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New Balance has its eyes on the world as TCS New York City Marathon nears

New Balance has its eyes on the world as TCS New York City Marathon nears

By Ben Fischer, Staff Writer

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The TCS New York City Marathon is fundamentally a local affair, but New Balance wants to make it a global marketing platform in its first year as shoe and apparel sponsor.

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As part of the buildup to the Nov. 5 race, the Boston-based shoemaker activated Oct. 19 in Shanghai, where 35 Chinese runners, including NYC marathon entrants, received a race-preparation class from New York Road Runners coach Roberto Mandje.

Retail activations are underway in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany, and during race week, the company will host more than 100 retailers and employers from across the globe for meetings and a VIP hospitality experience in midtown Manhattan.

“With bias from our partnership aside, I still think New York is the global city,” said Tom Carleo, New Balance vice president of running. “And I think this event is one of the pioneering events for this type of city marathon. It is on bucket lists of people all around the world.”

In 2015, New Balance agreed to pay $90 million over 11 years to sponsor race organizer New York Road Runners, more than triple the annual rate Asics had paid. The escalation reflected both New Balance’s ambition and NYRR’s gambit to reframe sponsorships as yearlong relationships involving all of the dozens of races it operates. This May, New Balance also won the shoe and apparel rights to the Virgin London Marathon.

With a third of the 50,000-strong running field in New York coming from outside the U.S., local activation during race week also amounts to global marketing, Carleo said.

On the race course itself, New Balance chose a counterintuitive location for a branded block party — Mile 20 in the South Bronx, far from the most popular locations to watch the race along First Avenue, Central Park and the streets of Brooklyn. But it’s where runners historically need the most encouragement, and New Balance and race organizers will bring DJ Grandmaster Flash and others to perform.

“Their approach to anything they’re creating is: How can we touch the runners at a really personal level?” said Sarah Cummins, head of business development and strategic partnerships for NYRR.

Also, Carleo said, New Balance and NYRR have invested heavily in improving runners’ experience at the pre-race expo, where participants pick up race packets and sponsors set up merchandise tents. Financially, it’s the centerpiece of the deal, generating up to a month’s worth of sales in 2.5 days, but it also can be marked by excessive crowds and long lines.

New Balance wants no runner to spend more than 20 minutes in line, Carleo said. The expo experience is especially important to the global play because long-distance travelers are more likely to buy merchandise than local runners.

New Balance’s corresponding advertising campaign, “All Roads Lead to NYC,” has been running since Oct. 6. In digital, social and TV spots, along with outdoor advertising, it will feature last year’s runners raising their hands as they finished, creating the “Y” in between an “N” and “C.” New Balance has installed “NYC Victory Pose” stations around the city for fans to copy the pose. It also will operate “run concierge” stations at four locations in the city, offering customization on merchandise and other services.

New Balance will also run a 30-second spot during the ABC/ESPN broadcast of the race and is mentioned in local promos produced by affiliate WABC Channel 7.

As a “foundation level” sponsor, New Balance is a tier below title rights holder Tata Consultancy Services. But it has a day-to-day commercial relevance to consumers that makes it NYRR’s most important promotional partner, and Cummins said the shoemaker’s extensive plans this year will be a big boost to its own marketing goals.

“We absolutely think it’s going to raise the profile of our brand and raise the profile of running, which is what I really think we’re all about,” Cummins said.

New Balance used Nail Communications for its creative; Sub Rosa to help develop its expo and a pop-up running club, and MKG for its runner concierge program.


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