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At first glance, the three major U.S. marathons — Chicago, New York City and Boston — appear crafted from the same business plan. All three races charge participants around $200 to enter, quickly sell out the tens of thousands of spots they offer, and raise millions of dollars for local charities.
All three boast top-heavy sponsorship portfolios dominated by financial services companies. Industry experts value both ING’s title sponsorship with the New York Road Runners and Bank of America’s title deal with the Chicago Marathon in the high-seven to low-eight-figure range. John Hancock’s deal with the Boston Athletic Association, which is for “principal sponsor” rights, is valued in the mid to high seven figures.
John Hancock has sponsored the Boston Marathon since 1986.
Photo by:Boston Athletic Association
In Boston, John Hancock first stepped in as a sponsor in 1986, at a time when the Boston Athletic Association lacked the money to keep pace with a running industry boom and awarded no prize money to elite runners.
The Boston-based firm signed a sponsorship worth $1 million a year for 10 years. It wasn’t the first financial services deal for the marathon industry — the New York City Marathon had a deal with Manufacturers Hanover bank that began in the late 1970s. But the size of the Hancock deal was groundbreaking, as was the structure.
Hancock gained ownership of the race’s professional competition: Hancock marketing executives chose the athletes, paid for their travel and housing, and funded the prize purse. Hancock was the only sponsor with rights to activate around the pro event, which essentially involved only logos on the finish-line tape.
“Unless you came to the finish you wouldn’t see any signage,” said Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association.
“Back then if you saw your logo on the cover of Sports Illustrated, that really meant something,” said Barbara Paddock, senior vice president at JPMorgan Chase, who oversaw Manufacturers Hanover’s sponsorship in New York. “It was a new kind of advertising; it was all about branding.”
Building relationships in Beantown
Twenty-eight years later, Hancock’s activation around the Boston Marathon has evolved beyond the finish-line tape. The company title sponsors the three-day health and fitness expo. Hancock displays 600 banners along the 26.2-mile course, and the finishing stretch down Boylston Street and the finish-line structures bear the company’s mark. Every runner receives a “passport” identification card emblazoned with the company’s logo.
Grilk said much of the elevation in branding has happened in the last five years, and other partners — such as Adidas,
“We don’t have a gold, silver or bronze level. There is no rate card,” Grilk said. “We tailor what we do to a sponsor’s needs.”
Most of Hancock’s activation still rests on the pro event, which it still oversees. Rob Friedman, assistant vice president of sponsorship and marketing at John Hancock, said the company’s ownership of the pro race is “soup to nuts.”
“The BAA has [the elite athletes] during their time on the course, but before and after, they are back into our program,” he said.
In the year before the race, Mary Kate Shea, Hancock’s head of sports sponsorships, recruits every pro runner who participates in the race based on his or her ability, profile within the sport and racing schedule.
Hancock coordinates travel and hospitality for all elite athletes. During race week, the athletes speak to Hancock employees, meet with customers and engage in community events, under the Hancock banner. The company’s internal public relations and marketing teams organize media for the athletes before and on race day.
Hancock receives approximately 1,000 entries into each year’s race to distribute to customers and employees; 150 employees also receive coaching from Greg Meyer, the last American to have won the event.
“There has been an elevation in the branding more recently, but we balance that against the general tradition of not commercializing the marathon,” Friedman said. “It’s more about establishing relationships during the marathon than advertising.”
Full integration in Chicago
Boston’s less commercialized approach is contrasted in Chicago, where title sponsor Bank of America touches nearly every aspect of the race’s organization.
The race’s 26 full-time employees, who work for organizer Carey Pinkowski’s company, Chicago Event Management, work inside Bank of America’s downtown offices. The marathon shared a similar relationship with former title sponsor LaSalle Bank, which Bank of America acquired in 2007.
Bank of America used last year’s Chicago Marathon to pay tribute to military personnel.
Photo by:Bank of America
“This one, specifically, the bank has a position of ownership, and we want to continue to have stewardship,” said Charles Greenstein, senior vice president of global sponsorship marketing at Bank of America.
Each year, approximately 400 Bank of America employees run the race, and 1,000 others volunteer. The race also brings hundreds of clients to either run or watch in the hospitality tent.
Each year the race invites its partners to a summit to discuss activation and new inventory with management and the Bank of America marketing team. New inventory and activation opportunities are available to partners based on the tier of their sponsorship, with Nike, Volkswagen, Merrill Lynch, Advocate Health Care, American Airlines and Gatorade having priority behind Bank of America.
