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For several days following last year’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, the Boston Athletic Association, sponsor John Hancock and volunteers worked long hours to clean up the aftermath.
All VIPs, volunteers and runners had been located and most had gathered their belongings. BAA Executive Director Thomas Grilk described the mood within the organization as “get the job done.”
But when the final runners collected their bags and BAA medals, a new task came to the top of the list.
“A question was raised, ‘What are we going to do next year?’” Grilk said. “People wanted to know how 2014 would be affected by the events of 2013.”
The response would galvanize the organization and reinforce the race as the premier running property in the U.S.
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Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray stood on the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., on the afternoon of April 15, 2013, marveling at the day’s perfection. While heat and humidity had plagued the 2012 race, the 2013 race day was sunny with temperatures only in the 50s. The usually chaotic finish line was so smooth, in fact, that McGillivray had left to run the entire 26.2-mile course behind the competitors, which is his annual tradition.
A worker hangs a banner on Boylston Street in preparation for this year’s Boston Marathon.
Photo by:AP Images
“I thought immediately it was a generator, then the person yelled, ‘Bombs! It was bombs!’” McGillivray said. “We jumped in the car and drove back to [the finish] at 100 miles per hour.”
McGillivray arrived to find the finish area in disarray. The medical tent was filled with victims. Ambulances sped other victims to the hospital. His cellphone service was blocked — law enforcement disabled all cell service to prevent further explosions.
As McGillivray walked toward the finish line to search for his family, a police officer told him to stop.
“I told him, ‘I’m the race director, this is my race!’ and he said, ‘Not anymore,’” McGillivray said. “It was then that it hit me. [The BAA] was not in charge.”
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The moment marked an important turning point for the BAA and the role it would play throughout the months to follow. With the FBI, local police and politicians taking charge of security, the investigation and public relations, the BAA focused solely on what it could do for the runners and volunteers.
The bombings had scattered 20,000 runners and 8,500 volunteers, and their belongings and family members, throughout the city. Furthermore, the attack had happened while a sizable number of runners were still on the course. So the BAA’s primary focus became to reunite runners with their families, get the runners to pick up their belongings and finisher’s medals, and then send the runners safely back home.
“We can’t cure anybody who is hurt. We can’t catch the criminals who did it, but we can serve the runners,” Grilk said. “It wasn’t anything glamorous — basic services had been disrupted and needed to be restored.”
Grilk was in the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel when the explosions went off, and from the hotel he oversaw the BAA’s post-bombing operations via two-way radios.
After several hours of chaos subsided, the BAA went to work. At the finish line, McGillivray rounded up volunteers and BAA employees and began unloading runners’ bags from the buses used to transport the athletes. For six hours they lifted bags from buses onto Copley Square, where they set up a gear repository for the runners.
At the hotel, other staff began the arduous task of tracking down volunteers, VIPs and runners. With the phone lines down, the task proved nearly impossible. The race’s primary sponsor, John Hancock, loaned its volunteers and employees to help.
“We took out our lists and just started dialing, emailing and Facebooking people,” said Rob Friedman, assistant vice president of sponsorship and event marketing for John Hancock. “For two days we were in the hotel accounting for folks.”
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The BAA received universally positive responses for its actions after the bombing, both from the running industry and the world at large. Gov. Deval Patrick praised the cooperation between the BAA and government bodies. So did local newspapers.
The positive feedback increased after the BAA announced it would allow the 9,000 runners who did not finish the race entry into the 2014 event. It also made several hundred spots available for fans who wrote letters explaining how the bombings had profoundly affected them.
The positive response stood in stark contrast to the marathon industry’s previous calamity: the cancellation of the 2012 New York City Marathon due to Superstorm Sandy.
Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray leads the One Run for Boston last year, which raised money for those injured in the bombings.
Photo by:Getty Images
The positive feedback added to several months of international media exposure for the race, as newspapers and cable television networks embarked on round-the-clock coverage. The slogan “Boston Strong” became a national rallying cry for the city, the race and the organization. The event became the most tweeted sporting event of 2013.
