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Volume 21 No. 2
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John Gassner, VP of business development and strategic partnerships, NYRR

Gassner joins hurricane recovery effort at NYC Marathon

In the six months leading into this November’s ING New York City Marathon, the New York Road Runners must narrow the search for a title sponsor and continue to rehabilitate the race’s image in the wake of last year’s cancellation due to Hurricane Sandy. Helping lead the charge is John Gassner, who recently joined as vice president of business development and strategic partnerships after a 10-year career at ESPN. Correspondent Fred Dreier caught up with Gassner to discuss his strategy.

John Gassner spent 10 years at ESPN, and “I know how ESPN is going to cover an event from a multimedia standpoint.”
The NYRR brand took a public beating after Hurricane Sandy. How do you hope to rehabilitate its image with partners?
Gassner: I wasn’t here for the hurricane so I can’t say specifics about what went on. What I can say is I haven’t really found negative feedback from partners. There is a commitment within the organization to making this year’s race the best ever, and I’ve seen that same level of commitment from partners. From a 30,000-foot view it is important for us to continue our relationships with all of the five boroughs, but it’s important for us to help everyone in Staten Island [one of the hardest-hit areas and home of the marathon’s start].

How will you do that?
Gassner: We’re putting a big emphasis on the Staten Island Half-Marathon for obvious reasons. We’re focusing on relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy victims, and we’re focusing on the importance that the borough plays in everything this organization does.

What role will you play in the search for a title sponsor for the marathon?
Gassner: It’s a very active role and I jumped into it my first week here with [CEO] Mary [Wittenberg] in strategy meetings with interested parties. What I can say is that it’s a small group of companies that have actively pursued us. It’s very nice to be courted, and we are currently having earnest discussions with them about what the partnership will look like.

How does your experience at ESPN help the NYRR’s partnership sales?
Gassner: I worked at ESPN for a decade and I have good friends working specifically on the marathon there. I know how ESPN is going to cover an event from a multimedia standpoint and a human interest standpoint, and I can tap into ESPN’s resources from a digital, social media and broadcast perspective, because those are all things I did in my time there.

How do you plan to grow the NYRR’s portfolio?
Gassner: We have the marathon as the tent pole, and the technology and on-site and events throughout that weekend will continue to give us more opportunities. I want to see us continue the year-round strategy with the other events we have. You look at Oakley, they came to us and wanted an ownership position and a position with the marathon. So they are now title sponsor of the Mini 10K and they have a position at the marathon as well. New Balance has ownership at the Brooklyn Half. I absolutely think there is a growing group of partners that want ownership or bigger involvement with our other races.