Branding the NYC Marathon

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Nike, exclusive sponsor of sportswear and footwear for the 1997 New York City Marathon, is liquidating surplus custom marathon merchandise through a direct mail flier targeted at the 20,000 domestic runners in last fall's race.


The list was supplied by the New York Road Runners Club (NYRRC), which organizes the marathon and manages a proprietary list of 130,000 names in a database that includes its 32,000 members as well as 90,000 nonmember applicants to its 100 annual races and events.


The mailer dropped two weeks ago, much later than anticipated.


"We were hoping to get it out before Christmas," said Curtis Picard, merchandise director for the club, "but a lot of new postal regulations for nonprofit went into place, and we had to mail at commercial rates rather than nonprofit and that put it off."


Although Nike has sponsored the 26.2-mile road race for the past three years, this mailing marks the first time it has partnered with NYRRC for a direct mail campaign. Because of the relationship, the mailer had to be sent at commercial rates, which doubled postage costs from about 13 cents to 25 cents per piece, according to Picard. Postage represented about 20 percent of the cost of the mailer. Despite the expenditures, response rates were not established.


"It is providing the opportunity to move some of the excess merchandise that Nike had sold at the [marathon] exposition and throughout area retailers. At this point, we are looking at it as incremental income. We are not at risk for any of it. Our only cost was simply the printing and mailing of it," said Picard, adding that the mailing cost between $10,000 and $15,000.


The tri-fold flier features the print of a running shoe on a map of Manhattan Island and offers about 20 Nike-branded pieces of apparel customized with New York Marathon images. Among the products is some high-end running gear, such as a StormFit reflective waterproof jacket for $195 and a ClimaFit reflective water-resistant jacket for $121, as well as less expensive items such as a "Why Do I Run" T-shirt for $18 and an embroidered sweatshirt for $45. The prices are discounted from retail prices.


The two organizations see the mailing as a model for this year's event.


"We have high hopes for [the flier]," Picard said. "The Nike New York City Marathon apparel is brand new. We hadn't done that in the past, and the mailing is sort of an experiment. We'll see how well it goes."


NYRRC issues its own marathon apparel catalog twice a year. Combined with other mailings, the organization drops 385,000 pieces yearly.


"We are always looking at different opportunities based on what makes sense for us," Picard said. "Someone like Nike obviously makes sense to use because they fit in with our mission to promote the sport of running."


In the past, NYRRC has partnered with Continental Airlines for direct mailers offering discount airfares to entrants who fly to New York for the race.


The marathon attracts 2 million live spectators and a television audience of 70 million worldwide.
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