SBJ/September 28 - October 4, 1998/No Topic Name

Bank backing boosts Chicago Marathon

For years Chicago's marathon was going nowhere fast, running through various sponsors. It was even canceled in 1987 because of a lack of funds.

That was then. Today, the race is owned by LaSalle Banks Group and is a major sporting event that last year pumped $43 million into Chicago's economy, according to a study by the Champaign, Ill.-based Regional Economic Application Laboratory, a cooperative venture between the University of Illinois and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. In 1996, the race generated $30 million.

"We had been grinding it out," said race director Carey Pinkowski.

The study sampled 2,000 of last year's 16,000 runners and found that every dollar spent by race participants generated $1.80 in economic activity, meaning the runners alone contributed $21 million to the Chicago economy. By contrast, the Boston Marathon this year generated $58 million in local economic impact.

So how did the race become an event that attracts elite runners?

"We really took a harder look at how the event was managed," said Mark Nystuen, LaSalle Banks chief administrative officer.

LaSalle began its sponsorship in 1994. The race had gone through a series of sponsors before the event was canceled in 1987. From 1990 through 1993, the race had no sponsor.

Under LaSalle's sponsorship, the race has grown from fewer than 10,000 runners in 1995 to nearly 20,000 participants. Each runner for the Oct. 11 race will pay a $50 entrance fee, generating $1 million in revenue.

The bank this year has cut the number of cash sponsors from 37 to 23, but increased rates to maintain revenue. The bank also buys time from Fox Sports Network and sells it to advertisers.

Bank officials won't disclose how much they spend on the race, but Pinkowski said it has an operational budget of $700,000, of which $350,000 is prize money.

Despite the considerable economic impact, LaSalle Banks won't see a dime from any revenue directly related to the marathon because regulators prohibit banks from profiting from non-banking related activities. The profit stems from enhancing the bank's brand name only.

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