Greenstein said Bank of America has not finalized its full activation for the 2013 race, which will be held Oct. 13. The bank is undergoing a brand relaunch this month, and creative from that effort will likely be used at the race, he said.
Last year the bank activated around a campaign called “Express your Thanks,” which paid homage to military heroes. The bank constructed an enormous American flag out of signed red, white and blue water bottles, and ran a social media campaign asking for photos that paid homage to men and women in uniform.
“There will still be a message aimed at the military,” Greenstein said. “We don’t know what the thematic will look and feel like yet.”
ING at the finish line?
The New York City Marathon’s relationship with title sponsor ING fits the more traditional partnership model in endurance sports.
“They are looking to be sponsors, not owners,” said New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg. “ING has the
ING’s activation around the event has evolved with the bank’s needs. The bank has targeted retirees with the “What’s Your Number” campaign, children’s charities with its “Orange Laces” program, and its business-to-business efforts with a major spot in the race’s hospitality and VIP areas.
ING complements the campaigns with four cheer zones along the course, where representatives hand out sunglasses, plastic clappers, cowbells and vuvuzelas — all painted bright orange.
For 2013, the bank is reissuing its campaign from 2012 (last year’s event was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy), which centered on a social media push called “Runner’s Nation” that includes an online forum for discussions about running. Four participants will document their own training in a series of Web videos.
ING will sponsor a Runner’s Nation-emblazoned food truck, which will distribute free food and swag throughout Manhattan in the four days leading up to the race. And at the health and fitness expo, ING will again feature its “runners lounge” area. However, this year participants will be able to create custom videos to share via their social media pages.
Only once during ING’s 10-year title sponsorship with the New York City Marathon did Wittenberg fear the financial giant would not renew its deal. In 2009, during the depths of the financial crisis, NYRR had asked for a greater financial commitment from ING for its second renewal for title sponsorship of the race. However, Wittenberg said, “We scaled back our wants.”
Scaling back wants and evolving tactics may not be enough to preserve the relationship beyond 2013. The original deal, done in April 2003, was signed with ING Global. However, subsequent deals have been signed with the bank’s American financial group.
In November, ING’s American financial group filed for an IPO, after the Dutch bank continued to divest its foreign operations to pay back its 10 billion euro bailout from 2008.
ING released a statement to SportsBusiness Journal regarding the future of the title sponsorship, saying only that the company is focused on making 2013 a great race.
“We also continue to evaluate our sponsorship and brand activities,” the statement said. “Given our long and positive relationship with the race, we’re interested in keeping the dialogue open with NYRR.”
Wittenberg said the NYRR has always thought of the ING deal as a 10-year relationship, and that the company never entertained other potential title sponsors during that time.
“We have always known that this point would be a natural point to consider what makes the most sense going forward,”
she said. “We are talking to ING as we consider other options for 2014 and beyond.”
Fred Dreier is a writer in New York.
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, senior account executive for partnership marketing and media ad sales
■ Why I run: It helps give my life balance. Physically, it makes my management of Type 1 diabetes much easier to handle, and mentally it provides an hour of solitude I can’t get anywhere else.
■ Favorite event to compete in: ING New York City Marathon. The unbelievable energy, massive crowds and the fact that the run touches all five boroughs of New York make it an incredible experience.
■ Best time: I’m slow! Best time was a 4:47 marathon in Denver in 2011.
■ Events with best customer service/experience: I really like the Cherry Creek Sneak, which is a well-organized event that has a kids run, 5K, 5 mile and a 10 mile. It serves as the unofficial kickoff to running season in Denver with a collection of runners across all ages and skill levels.
■ Next event: Colorado Colfax Marathon in May (in Denver)
Baltimore Ravens, assistant controller
■ Why I run: I started running to lose weight for our wedding eight years ago and I continued running mostly to maintain my weight and stay in shape.
■ Favorite event to compete in: Marathon. I don’t enjoy the training leading up to the marathon, but the accomplishment of finishing one is very rewarding. And then I get to eat whatever I want after the race.
■ Best time: 3:35:58
■ Events with best customer service/experience: Boston Marathon for the overall experience. The prestige of the Boston Marathon makes it such an honor to run in it. Not sure how I was included among so many elite runners.
■ Next event: Signed up for the Chicago Marathon in October 2013. But I will have to see if I can run in it when our schedule comes out in April. The race falls on a Sunday and we might have a home game that Sunday that I would have to work. If that race doesn’t work out then I will probably sign up for the Baltimore Marathon.
