When you think of sports sponsorships, distance running isn’t exactly the first sport that leaps to mind. But the demographics of runners and the growing participation in these road racing events is starting to turn some heads.
Consider the upcoming 500 Festival Mini Marathon for a moment. Nearly two-thirds of its registrants have a household income of more than $75,000, according to race organizers. Almost half are college graduates and one-third have graduate degrees.
And the race has a lot of registrants—35,000 in recent years. That’s major exposure.
Other area races have similar growing demographics. A survey conducted by the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon—held in November—found that a whopping 80 percent of its participants had a four-year college degree and 34 percent had a graduate degree. Household income of the “vast majority” of 2012 registrants was over $70,000, said Blake Boldon, the event’s executive director.
The Monumental started just five years ago and in 2012 attracted more than 11,000 for its marathon, half marathon and 5K races.
So it shouldn’t be too surprising that more event promoters and sponsors than ever are eager to get in on the running action. The Mini has used its demographics to draw major sponsors such as OneAmerica Financial Partners Inc. and the Monumental has secured a long-term deal with Franciscan St. Francis Health.
Most recently, Cummins Inc., MainSource Bank and Columbus Regional Health have agreed to pour six-figure sums over a multiyear period to fuel a major road race in Columbus. The inaugural Mill Race is set for Sept. 28, which could put it in competition with the Monumental as well as the Indianapolis Marathon, both fall races held in Indy.
The Mill Race, like the Monumental, will include a marathon, half marathon and 5K runs, and event organizers expect to draw 5,000 participants the first year.
Columbus-based Cummins officials said their participation is more a way to promote the county and city they call home rather than marketing their own company.
“We have no specific interest in marathons per se, but this event offers a fantastic platform to promote Bartholomew County and the city of Columbus while also raising funds to invest in the community,” said Cummins Vice President Dave Crompton. “The fact that this effort supports healthy lifestyles, something Cummins is committed to supporting and encouraging, just makes it a nice fit all around.”
Company officials are considering using a fleet of buses powered by Cummins' newest engines to shuttle people from nearby major airports to the race.
Growing participation in road races is leading to more and bigger sponsorship deals. Nationally, the number of participants in road racing events has grown from 3.8 million in 1990 to nearly 15 million last year. Sponsorship for running events has grown from $84 million in 2008 to $102.1 million in 2012.
That’s prompting more races to crop up. Despite some fear that there are too many races for the market to support, Ken Long, who is helping organize the Columbus event, is confident there is room for the Mill Race.
Long thinks some people will desire to run a marathon in September rather than later in the fall when the weather can turn cold. Others, he said, could use the Mill Race Half Marathon as a way to train for the Monumental Marathon.
Monumental officials, too, are confident the Mill Race will have little impact on its fast-growing races.
“We’re centrally located and we offer a flat, fast course that is perfect for qualifying for [the] Boston [Marathon],” Boldon said. “This is a signature event that goes past many of the area’s most well-known landmarks. We think this is the state’s marathon.”
Officials for the Indianapolis Marathon, which is held near Fort Harrison State Park in Lawrence, might disagree. That event, squeezed between the Mill Race and Monumental on the calendar, has been the most established of the central Indiana full marathons, having been around for 18 years. It is set to be run this year on Oct. 19.
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