the system (seriously, it’s a great deal). […]

  10. Bike marketing sounds like it’d be really effective. In bigger cities, a ton of people bike, and a ton of people would see the businesses on the bikes. Like you said, bikes are a part of thousands and thousands of people’s daily lives!

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