Making It Count, or, Why Shoe Companies Should Rethink Their Sponsorship Foci


Every year, right around the time of the Boston Marathon, the same debate pops up in running circles: Should there be charity runners in the Boston Marathon?  There are many varied and strong opinions on the issue, none of which I will get into here.  Needless to say, having run Boston with both a charity and an exempt bib, I’m in favor of it.  Regardless of your opinion though on the propriety of having non-BQ’ed runners in the field, it’s hard to argue with the large amount of money raised for a vast number of charities each year.  Various estimates put the amount raised per year by Boston charity runners at $10-15M between the official charities and those through John Hancock.  That doesn’t even include people like me who used Boston as a platform to independently raise money for a charity.  Add Boston to the New York and Chicago marathons, both of which offer charity bibs, and we’re talking about a very large amount of money raised by runners, to say nothing of the billions (that number may be overstated slightly) of charity 5Ks, 10Ks, etc. around the country and it’s clear that the sport of running is intricately tied to fundraising and charitable giving.  

An article in the Wall Street Journal recently discussed the changing model of shoe company sponsorships of elite runners (http://tinyurl.com/wsjsponsorarticle).  The article focused on how Meb Keflezighi was dropped by Nike and then picked up by Skechers, which has not imposed a “one logo” restriction on him.  The article follows an unsponsored runner, Jason Hartmann, being the first American finisher at the Boston Marathon (albeit in a year largely devoid of top American talent like Meb or Ryan Hall).  All of this got me thinking about what makes for effective sponsorships and marketing in running, a sport where there is an absolutely huge disconnect between interest in the recreational activity and interest in the professional sport.  Given that, does Asics really think that the everyday runner is going to pick an Asics flat because Ryan Hall wears it?  Most runners I know wear the shoe that works best for them or, in some cases, looks the flashiest.  Ask your average Nike wearer to name a member of the Oregon Track Club and you’ll likely see that while sponsored athletes may do great things for American running, they don’t do a lot to build the brand for most runners.

Brooks Running takes a decidedly different approach to spending on sponsorships than any other company with their Brooks ID program, of which I’m a member.  There are, of course, many Brooks-sponsored pro runners, including Desi Davilla, runner-up in the 2011 Boston Marathon and member of the Olympic marathon team (along with two Nike runners).  Brooks ID might be described as a “micro-sponsorship” for runners of all speeds that aspire to “inspire daily.”  A large number of the ID runners, from what I can tell, are in the program because of the charity work they do through their running.  Examples include:

  • Rebecca Massie and Adrienne Langelier raising $8,000 to repair a local school’s track.
  • Stephen England: $2830+ for Leukemia and Lymphoma Research by running the Leadville 100 (and over $10,000 total for the charity).
  • Jeremiah Aiken raising money for Relay For Life through a 24 hour relay race.
  • Josh Weekley heading a benefit race for 2 years and raising over $6,000.
  • Jim Parry raising $7,500 over 3 years during his 16 hour treadmill run for the Strong Kids Campaign.
  • Kevin Stack raising $3,100 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital prior to the DC Rock N Roll 1/2 Marathon.
  • Suzy Dezagon raising a mind-blowing $93,000 for Avon Against Breast Cancer.
  • Diane Barry Groff’s involvement in the active woman cancer community through http://www.teamsurvivor.org.
  • Dawn Dolowbowsky running the Seattle Rock N Roll Half for the American Cancer Society with a goal of raising $5,000.
  • Rae Ann Darling running a 57 mile ultra to raise money for tornado victims in Massachusetts.
  • Deanna Culbreath raising over $5,000 for http://www.somaly.org by running a 100 mile race in addition to coaching for Girls On The Run.
  • Christopher Garges who is on a board for a local charity that provides services for patients and families dealing with cancer.  He also directs races that donate free slots to the charity, which have raised nearly $10,000 over the past couple of years.
  • Mike Carriglitto, who works with Christopher.

Brooks ID runners’ fierce loyalty to the brand has as much to do with the quality of Brooks’ gear as the fact that Brooks devotes a significant amount of energy and resources to supporting the above runners and many more like them.  I care about promoting the brand because of what the brand gives back to the community at large through its runners (not to mention the Run B’Cause Program).  Because of this (and my contract), I’m far less likely to be swayed from my brand loyalty by shiny new products hitting the market.  Maybe if other shoe companies adopted this micro-sponsorship approach for all kinds of runners (as opposed to something like the Saucony Hurricanes, which is reserved for sub-elite but still wicked fast runners), they might find they inspire the same kind of loyalty that can’t be achieved by putting a team of Kenyans in Adidas.

 

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One Response to “Making It Count, or, Why Shoe Companies Should Rethink Their Sponsorship Foci”

  1. Chrsitopher Garges Says:

    Great post! It is amazing the power that motivated runners can have on their community. I’m proud to be associated with Brooks, their ID program and you as well!

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