This coming Sunday, more than 50,000 athletes will race through the streets of New York as part of the largest marathon in the world: the TCS New York City Marathon. While many will traverse those 26.2 miles to find fame and fortune — including 2014 victor Wilson Kipsang, who’s looking for a repeat performance — others run simply for the joy of the experience and the sense of immense accomplishment.
In recent weeks, several footwear brands and retailers have been tapping into that enthusiasm with targeted marketing initiatives. There were the specially designed sneaker collections from Brooks, Alife Rivington Club and Asics. And earlier this week, marathon sponsors Foot Locker and Asics unveiled the winners of their coordinated “Real Lives. Real Runners” video contest.
And throughout the week in New York, everyone from Nike to New Balance and Adidas is hosting special events for race participants and fans.
So what exactly do shoe companies stand to gain from marathon weekend?
While some sporting goods stores and specialty running shops in the city might register an uptick in sales during the week, Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at The NPD Group, said exposure is the ultimate goal for brands.
“The poster child for this is Skechers, when Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon in 2014 wearing their shoes,” Powell said. “It gave Skechers instant athletic credibility when the brand really didn’t have that. I think part of what propelled them to the heights they’re at right now was that win.”
He added that smaller, emerging players have the most to gain from a big marathon moment — brands such as Newton, Hoka One One or Altra. “For established companies, the gains are much more incremental, but it still means a lot to have a marathon winner wearing your shoes,” Powell said.
That’s particularly true for the New York marathon, which usually attracts more than a million spectators on the street and is broadcast to a global television audience.
Adidas had its moment in the sun at the 2014 race, as the sponsor for both Kipsang and the female winner, Mary Keitany. And Nike scored a victory in 2013 with Ethiopian runner Tsegaye Kebede.
Powell pointed out that casual runners could be influenced by seeing these athletes cross the finish line in a brand’s shoes. “It certainly could be a motivator for them to choose to buy that shoe the next time around,” he said.
And those purchases could be a useful thing. According to recent NPD figures, sales for performance running sneakers have dipped recently due to a shift in the fashion trends and the fact that fewer people are participating in the activity.
In fact, the Sports & Fitness Association recorded a 5.6 percent decline in overall running participation from 2013 to 2014, with the most significant decline — 6 percent — among core runners, the enthusiasts who run more than 50 times a year. That’s worrisome news for athletic firms because core runners also tend to be the most brand loyal.
Ironically, though, the total number race competitors continues to increase, according to Running USA, the nonprofit organization that works to promote the sport. In 2014, about 550,600 people finished a U.S. marathon, up 2 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, half-marathon participation increased 4 percent, and the number for 5K distances remained flat.
So it seems that while fewer people are lacing up, the ones who are can probably be found at the finish line.