Front Row Marketing, senior vice president
■ Why I run: I began running in October 2009 as a way to lose weight. I created a goal of running a 5K in the spring of 2010, but by mid-November I was running a 5K daily and building my time and speed up, so I looked at the calendar for half marathons and targeted the New Orleans Rock ’n’ Roll event. Running keeps me in shape, it allows me the time to think about all the different challenges and potential solutions while I am on a 5- or 10-mile run. In addition it provides me the opportunity to achieve goals, with the next race always being the target.
■ Favorite event to compete in: By far the 2011 ING New York City Marathon was the most exciting and largest race I have participated in, but the one that is tops is the Rock ’n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon. This was the site of my first half (2010) and my first full marathon (2011).
■ Best time: Half marathon: 1:42:56 (2010 Monumental Marathon, Indianapolis); Full marathon: 3:49:55 (2011 Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon, New Orleans)
■ Events with best customer service/experience: ING New York City Marathon was great at all of the various touch points and interaction leading up to race day. Their app was great and provided all of the details needed without having to carry around the marathon guide, including great spectator maps. All of the races I have run in have progressively gotten better at connecting the runner with spectators through the texting of split times and other social media alerts.
■ Next event: 2013 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, in May
Atlanta Braves, partnership services director
■ Why I run: I always run without music, so it is a chance to disconnect from the iPhone. Love exploring Atlanta and cities I visit, also.
■ Favorite event to compete in: The marathon. Love the long run, and it takes dedication and time management to train for one and finish. I am lucky my wife, Mitzi, supports my running habit.
■ Best time: 3:22:15
■ Events with best customer service/experience: Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon is very family friendly with kids’ activities available while you are out running. Experience-wise, New York City Marathon is No. 1 for me, but I hope to make the run down Ali’i Drive one day, which will require winning a spot via the Ironman lottery.
■ Next event: Peachtree Road Race 10K, July 4, 21st time; New York City Marathon, Nov. 3, 2nd New York City Marathon, 4th marathon
NFL, sponsorships manager
■ Why I run: There is such an overwhelming feeling of freedom that comes with running — I only need my shoes and the perfect playlist and I’m immediately lost in my own little world. I ran 4 miles the day my doctor cleared me to exercise after delivering my son; not the best idea in hindsight, but I missed it that bad!
■ Favorite event to compete in: The New Year’s Eve Midnight Run — nothing like bringing in the New Year running with my husband and thousands of New Yorkers with spectacular fireworks overhead!
■ Best time: I don’t really pay attention to my times — I run about an 8-minute mile during a 5K, though.
■ Events with best customer service/experience: I have to give love to the inaugural NFL Back To Football Run we did in partnership with New York Road Runners. NYRR lent their expertise and NFL fans brought the energy.
■ Next event: Signing up for the Women’s Mini 10K in Central Park as part of “Moms In Training” (an offshoot of Team in Training) honoring my mom who is a 7x (yes, 7 times!) leukemia survivor.
ANC Sports Enterprises, VP operations, client services
■ Why I run: The challenge and dedication it takes to complete events makes finishing them extremely rewarding.
■ Favorite event to compete in: The New York City Marathon. Whoever has the opportunity to run the marathon will understand why when running down the 59th Street bridge into Manhattan. There is no other feeling like it in the world.
■ Best time: Half-marathon 1:45
■ Events with best customer service/experience: The New York City Marathon does an outstanding job of creating a competition that is unmatched in individual athletics. However, it also does an exceptional job of creating an atmosphere which is enjoyable, rewarding and inviting for the amateur athlete that is simply trying to finish, not win.
■ Next event: New York City half-marathon, St. Patrick’s Day, March 17
Photo by:Florida Marlins / Robert Vigon
Miami Marlins, president
■ Why I run: In addition to maintaining my fitness, running is the only time during the day that I get to be by and with myself.
■ Favorite event to compete in: Any event with a starting line and a finish line, though the New York City Marathon is always a highlight.
■ Best time: Sub 4 hour. My personal best marathon was the 2010 New York City Marathon: 3:55:27.
■ Events with best customer service/experience: The Boston Marathon is the best-run race I have ever participated in. It is organized, efficient, the volunteers are friendly, and the race director, Dave
McGillivray, is the best in the world.
Photo by:Major League Soccer
MLS, senior finance director
■ Why I run: It’s physically rewarding and there is always a new challenge to conquer, but it’s also the best way to escape and clear my mind.