For decades, the Boston Marathon has maintained an exclusive space within the global running industry. Runners cannot simply sign up for the event; they must instead qualify at other marathons by meeting strict time benchmarks. So while the major marathons in New York and Chicago are the marathons for all runners, Boston is for elites.
The bombing, however, changed that. According to analytics expert and endurance sports journalist Raymond Britt, Google searches for the term “Qualify for Boston Marathon” after the 2013 race were 20 percent greater than in 2012. Other industry experts saw further changes.
“In every running community, it was the core runners that had this attachment to Boston,” said Mary Wittenberg, CEO of the New York Road Runners. “I think now it’s beyond that. I don’t have a run where I don’t see people wearing the BAA jacket these days.”
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Within the sponsorship market, the race has also maintained exclusivity. While other marathons are quick to monetize sponsorship opportunities, the BAA has historically taken a more conservative approach. The Boston Marathon still doesn’t have a title sponsor; instead, pole-position sponsor John Hancock has maintained its
Grilk said the race’s heightened visibility has generated additional sponsorship inquiries, but that hasn’t changed the BAA’s approach to partnerships. The BAA, he said, wants partners that desire a long-term relationship, not partners looking to piggyback on the group’s heightened exposure. Grilk said that signing new partners was farther down on the BAA’s annual list of priorities than in previous years.
“Could we have put more time into [new partnerships]? Perhaps,” Grilk said. “In years like this, marketing and sponsorship doesn’t receive quite the same attention.”
Instead, Grilk said, the BAA poured its efforts into its 2014 operations. More than double the number of police and security personnel will be present. Unregistered runners will be prohibited from entering the course. Spectators will be discouraged from bringing bags to the event.
But the BAA also put its efforts into making 2014 a year to honor the heroes of 2013. The ideas came from weeks of internal discussions starting in mid-2013. The BAA will hold a tribute to the victims and first responders at Hynes Convention Center on Tuesday. It will host dinners, industry events and even a kids race. The 5K fun run will be expanded from 6,500 participants to 10,000, to give Bostonians a chance to honor the heroes of 2013.
The BAA will post some signage around the race that asks fans to remember 2013, but Grilk said those signs are merely symbolic. To Grilk and the other BAA executives, the organization is paying tribute by continuing to do what they know how to do: stage a world-class event and attend to the needs of runners.
“People are going to pay tribute and respect the way they want to across the week of events,” Grilk said. “Our job is to stay true to what we know how to do.”
Fred Dreier is a writer in Colorado.
Boston Marathon sponsors never hesitated to be associated with an event that was mired by tragedy just one year ago. Instead, most have ramped up activation with increased charitable efforts.
Although each sponsor seems to have a different theme or anthem to celebrate Boston, most are united in the effort to raise money for the One Fund, which was set up to help those affected by last year’s bombings. And with the number of spectators expected to double to 1 million, several sponsors are using social media to commemorate last year’s tragedy and show support for the city.
“We’ve received fantastic, overwhelming and unbridled support from all of our sponsors,” said T.K. Skenderian, marketing and sponsorship manager for the Boston Athletic Association, the race organizer.
“I was thinking about an all-encompassing way to describe the way we are approaching 2014,” said Rob Friedman, John Hancock’s assistant vice president of sponsorship and event marketing. “I think it’s fair to say that after the tragedy, all internal and external corporate communication, creation or sustainment of events, corporate partnering, and corporate culture were reflective and mindful of the senseless acts of terror of 4/15. Our focus now is to turn evil into good and tragedy into triumph.”
Here are highlights of activation plans among event sponsors:
The banners from last year were saved and crafted into wristbands that will be given to all 36,000 participants.
Those not running the race can buy the bands for a minimum $5 donation to the One Fund at the John Hancock runners expo or at www.crowdrise.com/braceletsforboston.
In addition, John Hancock will be handing out blue and gold bumper stickers, pins and tattoos bearing the image of the company’s race trademark: a heart with the word Boston and a road running through it. Outside of race weekend, John Hancock has created an online mosaic to encourage participants, fans and the public to “Share Their Love for Boston.” John Hancock handles its creative in-house.
