By Barry Janoff
November 1, 2012: Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, calls the ING New York City Marathon "America's Race." From a participant, marketing and media perspective, it's hard to argue with that.
This year, ESPN will offer the first national live coverage of the Marathon since 1993 via a deal that currently runs through the 2016 Marathon.
"For most runners, at an elite level, this is the career-defining race, the race of a lifetime," said John Anderson, ESPN SportsCenter anchor, who will be working with Hannah Storm as lead commentators on ESPN2.
More than 47,000 participants will seek to cover a 26.2 mile course that runs through all five boroughs of New York City — beginning in Staten Island and ending in Manhattan. The $853,000 in prize purse is the largest in event history, according to NYRR, which oversees the NYC Marathon and numerous other races throughout the year.
Principal sponsors include Asics, United Airlines, Foot Locker, Nissan and Timex.
Signature and supporting sponsors include Coors Light, Dunkin' Donuts, Emerald Nuts, Gatorade Endurance, Subway, Philips,, Poland Spring, PowerBar, Snyder's Of Hanover, Tiffany and UPS.
A growing part of the ING NYC Marathon is the number of people who participate in the event to raise awareness and funds for more than 200 charities and causes. Last year, Marathon participants raised a record $34 million. This year, NYRR itself is literally running for a cause, donating $1 million to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. And title sponsor ING is donating an additional $500,000.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Paul Bamundo, director of sports marketing, PR and partnerships for Subway Franchise Advertising Fund, about its alliance with the ING NYC Marathon and how it uses such "Famous Fans" as Michael Phelps, Apolo Ohno and company spokesman Jared Fogel to broaden Subway's mantra of being "the official training restaurant of athletes everywhere."
(Editor's Note: The interview took place before Hurricane Sandy hit the New York-New Jersey area.)
NYSportsJournalism.com: What motivated Subway to sign a deal with NYRR and the ING NYC Marathon in 2010?
Paul Bamundo: It's a very participatory sport. It includes professional runners, athletes who train just to run in this event, everyday people who train and enter to test themselves. It is everything we look for to support our strategy of being the official training restaurant of athletes everywhere, which means not just professional athletes but people who eat healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
From a personal perspective, I was born in Brooklyn and I grew up in Staten Island, and I remember watching my dad run back in 1982 and 1983, which was the infancy of the Marathon. It is amazing to see what it has become. I am a big fan. The Marathon is my favorite day in New York. I had the pleasure of working with Mary (Wittenberg) and Ann (Ann Wells Crandall, NYRR evp-business development and strategic partnerships) before I joined Subway, so it was a natural fit for us to come on board with this type of property.
NYSJ: What has Subway learned pro and con from the first two races that you will be using this time?
PB: In Year One, the idea was to get Subway spokesman Jared Fogel involved. So Tony Pace (global chief marketing officer for Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund) and I approached Jared about training for and running in the 2010 Marathon. We weren't sure what his response would be, because it is a big commitment. Thankfully, he said yes. [Laughs.] Once that happened, we spoke with NYRR about becoming an official partner to incorporate marketing and signage with Jared before and during the event. And Jared certainly did is part, running in 5:15.
"It's everything we look for to support Subway being the official training restaurant of athletes everywhere, which means pros and people who maintain a healthy lifestyle."
NYSJ: Was that success a catalyst to expanding Subway marketing and support in 2011?
PB: Definitely. Last year, we had a whole marketing campaign that involved all of Subway's Famous Fans [athlete and celebrity marketing endorsers] asking who would run in the 2011 Marathon. We even went out to Hawaii during the NFL Pro Bowl to talk to our football guys if any of them would run. Ultimately, Apolo Ohno [Olympic multi-medal winning speed skater] was the one who answered the bell. So he trained. And we were able to get Michael Phelps involved in helping Apolo to train, which generated a lot of media attention. And then Apolo ran the Marathon in 3:25, which was pretty amazing considering that it was his first marathon event.
NYSJ: Why did Phelps' sisters become involved this year?
PB: We have been with Michael since before the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and we were involved with Michael when he was in training for the Summer Olympics in London. We asked him if he would run in the 2012 Marathon, but he said he would be too busy to commit the amount of time needed to train. But he said that his sisters, Whitney and Hilary, who have both competed as athletes (Hilary has run Ironman triathlons, Whitney is a swimmer who was involved in tryouts for the 1996 Summer Games), would be interested. So he volunteer them! [Laughs.]
NYSJ: How come Whitney is running and not Hilary?