■ Favorite event to compete in: There is nothing that compares to the challenge and satisfaction of finishing the marathon.
■ Best time: 3:18 — 2012 Philadelphia Marathon
■ Events with best customer service/experience: New York City Marathon — NYRR puts on a world-class event from start to finish. The crowd support and course are both amazing. There is no other sporting event like it.
■ Next event: Big Sur Marathon in April
MLB Advanced Media, vice president of ticketing
■ Why I run: The challenge of pushing myself.
■ Favorite event to compete in: Tie — Paine to Pain Trail Half-Marathon and New York City Marathon. Paine to Pain is an awesome event for trail running and the New York City Marathon is the best sporting event that anyone can enter.
■ Best time: 23:54, Heart & Sole Plainview 5K
■ Next event: Brooklyn Half-Marathon
Wasserman Media Group, executive VP, action sports and Olympics
■ Why I run: It’s so efficient for exercise!
■ Favorite event to compete in: Chilmark Road Race 5K in Martha’s Vineyard
■ Best time: 17:30
■ Events with best customer service/experience: New York City Triathlon. They personally contact each participant, and are so organized from a logistics standpoint.
■ Next event: On the bike these days — Tour of the Battenkill
Baltimore Orioles, corporate partnerships account manager
■ Why I run: I’ve been running my whole life and have met some incredible people and been to some amazing places as a result of it. Running allows me to lace up my shoes at any time from anywhere to escape for a while — or catch up with friends!
■ Favorite event to compete in: The marathon. I’ve done six and one ultra.
■ Best time: 2:42:01 (SunTrust National Marathon — 2009), 1:13:40 (Carefirst BlueCross BlueShield National Half-Marathon 2010)
■ Events with best customer service/experience: ING New York City Marathon. NYRR does an incredible job to take care of all 40,000-plus athletes on hand. My favorite race by far as a result.
■ Next event: Boston Marathon, April 15
USA Today Sports Media Group, president
■ Why I run: It’s the only time in the day that I get completely to myself. No phone calls, no emails, and I don’t run with music. It’s just me, and it gives me a chance to just completely clear my head. Plus, it gives you short-term goals to work toward. Your whole life is spent making long-term plans — planning for retirement, planning for where the kids are going to attend school — but you can train to run a marathon in three to four months.
■ Favorite event to compete in: It has to be the New York City Marathon. It’s the one day in the year that New York feels like a small town.
■ Best time: 3:30 (at NYC)
■ Events with best customer service/experience: Well, New York is just an unbelievable experience. But I can’t wait to experience Boston because everyone says there’s nothing else like it.
■ Next event: I’m running Boston this April to help raise money for the Family Reach Fund, which provides resources to families of children with cancer.
Note: Executives responded to questions via email.
Largest U.S. marathons
ING New York City Marathon
Bank of America (Chicago)
Marine Corps (Washington, D.C.)
Honda (Los Angeles)
Walt Disney World (Orlando)
Medtronic Twin Cities
World’s largest marathons
ING New York City Marathon
Bank of America (Chicago)
Marine Corps (Washington, D.C.)
* All figures are for 2012 except for the ING New York City Marathon. That event last year was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy, so 2011 figures are shown.
Source: Running USA based on data from Athlinks (2009-12) and Active.com (2005-08)
Going the distance: Estimated U.S. marathon finishers
Source: Running USA based on data from Athlinks (2009-12) and Active.com (2005-08)
Running/Jogging participation trends (000s)
Casual (1-49 times)
Regular (50-99 times)
Frequent (100+ times)
Total participation (at least once per year)
Core participants (50+ times)
Source: SFIA 2012 Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report
Much like the communities in Staten Island and Queens, the New York Road Runners is still cleaning up the mess left by Hurricane Sandy, five months after the monster storm washed into New York City. The organization and its CEO, Mary Wittenberg, became a lightning rod for public angst after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the race would continue one week after the storm hit. When Bloomberg and the NYRR reversed course and canceled the event two days before race day, it was the runners’ turn to voice their anger. Contributor Fred Dreier caught up with Wittenberg to discuss the NYRR’s business practices in the wake of the storm.
■ Take me through the race week. What were the options that were discussed?
WITTENBERG: Clearly we wish we’d known about the arc of a mega storm. It’s one that had never been experienced. Things looked very different on Thursday and Friday than they did on Monday and Tuesday. We wish we’d known all that. The idea of postponement to curtailment to different modifications of the course, it was all considered. Postponement with major marathons is something that many have concluded can never be done, and it still appears to be pretty impossible.
