SBJ/April 14-20, 2014/In Depth

Endurance stories to watch

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
when it discontinued its elite athlete program, which paid appearance fees and travel stipends to pro runners. The move came amid other budget cuts by Competitor Group that included scaling back its Muddy Buddy series of obstacle races and discontinuing one of its five magazines, Inside Triathlon. Then, in December, the company ousted longtime President and CEO Scott Dickey and CFO Steve Gintowt.

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
Simon Massie-Taylor, Tough Mudder’s senior vice president of commercial partnerships, said the deals are proof of the brand’s mainstream growth and ability to integrate sponsors into its obstacle/mud run events.

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
Dutch bank ING, which ended its decade-long title sponsorship after the 2013 race. Indian tech company Tata Consultancy Services is stepping into the pole position, and the switch will bring the company’s blue corporate colors to the marathon.

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
Columbus, Ohio. Challenge Family is the largest global competitor for the World Triathlon Corp., which owns the popular Ironman and 70.3 events.

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.

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