There’s no denying that interest in running marathons is at an all-time high. Registration is up. Races are selling out in record time. And, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, in 2010 the number of marathon runners crossing the finish exceeded the half-million mark for the first time at 507,000.
Not only has the number of runners increased, so have the number of marathons. In 2010 more than 35 new marathons were launched according to Running USA. These new additions have brought the total number of official U.S. marathons up 625 -- a 213 percent increase since 1985!
With marathons getting more and more popular, they have also attracted interest from another key sector -- marketers. Yes, along with runners, interest in marathons as marketing vehicles has increasingly grown in popularity. Sponsorships are nothing new, and they provide valued funding that enable races to operate, offer prize money, and attract top talent. And nowhere is this more prevalent than in the financial services sector, where the three U.S.-based marathon majors are all sponsored by the following organizations:
- New York: ING
- Chicago: Bank of America
- Boston: John Hancock
We’re Considered a “Pre-Qualified Demographic”
According to a recent article in Ad Age, marathon runners are a very sought after demographic. We’re viewed as highly educated, considered to be high earners, and in many cases we’re not afraid to travel and spend on hospitality. Additionally, if you’re looking to connect with an international audience, marathon runners are not viewed as homogonous bunch, but rather as a “global group”, as many runners travel from abroad. According to Ad Age and New York University professor of sports management Bob Boland, the benefit to sponsors is that “marathoners are a pre-qualified demographic: You’re getting interest and commonality, as opposed to having to attract them on their own.”
We’re Considered “Planners” and “Goal Oriented”
But when it comes to the financial services sector and their interest in the marathon, this is where things get really interesting. The following is a quote from ING America's chief marketing officer, Ann Glover:
“The parallels between running and preparing for your financial future speaks to our customers…the point is to remind those planning for their retirement that, like running a marathon, "you're in it for the long haul"…From a demographic and psychographic standpoint, the marathon touches all quadrants…but runners in particular are "planners and deliberate and they do their best to achieve their goals".
Personally I view this as a great compliment. I mean there are a lot of reasons why companies spend a lot of money sponsoring various sporting events based on the demographic make-up of those audiences. Sometimes you have to ask yourself, “are these really qualities that are representative of me?” However, in the case of the financial services sector and the marathon, I personally feel that they have nailed things spot-on.
We’re all definitely planners. Running a marathon takes months of preparation and if you are going to be successful, you need to stick to a focused plan. Whether your goal is to break the three-hour mark, win the race, or just finish, it requires an incredible amount of foresight and planning. This is definitely one of the areas that make running a marathon so challenging, yet so rewarding.
We’re certainly goal-oriented. Plans require goals, and the marathon is a very goal-oriented endeavor. However, what’s unique about marathons is that success is based around the achievement of both short and long term goals. As you train and work to increase your mileage week-in and week-out, you set and achieve various short and near-term goals. However, it’s the overriding long-term goal of the actual “marathon” that keeps us all motivated. It’s the marathon itself that provides the long-term goal and motivation associated with achieving the many shorter-term challenges we must accomplish to get there.
Now will all of these factors increase my likelihood of absorbing ING’s, Bank of America’s or John Hancock’s messaging? Does this mean as a result of running marathons that I am more likely to think about planning for my retirement then if I didn’t? Who knows.
But in understanding why marketers do choose to invest so much in the marathon, what it has illuminated for me are the many positive characteristics that marathon running represents. We’re all part of a very special community, and to be part of this community, you need to possess some pretty unique, and in my opinion, most excellent qualities. I can’t say that I deliberately realized I possessed these qualities when I started to run marathons, but in understanding the values that marketers attach to the marathon, if asked by someone to describe myself tomorrow, I have to say that I’d be proud to describe myself as a “goal-oriented planner”.
- Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
- Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
- Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes