Manufacturers Hanover Corp., the nation's sixth-largest bank holding company, seeks its money's worth when it sponsors footraces.
Each of the 5,000 companies that sponsor a team in one of the bank's 18 Corporate Challenge races each year is classified as a current customer or a prospective customer, and the prospects are sorted into several grades. For each "Grade A" prospect, Manufacturers Hanover then contacts the highest-ranking executive who ran and solicits his or her company's banking business. "We can get in the door" by this stratagem, said Charles H. McCabe, executive vice president for marketing.
Such aggressive marketing remains the exception rather than the rule among corporate sponsors of road races. But companies and road race experts alike say that subsidizing the weekend competitive get-togethers of runners--a highly educated and affluent slice of American society--may make sound business sense. Direct marketing aside, companies also see the races as a way to build employee loyalty and project an image of community involvement.
"The employee \o7 esprit de corps \f7 is a great result of this," said Heidi H. von Kann, manager of special events at Union Bank, which spent close to $60,000 to produce the Heart of the City 5-kilometer race in downtown Los Angeles on June 29.
"We find that in sponsoring these events, we're able to get back to the community," said Doris Gustafson, executive vice president of Fred Sands Realtors, which paid $13,000 to sponsor this year's Palisades/Will Rogers 5- and 10-kilometer runs July 4.
Similar to TV Advertising
The goals of corporate sponsors usually vary with the size of the event they produce, said Basil Honikman, managing trustee of TACStats, the statistical arm of The Athletics Congress--a national organization based in Indianapolis that oversees many road races and other track and field athletic events. Sponsors of multimillion-dollar events such as the Los Angeles and New York marathons typically want their names in front of millions of television viewers and spectators, he said. They compare the cost of sponsorship to the cost of television advertisements.
Sponsors of medium-sized races--those with budgets of $150,000 to $400,000 and a first prize of perhaps $10,000--mostly seek to improve a corporate or product image among the actual runners, and reduce or eliminate entry fees to ensure large fields of participants. Finally, Honikman said, companies that put on small local races with a budget of as little as $2,000 are pursuing an image of strong corporate citizenship. "He's not really buying marketing or advertising but being a good guy in the community," Honikman said.
American corporations are not spending an estimated $50 million this year to sponsor road races simply for philanthropic reasons, said Lesa Ukman, editor of Special Events Report, a Chicago-based newsletter that tracks corporate sponsorship of sports and the arts. "They really are looking for a return somehow, ultimately in sales."
Few corporations hand over a check simply because their top bosses like to run, Honikman agreed. "You dream about finding a chief executive who is passionately interested in the sport. You end up finding a vice president interested in (marketing) performance."
Some companies claim that they seek only to help their communities. Minneapolis-based Pillsbury spends close to $200,000 annually to co-sponsor the Twin Cities Marathon, and views the money strictly in terms of corporate citizenship, insisted Larry Haeg, Pillsbury's director of public relations and the marathon's vice president of marketing. "We have never viewed it as advertising. We have viewed it as a major means of improving the quality of life in our headquarters, the Twin Cities."
Pillsbury does make available to co-sponsors its comprehensive mailing lists of runners, Haeg said. Major sponsors seldom conduct mass mailings to runners, but sporting goods manufacturers and catalogue houses commonly seek to buy address lists, Honikman said. The offered price is typically five or six cents a name.
Manufacturers Hanover continues to look for new ways to use its road race sponsorship. Bank officials take some of their most coveted and affluent private clients to exclusive events connected to the New York Marathon, which Manufacturers Hanover also sponsors, McCabe said.
And the next step? The bank is considering a credit card with a Corporate Challenge logo.