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Chicago Park District to start reward points program

Chicago Park District Supt. Michael Kelly  |  Sun-Times files

Chicago Park District Supt. Michael Kelly | Sun-Times files

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Updated: September 14, 2013 6:21AM



Would you use Chicago parks more often — and sign up for more programs — if it qualified you to skate with a member of the Blackhawks, meet Taylor Swift backstage or get a reserved spot for your family at the Air and Water Show?

How about going one-on-one with an NBA All-Star, turning the switch at Buckingham Fountain or getting a free boat cruise, golf or sailing lesson?

Park District Supt. Michael Kelly is counting on all of those prizes and more to “incentivize” park participation, particularly among teenagers who don’t consider it hip to use Chicago parks.

Like a retailer trying to boost its customer base, the Chicago Park District is starting a rewards program, known as Park Points, that will allow its most loyal patrons to accumulate points for one-of-a-kind recreational experiences.

You start by going to www.chiparkpoints.com and earning 100 points just to register and an additional 75 points for linking your social media accounts to the program.

After that, the sky’s the limit. The more you engage in park programs, the more points you accumulate. If you go to Movies in the Park and enter a code that will only be available there, you’ll get points.

If you register yourself or your child for a park program, you’ll bank more points. You can even pile up points by using Instagram to send a picture of your child on a swing or your dog chasing a ball at a park.

Once you’ve accumulated a certain number of points, you’ll be eligible to bid on one of the park experiences in an eBay-style auction.

Kelly said the rewards program was conceived after marketing and research groups gave the Chicago Park District a cold dose of reality.

“We’re not cool. We’re cool until you turn 13. But by the time kids hit 14 or 15, we’re not cool anymore. How do you reconnect with teens and be cool? You embrace technology and social media,” Kelly said.

“Every kid in this city has a phone in their hand. They have Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If we can use technology to engage teens — think frequent-flier miles — it makes us hipper with young people and incentivizes people to do business with us.”

Erma Tranter, executive director of Friends of the Parks, called the rewards program a “creative idea to make sure our parks are used throughout the year in all neighborhoods.”

Tranter said she has little doubt that the rewards Kelly described would be incentive enough to boost participation.

“If they’re at that high a level — ice skating with a member of the Blackhawks or going one-on-one with an NBA star — that would be a really strong incentive for people to say, “I’ve got 900 points. How do I get 100 more?’ ” Tranter said.

“Those are unique things people can’t get anywhere else, and they would be highly desirable.”

Kelly said Mayor Rahm Emanuel has “challenged me to do more with and for youth, particularly teens” who are at the greatest risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of crime.

If the Park Points program takes off, as Kelly hopes and believes it will, it could turn into a money-maker for the cash-strapped Chicago Park District.

“We solicit sponsorships for our concert venues and Movies in the Park. But they want to see the hard data, X amount of users. We’ve never had that. Long term, this rewards program will help us in that realm,” Kelly said.

“We believe 25 million people a year visit out parks, beaches, museums, zoo and Soldier Field. That’s like Magic Kingdom numbers. We are Disney World to a lot of kids in Chicago. I believe we are the largest provider of entertainment in the state. I’ve been trying to figure out how to monetize our assets and capitalize on what we do. This is not a money-making operation for us. Could it be? Maybe one day.”

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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