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News > Companies
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Corporate sponsors step up
graphic November 1, 2001: 1:17 p.m. ET

Companies open up their wallets to NYC marathon in spite of hard times.
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    NEW YORK (CNNmoney) - When it comes to the New York City Marathon, corporate America has always stepped up to the plate with donations of cash, services or products. And this year is no different, in spite of the weak economy and the war on terrorism.

    Next to the World Series, the marathon is the first major event to come to New York since the Sept. 11 attacks, and some sponsors feel their backing is yet another way to lend support to a city in need.

    "Our sponsors have been unbelievably supportive," said Ann Hinegardner, vice president of sales and marketing for New York Road Runners Club, which organizes the race.

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    In the past few weeks, said Hinegardner, two new corporate sponsors have come on board, a rare occurrence, because they felt it would be one way of expressing their support for New York, she said.

    Coffee maker Chock Full o'Nuts, a division of Sara Lee Corp. (SLE: up $0.16 to $22.67, Research, Estimates) , was added as a sponsor of the race just two weeks ago.

    And days before the race, another company, human resources firm Adecco also said they wanted to donate to help the race get off without a hitch.

    Race organizers will not release the amount of donations from sponsors. But Hinegardner did say that the marathon budget is between $10 million to $15 million. The contribution from sponsors is a "significant" part of that amount.

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    Hinegardner added that the road runners club tries to keep the event from becoming too commercialized. The organization won't take money or in-kind contributions from simply anyone who wants to donate to the race, she said. Rather, the marathon partners with companies who can contribute necessary goods or who have a longstanding commitment to promoting the sport.

    Motorola (MOT: down $0.48 to $16.77, Research, Estimates) and Nextel (NXTL: down $0.57 to $7.98, Research, Estimates) , for example, are sponsors. Together, the two technology companies have developed a wireless system, dubbed the "Athlete Alert" program, that allows fans to track their favorite runners' progress on the course.

    The runners wear chips on their shoes that record their progress. The Athlete Alert program will send their times via Nextel's network to cell phones and pagers of fans who sign on by entering a runner's bib number or name on the marathon Web site.

    Another longtime corporate sponsor, Tiffany & Co. (TIF: up $0.61 to $24.21, Research, Estimates) , creates 185 crystal awards for the winners. Amtrak trains some elite runners, via its high-speed Acela, from locations between Boston and Washington to New York.

    Good will or good advertising?

    Certainly, many of the sponsors are interested in fostering corporate goodwill by sponsoring an event such as the marathon. Their intentions aren't totally altruistic because they get something out of it in terms of high profile marketing.

    Take ASICS, a sportsware maker from Japan. The company is outfitting the 12,000 volunteers and race officials so when NBC's cameras zero in on the finish line, the 70 million TV viewers are going to see dozens of race officials wearing ASICS jackets.

      graphic PROVIDED BY CORPORATE SPONSORS  
       
  • 500,000 cups of Gatorade
  • 30,000 Breathe Right Nasal Strips
  • 70,000 Power Bars
  • 132,000 Dannon yogurts
  • 300 pounds Dole salad
  • 10,000 cans Saranac beer
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    Even far away from the TV cameras, there are opportunities for companies like Ronzoni pasta to market their products, said Hinegardner.

    Ronzoni will dish up 9,000 pounds of pasta and 3,000 quarts of pasta sauce as part of the carbo-loading dinner the night before the race. About 15,000 runners will attend.

    "Runners eat a lot of pasta," she said.

    And in exchange for their donations, the sponsors get a certain number of coveted race entries for their employees. The marathon refuses to say how many bibs it gives out for sponsors.

    The principal sponsors, who give the most, reap the most rewards for their contributions, she said.

    A mix of marketing and charity

    This year, because of the Sept. 11 attack, many of the corporate sponsors are doing things a little differently.

    Venator Group's Foot Locker, for one, is sponsoring the Five Borough Challenge, where runners from each of New York's five boroughs compete against one another in the marathon. The company is contributing $15,000 in prize money, but it goes to charity. The top runner from each borough will get to pick a firehouse to receive $3,000 in donations.

    Continental Airlines is donating 3 million frequent flyer miles to the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children's Benefit Fund as part of the Mayor's Cup, where teams of runners from the police and fire department compete.

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    The airline is also donating 13 million frequent flyer miles to the International Red Cross and 2 million frequent flyer miles to the Twin Towers Fund as part of the International Friendship Run, a 4-mile warmup race for international runners on Saturday.

    JP Morgan Chase, another top sponsor, will donate an estimated $250,000 to the Sept. 11 Fund and other charities as part of "The Chase is On," program. A veteran marathon runner from the police and fire departments will start at the back of the pack, and JP Morgan Chase (JPM: down $0.26 to $36.08, Research, Estimates) will donate $5 to the charities for every person they pass.

    Ronzoni is donating $30,000 to the NYC Firefighters Burn Center Foundation and the UFA Widow's & Children's Fund.

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    Chock Full o'Nuts, which likes to promote its New York roots, had already donated $100,000 to the Twin Towers Fund by the time it decided to be a marathon sponsor, said Tom Breslin, who does marketing for the company.

    But Breslin said the company wanted to send yet another message of support to New York.

    "A part of sponsoring the marathon is just doing the right thing at the right time," he said. graphic

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