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After 112 years, Boston Marathon to allow ads

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / April 16, 2008

Under growing pressure from corporate sponsors and event organizers, the Boston Athletic Association is ending its 112-year tradition and will allow ads at the world's oldest marathon.

There will be a total of 26 spots along the route featuring the logos for longtime sponsors John Hancock Financial Services and Adidas. No additional money was paid for the ads.

Nine signs, measuring about 3 feet by 8 feet, will feature the John Hancock logo, said Guy Morse, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association.

They will all appear near the finish line, with three on the press bridge, two above the VIP grandstand area, and two on each side of the barrier at the finish line. The two clocks above the finish line will also have the Hancock logo, along with the traditional BAA logo. Another Hancock logo will appear on the ground near the starting line. Eight additional signs will be placed in the warm-up area near the start line in Hopkinton.

Two Adidas logos will be on signs on each side of the street at the finish. Adidas will also have four signs in the warm-up area.

"We have been thinking about this for some time," Morse said. "In the year 2008, people understand you need sponsorship at this level to compete. For the BAA to provide the level of prize money and attract the elite athletes, and for the BAA to provide all the merchandise for 7,000 volunteers, you need corporate involvement and support to do that. It was time that we could make their support a little more visible."

None of the sponsors threatened to pull out, he said, but there have been ongoing conversations about this topic for several years.

And even with the addition of corporate logos, the Boston Marathon remains decidedly noncommercial, the BAA says.

"As our sponsorship of the Boston Marathon evolves, we are continually looking at ways to enhance it. Spectators this year will see a greater presence from John Hancock," said Debra Maxfield, John Hancock's director of sponsorship marketing. "Our goal is to maintain the race's great traditions, while at the same time building greater awareness in the community of the role that John Hancock plays in ensuring that the Boston Marathon retains its status as finest road race in the world."

"Adidas is thrilled to be involved in this significant moment in Boston Marathon history," said Ashley Williams, running communications manager for Adidas, which has been the official footwear and apparel supplier of the Marathon for 20 years. "The decision by the BAA to place our logo at the start and finish lines shows the strength of our relationship."

While most other major city marathons allow signs around the start and finish areas, Boston has long resisted corporate logos, said Chris Cakebread, a Boston University professor who teaches sports marketing and advertising. But the growing number of marathons around the world has made it increasingly important for businesses to get the most exposure out of their sponsorship deals.

Separately, the BAA said yesterday it is boosting the prize purse to $796,000 from $575,000, making it the richest of the World Marathon Majors events. John Hancock, which provides funding for the prize purse, last increased the amount in 2005 from $525,000 to $575,000.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.

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