The attempt to lower the marathon threshold below two hours did not yield a new world record, but it did generate a lot of interest, which translated into a win for Nike, for the marathon and for running in general. It also makes for some great take-aways for planners of road races - and maybe all sports events.
In case you missed the specifics, the #Breaking2 attempt in early May on a Formula 1 track in Monza, Italy, brought together three of the fastest marathoners in the world – Rio Olympic marathon gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge, two-time Boston winner Lelisa Desisa, and half marathon world record-holder Zersenay Tadese – to make the attempt. In the end it was Kipchoge, alone with his pacers, who stayed in contention. Hovering just under the two-hour mark for most of the race, his pace crept up during the last 5K. Kipchoge finished in 2:00:25, faster than anyone has ever run a marathon.
While Kipchoge failed to break two hours, the event never lacked excitement. The race was streamed live on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, generating a lot of conversation, despite the late hour in much of the U.S. (In fact, at least one site compiled the best social media responses to the #Breaking2 attempt.)
Nike has not released information on how many people tuned into the race, but in a way, it doesn’t matter, as the attempt has been a big win from a commercial standpoint. Here’s how:
Product Placement: As The Drum detailed in a recent article, the three runners were each wearing a customized shoe called the Zoom Vaporfly Elite. Having now been splashed all over the world's media, these futuristic trainers will soon go on sale to casual runners around the world backed by acres of earned media coverage.
The brand has already launched a savvy marketing campaign for the shoes too. Titled ‘Just Do It Day’ Nike invited customers to run a sub-25 minute 5K using the Nike Running app in mid-May to unlock early access to the new Nike Zoom Fly sneaker.
What Sports Planners Can Learn: You don’t necessarily need a special shoe for each race, but by partnering with a local running store prior to road racing events, planners can help leverage discounts, open house events and clinics that participants can use. It’s a win/win, creating more engaged participants, increased traffic in the store and a better connection with the ‘shop local’ community.
Social Media Marketing: The Nike effort is a case study for sports events that want to know how to use social media to build excitement, according to The Drum, which notes, “Nike's astute stage-managing of the #Breaking2 project on social media, and the subsequent widespread attention it has received from the world's press and broadcasters, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Red Bull Stratos jump from the edge of space in October 2012, which hitherto had been considered the high watermark of content marketing productions. “
Sports Event Planners Should Know: Having a dedicated person to promote the event, and to respond to Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos and more, can help create investment in the event by not just event participants but spectators. Nike did this with great effect.
Copycat Marketing Should be Expected: The Drum notes that with all the promotion and excitement built around the event, Nike is sure to see other companies trying for reflected glory. As Bloomberg reports, rival Adidas is waiting in the wings with its own 'Sub2' project and shoes, though no date has been set for its attempt yet.”
Sports Event Planners’ Takeaway: Don’t worry about it. Nike isn’t worried, after all. In fact, Matt Nurse, vice-president of the Nike Sport Research Lab, suggested to The Guardian that the brand may try something else next instead.
“We are already discussing other moonshots, perhaps related to female athletes. It’s not one and done, it just may take a different form next time," he said.
The attempt, say pundits, might have been about the audacity of attempting to break a nearly impossible record, but it was also about personal bests. It is, after all, what drives runners to run in marathons to begin with – which often can become a steppingstone to qualifying for major events such as Boston, New York and London and feed into the ‘destination marathon’ culture.