Created in the positive afterglow of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the ASICS LA Marathon now appears to be circling back to its Olympic-linked origins as it strives to raise the international profile of its mostly regional event.
This past winter, as the organizers of the ASICS LA Marathon – currently the nation’s sixth-largest marathon – prepared for their annual race, they also threw their hat in the bidding ring for the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon. Thanks to some serious logistical backflips, LA MARATHON LLC came up a winner, as the United States Track and Field (USATF) declared that, among other city contestants Houston and Cincinnati, Los Angeles would receive hosting honors.
Before the official decision, USATF requested one major modification. The 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon would have to be in February, not the March date the annual marathon now occupies.
This sport calendar change is indicative of the larger sport-entertainment industry’s competition for broadcast audiences. For an emerging international sport event like the ASICS LA Marathon, the ability to accommodate a broadcaster’s inventory is crucial. By avoiding any overlap with pre-existing sport broadcast contracts, the changed L.A. winter timing of the 2016 ASICS LA Marathon and Olympic Trials betters the chances that NBC will provide live, rather than delayed, coverage.
There are number of important aspects by which the ASICS LA Marathon has worked to take its sport property to the next level. Since 2010, the ASICS LA Marathon’s Stadium to the Sea course – Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica Pier – has succeeded by increasing participation numbers and sport event property value. As a revitalization strategy, not only has the changed routing presented a runner friendly course affording the runners fast finish times, but the race has better capitalized on the many diverse neighborhoods across L.A., including many iconic landmarks.
The marathon’s annual race footprint now traces the dreamscapes of Los Angeles, as competitors run past the Beverly Hills sign on Rodeo Drive, the Disney Concert Hall, the Capital Records building, the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s) and the Hollywood sign.
For LA MARATHON LLC CEO Tracey Russell, these famous landmarks “are the DNA of Los Angeles. They communicate what racers are going to experience and what this city is known for.”
More than a nice uptick to hotel occupancy during the race weekend, the LA Marathon helps project a seductive and powerful cultural image that acts as a positive, lasting driver of tourism and city branding desired by each of the marathon’s city partners – Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Los Angeles.
At first glance, the Olympics Trials may not seem like a particularly strong asset-enriching deal. There’s the bureaucracy of negotiating further road closures and the business of community relations that goes alongside orchestrating one additional day of marathon racing – one day for the elite Olympic Trials Marathon followed by a second day of mass participation in the annual marathon. Yet, the hosting of the 2016 Olympic Trials is cause for double celebration.
Beyond the excitement of hosting the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, this hosting opportunity is prized as a further opportunity to showcase Los Angeles to the U.S. Olympic Committee as a worthy candidate for their bid to compete for the hosting honors of the 2024 Olympics.
The acquisition of the 2016 Trials has acted as a powerful resource and catalyst for the ASICS LA Marathon.
The Trials project, as Russell describes, “amplifies visibility for California and amplifies our connections and ability to truly showcase the city. We are put immediately on a different stage.”
For a regional sport property, this partnership with an Olympic-linked sport stage translates to credibility, nationally and internationally.
As events like the ASICS LA Marathon emerge as Olympic-qualifying events, an activation of the political and cultural support and alliances often follows. These network relations are invaluable to sporting properties that aspire to distinguish themselves and compete among elite sport events.
While marathons are often lauded for supporting important social causes – the 2014 ASICS LA Marathon’s Official Charity Program raised $3.7 million, marathons are, perhaps, undervalued sport properties in terms of their potential to serve as a vehicle for city branding and revitalization.
Capitalizing on Olympic euphoria, the ASICS LA Marathon has become seen as good for community building, branding and business.
The trick, the real business savvy, will be in sustaining the market opportunity and broadened corporate, city, and broadcast partnerships after the Olympic Trials and the mobile Olympic partner moves on to other markets and hosting cities –as it always does.
Rook Campbell is a Visiting Professor of Communication and Political Science at the University of Southern California. Follow her on Twitter: @cabinet48