By Barry Janoff
May 12, 2015: Mary Wittenberg, a driving force for the past decade behind the growth of the New York City Marathon and the Abbott World Marathon Majors, is leaving her position as president and CEO for New York Road Runners to become global CEO for Virgin Sport, a new active lifestyle company under the direction of Sir Richard Branson.
According to Branson's Virgin Group, Virgin Sport "seeks to grow a global community by re-imagining 'sport' and expanding the reach of mass participatory events in running, cycling and other formats." Virgin Group also said that Virgin Sport would "deliver unique experiences for participants and spectators alike while having a positive social impact on local communities."
Virgin Sport, which will be headquartered in New York under Wittenberg, will launch in the U.K. and focus on core Virgin territories including the U.S., South Africa and Australia "through a combination of acquisitions and organic growth. Virgin Sport will also consider entering other markets of interest which have potential for growth."
Wittenberg's last day with NYRR and the New York City Marathon, of which she is race director, will be May 18.
NYRR said that Michael Capiraso, currently NYRR's COO, would become president and CEO.
In addition, Peter Ciaccia, currently NYRR;s chief production officer, will move to a newly created position of president of events as well as race director for the NYC Marathon.
According to Wittenberg, herself a marathon participant, "It is an opportunity of a lifetime to launch and lead Virgin Sport. The Virgin brand stands for fun, innovation and making a difference. I've seen first-hand over and over the transformative power of sport in people's lives."
Wittenberg joined NYRR in 1998 and two years later became its first COO. In 2005, she was named NYRR's president and CEO and race director for what was then the ING NYC Marathon.
Under Wittenberg, the since rebranded TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) Marathon has become one of the most significant and well-sponsored marathons in the world, with marketing partners that include United Airlines, Airbnb, Asics, Coors Light, Dunkin' Donuts, Foot Locker, Gatorade, Oakley, Poland Spring, Tag Heuer, Toyota and UPS.
The World Marathon Majors was founded in 2006 and includes the TCS NYC Marathon, Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, BMW Berlin Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and the Virgin Money London Marathon, which is a sibling to the new Virgin Sport under the Virgin Group umbrella.
Global healthcare company Abbott became the first title sponsor of the WMM in October 2014.
In addition to overseeing a year-round slate of events under the NYRR auspices, Wittenberg has worked closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee to promote marathons, running and fitness worldwide.
Via a new digital platform, Virgin Sport will supplement its events with training and social opportunities providing support to people of all ages and abilities in leading active, healthy lives.
According to Branson, "We're delighted to welcome Mary as Global CEO. She is a wonderful leader and has a great track record in building wonderfully inspiring events and a strong community. It's great to welcome another superb CEO heading up one of our exciting new companies."
"My days at NYRR have been fueled by the inspiration all around me and it has been an immense privilege to serve our runners and community."
Branson said that the Virgin Sport venture is "particularly close to my heart. Keeping fit and healthy is a key priority in my life, and is part of my daily routine. I am a big believer in having fun while making a difference and Virgin Sport will make that possible for so many more people. The events we run will challenge people to push the boundaries of what they believe is possible and help them live life to the fullest."
"Marrying Virgin and Sport, we want to create a new paradigm — sport for all," said Wittenberg. "For life. No matter age or ability. As people desire to get healthier and fitter, Virgin Sport will be there with open arms and cheers, to encourage everyone to take part and to realize their fullest potential - often beyond their wildest dreams."
“Mary’s been a trailblazer in our industry and the positive impact she’s had on New York Road Runners and the TCS New York City Marathon has been historic,” George Hirsch, chairman of the board for NYRR and a founder of the New York City Marathon along with Fred Lebow, said in a statement. “Mary has proven that she is one of the top sports executives in the world and we’ll miss her vision and leadership.”
"My days at NYRR have been fueled by the inspiration all around me and it has been an immense privilege to serve our runners and community while working side by side with so many amazing partners and talented and deeply committed staff, volunteers and board of directors,” said Wittenberg. “NYRR is fortunate to have Michael and Peter ready to take the baton with the invaluable benefit of George Hirsch, with his many years of experience, working closely with them as he and the Board have with me these past ten years. I am predicting this next leg of NYRR’s run will be the best yet.”
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