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Sponsors enjoy showcase of Boston Marathon

By Gregg Krupa, Globe Staff, 04/16/99

Businesses say they like to sponsor the Boston Marathon because, for them, the race is like a big commercial show-and-tell.

In addition to providing the chance to link their brand name with a prestigious athletic event, the traditional use of sports as a marketing tool, sponsors say the Marathon provides an unusual opportunity to demonstrate how their products and services work.

For that forum this year, Boston Marathon officials say, sponsors will pay a total of about $3 million, financing 75 percent of the $4 million cost of staging the race. The rest of the operating budget is financed by the participants' entry fee ($75 each).

''Running events are unique among sports in that it isn't the exposure of signage or being able to use the name of the event in their advertising that really attracts the sponsors,'' said Lance Helgeson, senior editor of the Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship Report. ''It's more the opportunity of getting their products out there, being used, and demonstrating their potential in a real-life situation.

''What adds to that is that the Boston Marathon really has more cache than even the New York Marathon.''

And it is not just Gatorade and Ronzoni Pastas - whose products are clearly useful for the field of dehydrated, carbo-starved runners - that pitch the usefulness of their products. Companies such as Boston Gas, DaimlerChrysler, and some specializing in Internet and wireless communications tout the Marathon as a valuable showcase.

''Have you ever seen those shots of the lead runners and wondered how they could run all that distance behind some diesel-belching truck?'' asked Michael Connors, a spokesman for Boston Gas. ''Well, there are no fumes, because the vehicles are running on natural gas.''

The energy source, for both vehicles and power plants, is one of Boston Gas's major initiatives, Connors said. ''So, as a sponsor, what's important to us is supplying two natural gas vehicles for camera crews and officials at the front of the race. It keeps us coming back every year.''

DaimlerChrysler will provide 75 to 85 vehicles, several of which will accompany the race leaders in prominent positions throughout the course.

But for sponsors who produce refreshments and food, the marketing opportunities are even more obvious and dramatic.

''We're going to be providing the Boston Marathon with about 60,000 gallons of water or, another way of thinking of it is 750,000 to 1 million cups of water,'' said Jack Sullivan, sales center manager for Belmont Springs, a Marathon sponsor since 1981. ''It's great for us, especially because we are a local company. We're proud to contribute to a successful event every year.''

Gatorade will provide 640,000 servings of the drink to the 15,000 runners.

''For Gatorade, this is a great opportunity, at the nation's premier marathon, to express the functional benefits of our product,'' said spokeswoman P.J. Sinopoli.

Nextel Communications, of McLean, Va., will provide 325 digital wireless phones for the staff and volunteers who help to supervise the race. Nextel touts its wireless phones, which with the flip of a switch function as two-way radios, as the ideal communications link along the 26.2-mile course.

''It's walkie-talkies, wireless phones, and beepers all in one hand-held set,'' said John Redman, director of marketing in New England. ''The Marathon is perfect for us. It draws our potential customer base and the network of communications is similar to any major construction site or emergency services network, and those are the primary areas of use for our product.''

Nextel will make a special display of the communications network this year by enchancing the Boston Athletic Association's tracking of individual participants - especially the elite women - throughout the race, officials said.

And, a Bethesda, Md., supplier of Internet-based products and services to the business community, will show off its high-speed Internet access by updating the progress of the race and positions of the runners every three to five minutes. In the past, according to Mitch Romm, president of, the results were updated on the BAA's Website only every 20 to 30 minutes.

The show-and-tell approach to corporate sponsorships at the Marathon works well for race organizers, too. Race director Guy Morse of the BAA said that the ''in-kind services'' are often as important as the sponsors' contribution to financing the race.

''It really allows us to present the event in a world-class way,'' Morse said. ''If they did not contribute those goods and services, we'd have to buy them, or do without.

''And because of the opportunities it provides for the sponsors, they come back to the Marathon every year,'' Morse said. ''The fact that many of our sponsors have been with us for eight and 10 years and longer provides us with a lot of stability. And our relationship with them is something we spend a lot of time, throughout the year, nurturing.''

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