Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 2
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

NYRR team goes guerrilla hunting

While walking through Columbus Circle to the finish line of Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon, I saw two women holding large signs for, an advertising website for shoemaker Mizuno. Michelle Doti Taylor, director of business development and strategic partnerships for the New York Road Runners, approached the two and asked them to leave the area. Asics, not Mizuno, owns the race’s footwear and apparel categories, a deal valued at seven figures annually by sources.

“I’m sure they will come back as soon as we leave,” Taylor admitted. “Columbus Circle is always a spot for ambush marketing.”

A New York Road Runners exec ran off the holder of this sign, advertising a website for marathon non-sponsor Mizuno.

Ambush, or “guerrilla,” marketing is a major concern for the New York Road Runners at its marquee event, which this year attracted approximately 2 million spectators and 47,000 participants. Unlike a stadium or arena, a 26.2-mile race course is nearly impossible to control from a branding perspective. That doesn’t stop the NYRR from trying.

Seven years ago it formed an ambush team to bounce unofficial advertisers and retailers from the course. The team is now 20 strong and, according to NYRR reps, includes ex-law enforcement officials. They sweep the course the morning of the race and clip down unlicensed signs, and then radio in any on-course ambushers to police officers and volunteers during the event.

“We are very protective of the rights of our partners,” said Ann Wells Crandall, NYRR vice president of business development and strategic partnerships. “But we’re not going to get everybody. We pick our battles.”

NYRR reps said the group has legal rights to remove any signs or structures along the race course that are not listed on the Street Activity Permitting Office (SAPO) permit it signs with the city. City officials did not return calls for comment. Taylor said volunteers and course marshals are instructed to ask pamphleteers and canvassers to leave the course. If they don’t, they call the ambush team to approach the offenders. Taylor admitted the team cannot physically remove offenders, but that the team provides “more of a presence” than volunteers.

2011 NYC Marathon:
Industry finishers

Nearly 47,000 runners completed the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, and the sports industry had its fair share. Here are some of them:

Kiwan Anderson  
Omega Watches events manager 3:58:01
Tim Bezbatchenko  
MLS director of player relations and competition 3:40:08
Jared Cooper  
Sports Power Weekends founder/CEO 4:38
Sean Dennison  
MLS/SUM director of corporatecommunications 5:18:50
A.J. Faxel  
ANC Sports Enterprises project manager 3:58
Brennan Feldhausen  
Baltimore Orioles account manager, corporate sales 2:47:21
Matt Higgins  
New York Jets EVP/business operations 5:08
Brad Jones  
Atlanta Braves director of partnership services 3:55
Denise Kitchel  
IMRE Sports VP/marketing and client relations 4:26:42
Reba Koppelman  
Baltimore Ravens assistant controller 3:49:50
Heather Krug  
Rogers & Cowan EVP/consumer, entertainment and sports  
Eric Liebler  
ProCamps Worldwide senior VP Unofficial 4:56 (from my watch)
Brad Ludden  
First Descents founder and CEO 4:46
Chris Marciani  
MLB VP/national sales 3:36
Michael Patent  
AEG Global Partnerships VP 2:50
Mark Plutzer  
MLB Advanced Media VP/ticketing 4:13
Dave Reeder  
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment account executive, partnership marketing and media sales 5:12:09
Luis Rodriguez  
SUM account executive, business development 4:56:23
Adam Schwartz  
Former NHL PR manager (now a sixth-grade teacher) 3:53:42
Eric Smallwood  
Front Row Marketing Services SVP 4:25:45
Matt Wikstrom  
Wasserman Media Group VP/global sales and business development 2:52.5
David Wright  
SUM VP/global sponsorship 3:36:31

Crandall said the NYRR has previously confronted the Brazil Tourism Board and technology company ILX for ambush marketing along the course. A source familiar with the race said Nike and Pepsi also organize non-official marketing pushes each year.

Vicki Wilkens, division brand marketing manager for Mizuno USA, said guerrilla marketing is commonplace within the athletic shoe industry. This year Mizuno stationed 26 reps at strategic areas along the route to promote the new Wave Rider 15 shoe with signs and stickers, and the company also purchased space inside the marathon expo at the Javits Center in midtown. She declined to discuss her budget for the event, but said it was significantly smaller than the seven-figure spending by Asics, the official partner.

“We have to be smarter with how we market,” Wilkens said. “We’re trying to build buzz around a new product, and you don’t need to be a title sponsor to do that.”

I walked a two-mile stretch along 4th and Lafayette avenues, where race officials built up an activation zone for new partner Motorola, which promoted its new MotoActv fitness monitor with a band in downtown Brooklyn. I did not see any major brands attempting ambush marketing there, but I did see an abundance of local restaurants and cafes advertising to spectators, even a number of school bake sales. Taylor said the ambush team leaves the locals alone.

The marathon’s major brands all boasted spectator-driven activation in Brooklyn, with Dunkin’ Donuts distributing fleece beanies, Grana Padano Cheese and Poland Spring handing out thunder sticks, Time Warner Cable giving out customizable cheer signs, and Nissan giving away paper noisemakers advertising the Leaf. Title sponsor ING led the swag bucket with its annual offering of orange sunglasses and cowbells, as well as caps, gloves and vuvuzelas, perhaps to the chagrin of the neighbors.

In my opinion, the top activation along the route again belonged to Asics, which for the second year positioned JumboTrons along the course as part of its “Support Your Marathoner” campaign. Just like last year, friends and families of runners uploaded inspirational messages online before the race. This year they also could upload videos. As a runner approached the JumboTron, his bib number tripped a signal which played the video or message. Hundreds of runners stopped at the station in Brooklyn to watch their individual message appear on screen, which also showed short, 15-second Asics ads.

According to Crandall, more than 20,000 messages were uploaded. The JumboTron campaign was part of a 30 percent increase in activation spending by Asics, and the company purchased ads on buses, in Times Square and in the Columbus Circle subway station, where a 60-foot video wall display showed athlete Ryan Hall running at marathon pace.

Gary Slayton, Asics’ vice president of emerging business, said this year the company spent twice as much on its activation for the race than the rights fee, which is in the seven figures. The company also had a spot in the expo, though Slayton said branding and not expo sales is the primary focus.

“Is this a big moneymaker? No,” he said. “But when you play in this game you have to get on a big stage.”

Electronics maker Timex has a different approach, using the event and the pre-race expo to jump-start sales for new products. This year Timex sold approximately 500 of its GPS Ironman Run Trainer watches at the expo.

“We try to get the product on the key influencers in running communities,” said Keith Meyer, manager of event marketing for Timex.

It’s been nine years since Dutch bank ING became the race’s first title sponsor, and the company is in the first year of a three-year renewal. Ann Glover, chief marketing officer for ING Americas, said the marathon is the company’s biggest event platform, and the bank boasts a full schedule of investment banking meetings and functions during race week. It also receives 1,000 entries in the race for employees and clients. Glover declined to say whether the bank would renew the property after 2013.

NYRR hopes to push that partnership further, as the seven-figure spending and the connections within global finance have undoubtedly helped the race grow.

“There’s a reason we make sure people call it the ING New York City Marathon,” Crandall said.

Staff writer Fred Dreier covers hockey, soccer and endurance sports for SportsBusiness Journal. Though he has never competed in the ING New York City Marathon, he has completed four marathons.