How sponsors and brands run into each other

November 10, 2014

A week ago Sunday was the New York City Marathon and having run a single half-marathon myself, I couldn’t image the mental endurance and physical stamina three of my friends would have to endure to survive a run double my highest or 26.2 miles on an extremely windy and chilly morning.

I have been “spectating” at the New York City Marathon for the past 10 years;the same length of time I have been considered a “New Yorker.” A decade ago, I was shocked at the size of crowds that amassed throughout New York City’s five boroughs to cheer on thousands of runners from all over the world. I was in awe of the runners of all ages, body types, and physical capabilities who passed me with nothing less than sheer determination. The first Sunday of each November serves as an equalizer of sorts, humans cheer for other humans passing them regardless of nationality, ethnicity, creed, race, or religion.

When I tried to download the ING NYC Marathon app on my phone to track the split times of my friends, having unsuccessfully tried to use it in previous years my friends ran in the ING sponsored race, I was surprised it didn’t exist. I revised my search phrase in the app store and found a TCS NYC Marathon app instead. To be quite honest, I didn’t know if this TCS app was legitimate or not. TCS or Tata Consultancy Services, a multinational information technology company headquartered in India no less, seemed like an odd choice to be the new sponsor of the New York City Marathon. After some Googling, I realized TCS was indeed the official sponsor for the next eight years and this is the first year the tracking app actually worked for me, a good sign since TCS is the 10th largest IT firm in the world.

But it made me think, shouldn’t a brand have a logical connection to such a large sponsorship of a globally branded event? The global aspect of both could work, but it seems like the New York City Marathon could be a standalone brand and any sponsorship title in front is irrelevant. Even the thousands of runners wearing the hot pink and orange winter hats distributed for free by Dunkin’ Donuts, America Runs on Dunkin’, made more sense to me. I am sure if I surveyed New Yorkers less than a third would know who sponsored this event, one of the City’s largest. You can’t say the same thing about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I have been perplexed many times about the pairing of corporate sponsors to a venue or event. When the Barclays Center, a multi-purpose arena, opened up in downtown Brooklyn in 2012, the British multinational banking and financial services company didn’t even have a Brooklyn banking location. And don’t they know that many New Yorkers are not willing to leave the island of Manhattan to watch the Brooklyn Nets, certainly over the Knicks, in a far off land called Brooklyn. What was even more funny to me with the branding of Super Bowl XLVIII, what number is that? The game was positioned throughout the nation as if it was taking place in the heart of the Big Apple. I walked through the crowds of fans participating in the Super Bowl promotional activities in Times Square but there was no 100 yards of green space to be seen. The Super Bowl ads all depicted the New York City skyline when in fact the game took place at the MetLife Stadium located in East Rutherford, NJ – 13 miles away. A Seattle Seahawks fan could have flown into Newark, NJ and went straight to the game without ever having set foot in New York where the big game was being “hosted.”

Many events and venues could not succeed without the support of a corporate sponsor or some sort of endorsement, but there should be relevance to similar interests, fanbase, or corporate headquarters. Luckily, any sponsor of the New York City Marathon gets more than its money’s worth as it showcases the best of the human spirit, which is priceless.

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