Can ING, Timex, Others Stomach Increasing Outrage About NYC Marathon?

Sponsors Are Now Feeling the Heat

By Published on . 1

UPDATE (6 P.M.): New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this evening that the ING New York City Marathon was canceled. "It is clear it that it has become the source of controversy and division. The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination," the mayor said.

Cover image from Friday's New York Post.
Cover image from Friday's New York Post.

Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the ING New York City Marathon would continue as scheduled despite the destruction visited upon the area by Hurricane Sandy. What Mr. Bloomberg positioned as an example of New York's resilience and a needed salve for the economy, is now being portrayed as a slap in the face to those still suffering.

And sponsors, including ING US and Timex, are getting caught in the crossfire.

Local and national press, including The New York Post, The New York Times and ESPN, have denounced the decision as tone-deaf, insensitive, crass and a triumph of money over decency.

The marathon has been rebranded as a "Race to Recover" and sponsors and organizers, aside from raising money, will make generous donations. Some runners who registered for the race, meanwhile, are planning groups who will take the official transportation to the start and then break off to volunteer in hard-hit communities.

And a number of solid arguments can be made for the economic impact of the race, according to Crain's New York Business. Marathons in general are big business and this is one of the premier events in the sport.

But that 's not enough to dampen criticism. In a little over 24 hours, a Facebook page called "Cancel the 2012 NYC Marathon" has garnered 30,000 likes -- a number that continues to climb.

While much of the route should be clear by the time Sunday rolls around, the race starts in Staten Island, an area absolutely devastated by the storm. Like lower Manhattan, Staten Island is still without power and water. But Staten Island has also seen buildings washed out to sea and tankers washed on shore. Worst of all, the death toll continues to rise. According to SILive.com, 19 people have died, and that number is expected to increase.

And on Sunday, 20,000 to 40,000 runners are expected to arrive on Staten Island via buses -- assuming said buses can find fuel. They will make their way, eventually, to Central Park, where, according to the New York Post, generators capable of powering 400 homes are being set up to power media tents.

The Facebook page of the New York Road Runners, the organizer of the event, is no stranger to member outrage. In fact, a number of times this year, runners have taken to it to lambast CEO Mary Wittenberg and the club for delaying registration for the Brooklyn Half Marathon and announcing that there would no longer be a bag-check service for the NYC Marathon.

Earlier this week, Ms. Wittenberg said in a statement that the club's "thoughts and prayers go out to all of those impacted by the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. On Sunday, as runners cross the five boroughs, we want them to bring with them a sense of hope and resilience. The marathon is not just a race—it's about helping NYC find its way on the road to recovery."

NYRR isn't the only one seeing its Facebook page overtaken. ING US is also receiving a large number of comments demanding that it cancel the marathon. Some commenters are posting photos of the destruction.

ING-Direct is also receiving its fair share of comments, though it has no involvement with the marathon.

Timex, another sponsor, is also catching heat on its Facebook page.

Asics, on the other hand, seems to be benefiting from lower brand recognition -- or simply tightly controls its social-media presence. It has no comments on its Facebook page and only one angry tweet directed at it, one that reads: "Because nothing says 'resilient' like upper-middle class people in $200 Asics running through a disaster zone."

ING US, Asics and Timex did not respond to requests for comment before deadline. PepsiCo's Gatorade declined to comment.

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