WITTENBERG: There was close collaboration, and the amount of support was unbelievable. I look back to Wednesday of race week, when we were working with the mayor’s office and the whole idea of the marathon moved to: How do we uplift New York City and the affected areas? NYRR was committing $1 million. We only went to two partners, ING and the Rudin family. [ING Chief Executive] Rod Martin was on a plane, and in seconds he said, “Absolutely, here’s half a million dollars.” The Rudin family gave a million through their foundation. It was a telling moment in terms of relationships.
■ What is your strategy for making good with corporate partners in the wake of the cancellation?
Wittenberg said she sees opportunity for greater engagement and feedback from the running community.
Photo by: Getty Images
WITTENBERG: It depends on each partner. It was a combination. There are elements of making good going forward, and elements of restitution and then changing aspects of each deal. But we will keep that information with each partner.
■ Are there any partners who get a seat at a future marathon for free?
■ Were there any partners lost?
■ How did you come to an agreement with ESPN in its broadcast deal?
WITTENBERG: TV was the easiest in many ways. It’s as though we decided to simply extend the deal by one year. The advertiser’s money that went to the broadcaster went back to the advertiser. Our rights and the production deal — we had insurance on production — so we were able to put everyone back to where we started. So it’s as if we added a sixth year to ESPN’s deal. That was clean and simple.
■ What are the structural and philosophical changes to your organization to come from the disaster?
WITTENBERG: Even before the storm, we realized we were unbelievable at communicating to people when we are one-on-one, and on-site. But we need to better communicate outside of that. We can better communicate and explain to people why we do certain things. There is opportunity for greater regular engagement and feedback from our running community. We need to keep up the message that we’re a not-for-profit that wants to be one of the most helpful institutions in the city.
■ Companies in the endurance space have signed deals to offer insurance that will pay refunds in the case of cancellation. Could that work with the marathon?
WITTENBERG: You have insurance that covers if the event is canceled, and other insurance that works if the runner cancels. In the latter, can that work with our case? Possibly. We will talk with companies about that. We had a no-refund policy, including if the event was canceled, and now we’re evaluating whether we evolve to have a refund policy and insure against that.
WITTENBERG: No. It was rough going at the time. For people who know us — which isn’t everybody — we tried our best to do the best we could for the people of New York and our runners at every turn. Facts changed, things changed, the situation got complicated.
And it’s still early, and there are still lessons we’re going to learn from it. This is a city of resiliency and a city of going forward. When you look at the mayor and this organization and what we do, it’s all, How do you uplift and go forward? And [the storm] was a moment for pause, and something else was needed. I think there wasn’t a lot that was going to change. Now everyone has the benefit of that experience.
Insurance policies that cover a participant’s entry fee are becoming en vogue in the endurance sports industry.
The Active Network, Competitor Group and USA Triathlon recently partnered with insurance companies to offer policies that refund a participant’s entry fee in case they miss an event because of injury, travel delays or other conflicts.
Active Network is the largest online registration and event management company in endurance sports and handles registration for nearly 50,000 events worldwide. The Competitor Group owns the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series of running events and the TriRock Triathlon Series. USA Triathlon is the national governing body of triathlon in the United States.
On average, 15 to 20 percent of all registrants do not participate in their respective race due to conflicts. Traditionally, participants were unable to earn a refund in the case of those circumstances. The Active Network’s partnership with Allianz Global Assistance, and Competitor Group’s and USA Triathlon’s deals with TransAmerica, however, have changed that.
“It’s about giving them peace of mind,” said Eric McCue, vice president and general manager of sports for the Active Network. “You can go into the registration process confidently knowing you have a contingency plan with this policy.”
The insurance policies typically cost a flat fee of $7 to $9 that is added to the runner’s registration fee.
Ed Walker, TransAmerica’s chief strategy officer, life and protection division, said the race insurance policies are similar in structure and risk to travel insurance. Walker, an experienced triathlete, said he approached Competitor Group about the partnership because the company’s 26 Rock ’n’ Roll running races and hundreds of thousands of annual participants provided the scale required for the business. As part of Competitor’s insurance policy, participants can transfer their entry into another race of similar distance.
“It’s not a high risk in terms of severity, but the frequency could be high,” Walker said. The insurance does not refund participants in the case of event cancellation, such as the 2012 ING New York City Marathon, which was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Walker said that type of insurance is still not favorable for insurance companies.
