SBJ/April 29-May 5, 2013/Events and Attractions

In Pittsburgh, marathon gets its second wind

Sunday’s Pittsburgh Marathon will feature the same fanfare, bustling crowds and robust sponsor activation that have become commonplace at the country’s largest metropolitan footraces. More than 30,000 runners are registered, and 72 sponsors will activate along the 26.2-mile course.

Just five years ago, however, Pittsburgh’s marathon was dead, having been canceled from 2004 through 2008 due to the city’s budget woes and the lack of a title sponsor. But thanks to the financial commitment of Dick’s Sporting Goods — and the work of stay-at-home-mom Patrice Matamoros — Pittsburgh’s marathon has risen.

Pittsburgh-based Dick’s Sporting Goods helped revive the Pittsburgh Marathon after it was canceled from 2004 through 2008.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
“Dick’s saw the bigger picture, so it became just selling the dream of making this a world-class marathon,” said Matamoros, who took over the race director role in 2008. “I never thought this was going to be a little community race.”

A former college track runner from Montana, Matamoros had worked in account sales for Ford for five years before leaving work to raise her three kids. She stayed active in Pittsburgh by fundraising for local charities, and in 2008 she raised $50,000 for a local 5K run to benefit the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

That event caught the eye of running advocate Michele Fetting, who had been working with Pittsburgh’s mayor to revive the marathon. Fetting was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2007 and handed management duties off to Matamoros in 2008. Both women approached Dick’s about title sponsorship that year.

“It was a good pitch — they told us there was this big void because the marathon had been gone for a few years,” said Dave Natale, director of sports and event marketing at Dick’s. “It seemed like a natural fit given our involvement with the running industry.”

Natale said the pitch also appealed to the company’s desire to help Pittsburgh, which is home to the company’s corporate headquarters and 1,500 Dick’s employees. The company had smaller sponsorship deals with other running events, such as Colorado’s Bolder Boulder 10K and the Cincinnati marathon. Natale did not discuss the size of the title sponsorship deal in Pittsburgh, but industry analysts pegged it in the low seven figures annually.

In the months before the race’s return in 2009, Matamoros worked without a salary. She rented a cubicle in the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and even put race expenses on her own credit card. She anticipated modest numbers for the 2009 race: 5,000 runners, a handful of partners and a budget in the mid-six figures. In the original race plan, runners would pick up their numbers in Dick’s downtown store.

“I put my goals for participation and sponsorship dollars on the white board and showed it to our board members,” Matamoros said. “Someone told me to erase it because if I didn’t make it, I’d look like a failure.”

The turnout surpassed her expectations. Matamoros brought in 20 sponsors and raised $34,000 in expo sales. She received additional funding from the state of Pennsylvania after lobbying lawmakers, bringing her total budget to just over $1 million. And 10,500 runners registered for the race — so many that Dick’s scrapped the in-store packet pickup and staged that at a local hotel.

The marathon has progressed with impressive metrics. The race’s budget has grown to $3.6 million. The prize purse for elite runners has grown from $40,000 in year one to $100,000. Of the race’s $3.5 million in revenue, $155,000 now comes from the pre-race expo. The sponsor portfolio includes FedEx Ground, Toyota, Asics and GNC, as well as a smattering or local and regional companies.

“Partners that came in at $2,500 in year one, they are now with me for $25,000 in year five,” Matamoros said.

Dick’s, similarly, has increased its activation into a year-round running campaign. Natale said Dick’s also has helped Matamoros establish relationships with other sponsors in the sports industry, such as Asics, Nike and Gatorade.

Dick’s rolls out online and social media promotions in the lead-up to race registration, which opens in the fall. It organizes training runs at retail locations starting in January.

In the four months before the race, Dick’s promotes the marathon with in-store branding and branded shopping bags at retail locations within a 50-mile radius of Pittsburgh. It then operates a 2,500-square-foot retail tent in the expo. And approximately 350 employees participate in the race.

“We showcase Dick’s as a destination for people’s running needs,” Natale said. “And we reinforce the importance of running in the community.”

Fred Dreier is a writer in Colorado.

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