The Boston Athletic Association and city officials on Tuesday, exactly one year from last year’s race, are hosting an invitation-only tribute at Hynes Convention Center, with John Hancock producing a video to air during the tribute.
John Hancock additionally every year provides the video board at the finish line, and this year will have the screen in place a week early to simulcast the tribute to the public on Boylston Street.
“The marathon is about courage and resilience and community,” Friedman said. “We stand by our city, our community partners, the runners and the Boston Athletic Association as we unite in recovery and in renewal of our commitment to the Boston Marathon.”
“The Celebration Jacket is a topic of discussion every year,” Peveto said. “This year is of course heightened because the Boston Marathon itself is heightened. But the sell-through rates have never been better.”
A percentage of the proceeds from Celebration Jacket and adizero Boston Boost shoe sales at the runner expo and online will go toward the One Fund. Meanwhile, the company — in partnership with the Boston Athletic Association and Marathon Sports — has created a 50-team One Fund group with a goal of raising $500,000 to donate to the charity.
In addition, the company is activating socially with 26.2 days of Boston stories through its #WeAllRunBoston platform, which encourages runners across the globe to share personal stories.
The company will continue its AT&T Athlete Alert program, in which participants can receive updates via mobile
The telecommunications provider also will supply the finish line with five communications centers, up from three last year. Runners will be able to make free domestic and international calls from 40 phones. The centers this year also will offer cellphone charging stations.
In addition, AT&T is creating a digital mosaic where people can upload either photos or videos to support a runner, victim or the city of Boston. The mosaic lives at ItsOurBoston.com. AT&T went to market April 1 with a vehicle around New England equipped with phones to record video or capture photos. Fans nationally are encouraged to upload photos through the website, Twitter or Instagram. Additionally, AT&T will have a photo booth at the expo where fans can contribute to the mosaic. For every submission to the mosaic, AT&T will donate $1 to the One Fund.
Meanwhile, the company has sent 16 million 24- and 35-pack cases to the Northeast New England marketplace with branding on its wrapping. This marks the first time the company has presented a cause on its packaging.
Poland Spring made a straight donation to the One Fund, with the packaging encouraging consumers to also donate.
JetBlue will have crew members on the ground to hand out cue cards that can display messages of encouragement to runners, and will hand out 25,000 bags of Terra Blues potato chips to runners at the finish line.
Theresa Manahan is a writer in Boston.
Will new management help Competitor Group regain its footing?
The Competitor Group, owner of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series, ruffled the running industry’s feathers in 2013
Competitor Group says its Rock ‘n’ Roll brand is still running strong.
Photo by:Getty Images
Calera Capital bought Competitor Group in 2012 for $250 million. As part of the management shake-up last year, Calera managing director Paul Walsh took over as CEO and immediately reinstated the elite athlete program. He then brought on longtime golf executive David Abeles as CEO, and hired Keith Kendrick and Barrett Garrison as the company’s CMO and CFO, respectively.
Whether the new team of executives brings the company back into the running industry’s good graces is yet to be seen. Walsh shrugged off any talk of revenue problems for the company, saying it was simply time for new leadership.
“We’re seeing growth in the [Rock ‘n’ Roll] brand year over year, and our challenges were all self-inflicted,” Walsh said. “We’re putting people in charge that can hold themselves accountable and bring constructive ideas for growth.”
Marathons go pro
In response to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series briefly abandoning its elite athlete program, a handful of regional marathons have either developed or boosted funding programs to attract up-and-coming American pro runners.
The Austin Marathon added an elite field for 2013 and offered $40,000 in prizes for top finishers, with bonuses for top Americans. The Gasparilla Classic in Tampa brought back its elite field after a 17-year hiatus, and put up $30,000 for the top American finishers. The Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota raised its funding of professional runners to $300,000.
The Pittsburgh Marathon spent upward of $300,000 on prize money, as well as on a year-round development program to sponsor up-and-coming Americans. The money pays for travel and housing for athletes. The athletes, in turn, act as ambassadors for the race and the event’s sponsors. In the fickle sport of elite running, where the earning gap between winners and top-10 finishers is enormous, the funding can make a huge difference.