“In event insurance you have low frequency but you could have catastrophic risk,” he said. “That type of product has a high concentration of risk.”
Mary Wittenberg, CEO of the New York Road Runners, said the organization is investigating insurance policies that would give refunds to runners in the case of an event cancellation. In 2012, the NYRR had insurance through Lloyd’s of London, which paid an undisclosed amount after several weeks of negotiations. The payment did not allow the race to deliver registration refunds, however.
“There are plenty of big insurance companies that will take that risk, but there are always exceptions to insurance policies, so how do you protect an organization should a cancellation result from an exception?” Wittenberg said. “Those are the things we’re looking at.”
Fred Dreier is a writer in New York City.
Race organizers are turning their events into destination experiences, going the extra mile by offering additional activities to make sure runners have a good time.
Offering family activities, pasta dinners, trade shows, bicycle tours, even wedding ceremonies, organizers are enticing racers to arrive early, stay later and mingle with others who enjoy the running lifestyle.
South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Resort, which holds a full and half-marathon in December, brings the island lifestyle to participating runners.
After the race, a complimentary finish line party is stocked with soup, pasta, desserts and drinks. The emphasis is on staying local with a table assortment stocked by area farmers and featuring Charleston, S.C.’s own Palmetto Pale Ale.
“About 80 percent of our runners are not from the Charleston area, so it is very much a destination race,” said Liz King, Kiawah’s outdoor program director. “This past year we had runners from 46 states and 11 countries. They’re coming from all over, and a good majority of them stay on the island.”
Kiawah runners can buy a package that includes resort accommodations, entry to the pasta bash and a race entry. Race participants who don’t stay on the island still can ring guest services, mention their bib number, and get 30 percent to 60 percent off golf, tennis, fishing and boating offered at the resort.
For those runners who dig the desert more than the coast, the Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas full and half-marathons are held each November. The Competitor Group stages 83 races a year, including the Las Vegas event. More than 90 percent of the runners who participate travel from outside the city, including runners from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.
“These are fun, hip, party races that are replacing the draw for your classic marathon,” said Dan Cruz, public relations director for the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series. “It’s no longer just a race, it’s an event. And it’s really what consumers are demanding. They want an experience and they want to do things together.”
With that camaraderie in mind, the weekend entails concerts, special offers at nightclubs and shows, a race-day brunch, post-event spa specials, a health and fitness expo, and a pasta dinner.
For those who think no Vegas experience could be complete without eloping, there is even a Run Thru Wedding
Participants in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon can pause to get married.
Photo by:Competitor Group
For runners trying to get into the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and celebrate “The King” himself, the race presents one of the largest groups of Running Elvi.
Cruz said each of the races staged by the series caters to the location and desires of the participants. “For the price of your entry fee, you’re getting 72 hours of entertainment and perks and discounts on all the hottest nightclubs and restaurants and tourist attractions throughout the city of Las Vegas.”
For runners looking for a more family-friendly destination, there’s the Walt Disney World Marathon. The resort goes full throttle on engagement, offering numerous packages for its Kids Dashes, Mickey Mile, Family Fun Run 5K, half-marathon and full marathon in early January.
In addition to the races, the weekend includes a health and fitness expo, a pasta dinner and a postrace Cool Down Party at Downtown Disney. There were record numbers for all the entries this year, and more than 100 vendors were on-site to outfit their needs at the expo. Those vendors included 11 sponsors that back the race, including those that sell running merchandise and other races touting registration for their events. The expo has grown so large that it now covers two buildings.
The Race Retreat is Disney’s answer for a VIP race-day experience. For $120 to $200, it offers runners and their families a temperature-controlled tent in the unpredictable Florida winter featuring food, private restrooms, Internet access, changing tents and massages. This past year 1,800 slots were available and all sold out.
Decked out in mouse ears and Tinker Bell wands, 10,000 participants ran in this year’s 5K, 27,000 in the half-marathon and 25,000 in the full. Diehard runners could take on the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, running both the half and the full on consecutive days. More than 10,000 runners subjected their bodies to the grueling feat, yet another record.
Disney has decided to give another nod toward the runner experience that has nothing to do with adding activities or boosting revenue. Disney race director Jon Hughes said the resort will cut the number of entrants in the half-marathon by 10 percent, to 25,000.
“We’re trying to contain it at that point,” Hughes said. “We know we could sell more, but we want it to be a better experience for the runners.”
Theresa Manahan is a staff writer for sister publication SportsBusinessDaily.com.