From New York to Seattle, more marketers are signing on as sponsors because organizers of the 26.2-mile races are starting to add many non-running events, ancillary activities and expos to the marathon menu.
Adding to this fall's marathon excitement is the fever among runners to beat the yearend deadline to qualify for next April's 100th anniversary of the Boston Marathon, which will turn that city into a marathon madhouse with record numbers of participants and international publicity.
As the list of walking, bicycling and relay races surrounding marathons gets longer, the crowds coming to marathons are becoming larger and more diverse, creating irresistible marketing opportunities for companies eager to target active, healthy consumers.
The marketers are also getting more diverse: the New York Marathon on Nov. 12 landed furniture retailer Ikea among its new sponsors, along with a computer marketer, a moving company and toy marketer Erector.
Marketers of athletic products are still of top priority, however; this year, for the first time in its 26-year history, the New York Marathon snared giant Nike in a multiyear contract as its new official footwear and apparel marketer, replacing Asics.
The LaSalle Banks Chicago Marathon on Oct. 15 will feature six product promotional sites along the race route for the first time, with marketers including Nabisco, Sun-kist and Welch's promoting their products and offering samples to thousands of spectators following a smaller, successful test last year.
The 18th annual event expects a record 13,000 runners. Major Sports Marketing, Chicago, owns and coordinates the marathon.
Walkers step in
Like most marathons that have added wheelchair, walking, biking and relay events in recent years, the Portland (Ore.) Marathon on Oct. 1 reported the fastest participant growth is among walkers; 1,500 entered this year compared with 4,300 runners, and nearly equal numbers of walkers and runners are predicted for next year.
The Los Angeles Marathon, scheduled for March 3, is a pioneer in jazzing up activities beyond the basic running marathon.
Owner and founder Bill Burke, who organized the first L.A. Marathon in 1986 building on the marketing model of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, said the event "is characterized by all the marketing, competitiveness and glitz that's Hollywood, and it keeps getting bigger."
Pedal power totaling 20,000
Last year, Mr. Burke added the 26.2-mile L.A. Marathon Bike Tour, which starts before the running event; next year, 20,000 cyclists are expected to join the runners. Between 19,000 and 25,000 marathoners are predicted in 1996.
The marathon expo is another area where the L.A. Marathon keeps getting bigger: now positioned as a "lifestyle expo," the event draws more than 100,000 over three days before the marathon with more than 400 marketers represented.