“We’ve gotten a lot of publicity from within the sport,” said Patrice Matamoros, CEO of the race. “We’ve also seen positive responses from sponsors.”
Tough Mudder widens partnerships
Tough Mudder recently signed new multiyear deals with sports nutrition company Met-Rx, energy drink brand Monster Energy and technology firm Garmin.
Tough Mudder says it’s cleaning up with new sponsorships.
Photo by:Getty Images
The sponsorships include branding on Tough Mudder obstacles, activation and retail space in the post-event party zone, and digital and social media inventory. Met-Rx and Monster will distribute samples at events, and Garmin will allow participants to use its VIRB personal camera to film themselves as they complete the course.
“We’ve become more sophisticated with our integration,” Massie-Taylor said. “We can really integrate products into the brand.”
Veteran sponsor Under Armour, for example, will debut a line of Tough Mudder-specific apparel and footwear later this year.
Tough Mudder sponsorships typically range in the high six figures. Massie-Taylor said the property can now structure deals across multiple regions, such as North America, Europe and Australia. Last year, the series attracted approximately 700,000 participants.
The NYC Marathon goes blue for TCS
For the first time since 2003, the New York City Marathon will not be emblazoned with the bright orange colors of
New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg said that while plans haven’t been finalized, TCS’s activation will likely revolve around technology. That could include electronic signage, smartphone applications and additions to the race’s television broadcast.
“We’re looking at how technology and innovation can support the runners,” Wittenberg said. “We may also do a tech summit and other special events.”
Wittenberg said the partnership will also bring TCS employees to the race. The company, she said, puts a corporate focus on health and wellness, and its CEO, Natarajan Chandrasekaran, uses running and cycling as a way to build corporate alliances in India.
The NYRR also has a few marquee categories to fill this year, such as financial services and automobile.
Some competition for Ironman?
The North American triathlon market will get significantly more competitive this year when the Frankfurt-based Challenge Family racing series enters the U.S. market with events in Sacramento, Calif.; Atlantic City, N.J.; and
The Challenge Family racing series could heat up the triathlon market in the U.S.
Photo by:Challenge Roth / Getty Images
While the WTC’s Ironman series has brand dominance across the globe, Challenge is gaining in the European market. Its event in Roth, Germany, is the largest Iron-distance race, with 200,000 spectators and 5,000 athletes.
The company also has strong marketing deals with mainstream German brands such as airliner Lufthansa and financial services company Datev.
“We do not want to overtake Ironman,” said Challenge CEO Felix Walchshofer. “I want to be the quality leader, not the quantity.”
Whether the new series eats into Ironman’s brand supremacy is yet to be seen. Already, the WTC has sold out all three of its new North American races. Its Ironman Chattanooga sold out 2,000 spots in three minutes.
Wasserman bites hard on endurance
Wasserman Media Group has jumped headfirst into endurance sports, signing athletes and buying events in cycling and running.
Headed by Executive Vice President Matt Wikstrom, Wasserman’s endurance group first dipped its toe into the cycling world several years ago by helping USA Cycling negotiate sponsorships.
Last year, WMG added to its position in the sport by bringing several American professional cyclists under its marketing wing, including Tour de France challenger Tejay van Garderen and Olympian Evelyn Stevens. The group bought San Francisco’s iconic Bay to Breakers running race and began negotiating deals for the nighttime 5K Electric Run and the obstacle series ROC Race.
Wikstrom said WMG will continue its growth in endurance sports similar to how it has progressed in action and Olympic sports, as well as soccer. The division has eight employees, but Wikstrom expects that number to grow.
WMG’s goal, Wikstrom said, is to help mainstream brands align themselves with the events and athletes that can give them the most authentic marketing platforms.
“You can’t sell endurance by signage, dots and spots,” Wikstrom said. “It has to be meaningful and different and integrated into all facets of the event.”
Fred Dreier is a writer in Colorado.