PB: Unfortunately, Hilary has a knee injury that will prevent her from running in the Marathon. But she was preparing to run in the 5K event the day before the Marathon with Jared. (Editor's Note: This event was cancelled due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy). What is an important part of the Marathon for us is that Subway will donate $26,200 to the Phelps Foundation, which is $1,000 for every mile that Whitney runs.
NYSJ: How has Subway's alliance Debbie Phelps evolved in marketing?
PB: We have been working with her since 2011, and we ran a commercial with Michael and Debbie before the 2012 Olympics. It was amazing to see the attention and the amount of press she received in London during the Olympics. Tony Pace and I were there with Debbie and the family. The day after Michael broke the record for most career medals (surpassing the 45-year-old record of 18 held by Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina) we were doing a media event with Debbie, and the turnout was unbelievable. It actually was more than we could handle in London. That's how tremendous the interest in her has become.
NYSJ: Has Subway's presence via marketing before and during the Marathon changed?
PB: We certainly have increased our presence and activation on the day of the event. And we have expand our pre- and post-Marathon marketing support. In 2010, our first year associated with the Marathon, We started to talk about it about a year out. We got a lot of positive feedback and felt as if we owned the course. We had pre- and post-TV commercials ready. We did a little bit with Jared on social media, and we saw our Facebook numbers jump. Last year, we got even more involved. We had someone from Twitter run in the Marathon along with his wife. This year they are running an ultra-marathon in India, so we are having someone else from Twitter run for us. We also talked with Facebook about expanding our Marathon integration. So we really are learning about and expanding our presence via social media. We have been promoting Team Subway.
NYSJ: What are you planning for the 2012 Marathon as far as TV and other traditional media?
PB: We will have pre- and post-Subway spots with Michael and his family. One of the things we are excited about is that we have been the official training restaurant of the New York City Marathon since 2010 and the official training restaurant of Michael Phelps since 2008. Now we are also the official training restaurant of the Phelps Family, including Michael, Hilary, Whitney and their mom, Debbie. The whole family is amazing. For us, they cover a lot of demographics.
NYSJ: What are you planning for the day of the event?
PB: We will have a lot of signage throughout the course. And we will again be in Columbus Circle [in Manhattan] with the Subway Cheer Zone, which was successful in past Marathons. We'll also have Cheer Zones at Subway locations throughout the five boroughs.
NYSJ: What do you see for Phelps in the coming months and years?
PB: He's still a young man, 27, and he's entering the next phase of his life and career. He is a great athlete, so he will continue to compete but not in swimming. He's a heck of a good golfer. He's training now with iconic golf instructor Hank Haney on The Haney Project, which will air on [NBC Sports Group's] Golf Channel in February 2013, and we will be part of that. His body type, his swing are made for golf. He and overseeing the annual Michael Phelps Foundation Golf Classic. During the Dunhill Links Championship [at the Kingsbarn Golf Links in St. Andrews, Scotland, in October], he sank a 153-foot putt during the second round of team play. That was amazing.
NYSJ: What else do you see him doing?
PB: His Foundation is important and a big part of his legacy. He is devoting a lot of time to the Michael Phelps Foundation and the Michael Phelps Swim School to raise awareness for and and promote the sport of swimming. He is involved with the annual Michael Phelps Foundation Golf Classic. He is also the face of the Olympic movement in the U.S., and through our alliance we plan to work with him as the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro get closer. A hundred years from now, or for however long there are Olympic Games, Michael Phelps and his legacy will be part of that.
NYSJ: Has Phelps been part of Subway's global expansion?
PB: Definitely. He is a key part of our marketing as we build globally. We have his face in restaurants in Mexico, Asia, the Middle East. But he's not the only one, of course. We had Blake Griffin with us when we opened a Subway Restaurant in Shanghai. We are a global brand and we work with Famous Fans who have a global presence. We are in the process of building our platform of being the "official training restaurant of athletes everywhere," and that resonates no matter where you are. The response [from consumers] has been tremendous. Certainly working with Michael has been very important, and we have been activating with him since before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Now, the response to Michael has continued to grow. When we were in London, the day after he broke the record, papers around the world had him on their front cover. So it's nice to say we work with him and it's nice to see how strong his presence has become in marketing and inspiring kids to swim.
NYSJ: Will there be any new Famous Fans coming up?
PB: We're always looking for athletes who train right, play right and are legitimately fans of Subway. Our latest Famous Fan, Robert Griffin III (pictured above, is doing pretty well. So we're excited about that. Working with Eric LeGrand (former defensive tackle for Rutgers who in October 2010 was paralyzed from the neck down while making a tackle, but has since started to regain movement) has been an inspirational story. He's a nuke young man, and someone who everyone can look up to. His journey and mission to walk again has been really inspiring.
Michael Phelps Becomes Marathon Man Of Marketing