As marathons becomes a popular vehicle of marketing for brand, one wonders of its a strategic tie -up or simple sponsorship
The business of marathons in India is booming — as per Procam International, it is worth $400 million (`2,800 crore) in India — and more brands are joining the race. Consider how the Tata Mumbai Marathon which had seven brand associations in its first year in 2004, now has over 15. These include names such as Franklin Templeton, Bira 91, Oakley and GoDaddy.
As the number of participants running marathons grows, these one-day events, that last about four to five hours, offer brands a potent stage to engage with a community of health and fitness-oriented people. According to Procam International, the organiser of marathons in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata, there has been an 8-10% rise in the value of sponsorships for its Mumbai leg. But are brands truly making the best use of these events?
Globally, brands spend double the amount they spend on sponsorships, on activations during and in the run-up to an event. However, India is nowhere close.
Among sporting events, marathons are least suitable for televised viewing and, therefore, are mainly leveraged for on-ground activations, branding on jerseys and bibs, and other outdoor displays. “Because marathons do not garner a large viewership, brands lose out on television engagement. It becomes an annual event that lasts a few hours and reaches a niche audience,” says Ritesh Nath, director – commercial, Nielsen Sports and Entertainment India.
Consider this: the 10-year title sponsorship association with the Mumbai Marathon cost TCS and Tata Group `300 crore. In comparison, Oppo bagged the sponsorship rights for the Indian cricket team for a period of five years in 2017 by placing a winning bid of `1,079 crore.
Even though several brands associate with marathons, only a handful expend the time and money needed to execute a compelling campaign. Ranjit Raina, CEO, Geometry Encompass, says, “Very often, brands under-utilise a marathon because they invariably join as sponsors very close to the day of the event, giving them little time to plan powerful campaigns to leverage the opportunity that an event of this kind presents.” He adds that “if the association does not see amplification on other media”, it is a sign that the alliance was not thought out as strategically as possible.
Going the extra mile
According to Vivek Singh, joint MD, Procam International, the edge that marathons have over other events is the six-month engagement period between a participant registering for the race and the day of the race.
“A marathon should not be seen as just a one-day event. It must be viewed as a long-term event where brands can start communicating with participants as soon as they register for it,” says Jigar Rambhia, national director – sports, Wavemaker.
While organisers and media buyers are excited about the scope of marathons as a platform for marketing to a serious and captive audience, not all brands take advantage of this. “Typically, it is the title sponsor who has a long-term deal with the organisers,” notes Raina.
This year, Bira91 and Asics attempted to go beyond the template. Bira91 (the celebration partner of the Mumbai Marathon till 2025) ran a campaign to promote its low-calorie beer. The homegrown beer brand tied up with 10 pubs across Mumbai where the participants could drop in for the low-calorie variation and get a free bottle of beer on the purchase of two bottles. Deepak Singh, VP – marketing, Bira91, says, “The association let the brand drive consideration among fitness enthusiasts and allowed the audience to sample the new product.”
Meanwhile, Asics, in collaboration with Procam, let runners from around the world who use the Asics Runkeeper app become a part of the Mumbai Marathon by tracking their run on the app. “This is a brilliant example of breaking out of the shackles of the on-ground event. The initiative, which can be seen as an app download campaign, must have brought the brand more mileage from the digital space than its physical presence,” says Raina. The brand also created limited edition Mumbai Marathon jerseys, jackets and sneakers.