Sponsors PerspectiveBlue-01

Whether it is from the local coffee shop or Google, sponsorship plays an integral role in funding many bike share programs worldwide. This new series, From the Sponsor’s Perspective, offers a look into a company’s decision-making process that led to an investment in bike share.

Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) is an association of 38 different health insurance companies that insure approximately 100 million Americans. Over the last four years, the association has provided nearly $10 million in total sponsorship between five different bike share systems in the United States. In addition to brand exposure, BCBS chose to fund these systems based on its mission to improve public health—a benefit central to bicycling and bike share. Yet each sponsorship accomplished that mission in different ways.

The first and largest system that BCBS sponsored was Nice Ride MN, a 1,550 bike program in the City of Minneapolis. Funding for this program was derived from the BCBS’s Center of Prevention—which was formed in 1998 from a historic settlement between big tobacco and BCBS with the goal of increasing physical activity for Minnesota residents. The idea for the bike share program didn’t come from BCBS, however. It first came from Mayor RT Ryback in 2008, when he had the idea to make Minneapolis the first major municipality in the United States to have bike share. Around the same time the Smart Bike system was launched in 2008 in D.C., he approached BCBS’s Center of Prevention with his vision. Ryback pitched the potential benefits of bike share to the Center, and the Center agreed: bike share would be a unique opportunity to help achieve the goal of promoting active lifestyles for Minneapolis residents.

According to Janelle Waldock, director of the Center of Prevention, a bike share program in Minneapolis was the perfect fit for the BSBC mission. “Our priority is to create changes within communities that make it easier for people to become more physically active. Bike share is a great way to do that.”

Over the course of Nice Ride’s existence since 2010, BCBS has been the chief financier, investing $3.5 million into the system and related programs. BCBS has funded several expansions of the system as well as other Nice Ride initiatives in Minneapolis like distributing free bike helmets to bike share users. Waldock says that the Center’s goal in sponsoring the Nice Ride system was to “make the healthy choice the easy choice” by confronting preventable diseases like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes with a bike ride. And research is showing that Nice Ride’s efforts are hugely beneficial. According to a study by the American College of Sports Medicine, biking just two to three miles per day can have substantial health benefits and cities with bike share are shown to have lower obesity rates.

So how has Nice Ride been doing since its launch? Does it accomplish the goals of the Center of Prevention? By all measures, the initiative has been a complete success for Blue Cross and Blue Shield. According to the 2012 Nice Ride annual report, the system has logged 575,000 rides, averaging 2 miles per ride. Building from that statistics, Nice Ride users have clocked over 1.15 million miles, burning 38 calories per mile on average. That adds up to 43.7 million calories–or the equivalent of 62,000 Big Macs. And those are only the benefits from exercise. There have also been air quality improvements, CO2 emissions prevented, economic growth, and its benefits to the overall livability of Minneapolis.

Charlotte

BCBS had a similar goal of improving public health with Charlotte’s B-cycle that was achieved in a different way. The system’s sponsorship is funded through “Get Outside North Carolina” or GO NC!, a four-year statewide initiative that encourages active lifestyles. The organization has funded North Carolina’s greenways, a community garden program, and a number of other initiatives in addition to the B-cycle program. With the relatively high obesity rate in North Carolina—30% of adults and 18% of children—BCBSNC viewed bike share as a means to improve the health and wellbeing of North Carolinians.

As of now, BCBSNC has invested $2.25 million into the Charlotte system with the goal of increasing physical activity. Similar to Nice Ride, the GO NC program hopes to reduce obesity rates and lower medical costs by offering Charlotte residents a non-motorized form of transportation. Jasmine Smith, Senior Program Manager at BCBSNC, explained that according to the Trust for Americas Health, “every one dollar spent on bike trails or walking paths can save about three dollars in medical expense. [....]  The Charlotte B-cycle program will provide even greater access to biking and outdoor physical activity.” GO NC has plans to incorporate bike share into the other BCBSNC programs, offering a 20% discount on annual memberships to their customers.

Like Minneapolis, Charlotte B-cycle has also seen fantastic results and has been a success for BCBSNC both for brand recognition and fulfilling its mission. The 200 bike system has seen over 30,000 checkouts, more than 85,000 miles ridden, almost 5 million calories burned, and 115,603 metric tons of carbon offset. In addition, BCBSNC has invested in a priceless PR opportunity, receiving exposure at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and publication in 18 newspapers including the New York Times. Smith says that the partnership has been invaluable as it “allows our brand to further represent physical activity, health and environmental consciousness. Building brand equity with consumers who value these traits supports our goal of attracting and retaining consumers and businesses.”

BCBS’ prolific sponsorship of bike share has supported the development of five programs–Nice Ride Minnesota, Charlotte B-cycle, Omaha B-cycle, Kansas City B-cycle, and Houston B-cycle–totaling 2,000 bikes and accounting for millions of people-powered miles traveled. The health benefits of those miles align seamlessly with the BCBS goals of bettering public health and reducing the occurrence of preventable diseases. Coupled with the marketing opportunity bike share provides, BCBS has clearly found a long-term companion in bike share.