Inside Events: Rock ‘n Roll Marathon
22 Mar, 2017By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Alex Bennett, Vice President of Events
The Rock ‘n Roll Marathon celebrates 20 years in 2017. Since 1998, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series has distinguished its running events by infusing the courses with live bands every mile as well as cheer squads that create a block-party atmosphere for participants and spectators. There is a headliner concert at the end of the course that is open to the public, as well as a free health and wellness expo. The event offers marathons and half marathons as well as 5Ks and 10Ks, for those who want to take part but are not up to the longer mileage.
Sports Destination Management: How many events does the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon put on each year?
Alex Bennett: We have about 24 races in North America and about seven international ones. We are continuing to look at destinations. We are a destination property so we are always looking for those iconic places where people can have a unique experience. In San Francisco, they get to run across the Golden Gate Bridge. In Washington, D.C., we start in front of the Smithsonian. In Seattle, we’re in front of the Space Needle.
SDM: What are you looking for when you’re selecting cities?
Bennett: Areas with a good DNA – either they’re destination cities or they desire to become destination cities. We work with CVBs or sports councils, and we find out what their motive is, what they want to showcase, things like that. We also work with the officials, like the police, to make it a reality so that you’re not just creating gridlock. For example, we’re one of the only events to shut down the Las Vegas Strip and we did it for 10 hours or more.
SDM: That must be something to see.
Bennett: It is – we start in front of Mandalay Bay, run down the strip, go around the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, all the way to the Fremont, so that we can showcase the old part of the town as well. It runs at night, so that’s even more fun for people.
SDM: Did the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon start that race?
Bennett: No, we purchased another Las Vegas race that wasn’t very exciting – it was in the middle of the desert. Now, this is a 50,000-person race and it’s the eighth-largest event in Las Vegas. We fill the hotels and casinos during what would otherwise be a quiet weekend in the middle of November. It’s two days long because we created ancillary events. We have a Remix Challenge medal; to get that, people must run the Saturday 5K and one of the distances on Sunday (Marathon, Half Marathon or10K). They pick up a medal for each event they run, and then they get a third medal for doing the two-event challenge. It’s a way for people to stay in town for the whole weekend and utilize that destination for what it is.
SDM: Is Vegas the only place you have the Remix Challenge?
Bennett: No, we have 15 different events with the Remix Challenge.
SDM: Obviously, these are huge races. What is the economic impact?
Bennett: It’s different for each destination. We’re looking at a $22 million economic impact in Seattle.
SDM: What are the demographics like for participants?
Bennett: About 60 percent female and 40 percent male on average. About 60 percent of all people who register are traveling in from out of town, and each person brings 2.5 people into the city with them. We’ve seen a lot of people 40 to 50 years old, but now we’re also starting to see the Millennials come in. That’s a good sign that the next generation is running.
SDM: You talked about the Remix Challenge; do you have other promotions to keep people in town?
Bennett: As a race series, we’re able to focus on the things that can get people to travel from city to city. We have what we call our Tourpass which incentivizes people to do more races. Then there’s our Heavy Medals program where people get special medals if they complete two or more Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series marathons or half marathons in a calendar year. We also have a Hall of Fame program for people who do 15 qualifying distances in a calendar year.
SDM: What kind of numbers are people putting up?
Bennett: Last year, we had 300 people who ran 30 races or more. When we started the program, we had 26 people who did that, so it has grown.
SDM: Getting back to your earlier statement about the number of runners and the duration of the race, do you get any pushback from cities?
Bennett: We know it’s a hardship to close down a street, but most cities look at the $22 million impact like we have in Seattle, and they realize it’s only one day.
SDM: What is the demand like from cities?
Bennett: We get calls on a pretty regular basis from cities saying, ‘Hey, how do we get one of those events here?’ We’re very particular about who we choose and where we go. We want to provide the best possible experience, so we can’t just go anywhere.
SDM: Do you worry about security?
Bennett: We certainly do our homework. I think cities that are looking to have big events have to have the security aspects covered in advance. Well-organized events need a lot of enhancements to security and safety. There are operators out there who don’t understand that, unfortunately.
The week after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, we were putting on the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, and we had basically a week to figure out what we needed to do and what we needed to change to try to enhance the security. We’ve worked with Boston specifically since then and we work very closely with local law enforcement on security in any city we go to. In fact, the Las Vegas Police just meet with us yesterday to make sure we were prepared and that we understood everything.
SDM: You mentioned earlier that you have 5K and 10K events. Do you have any kid-specific events?
Bennett: In some of our markets, we have the Kids Rock races. We work with local schools, YMCAs and so on.
SDM: Does the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon have a chosen charity?
Bennett: St. Jude Hospital is our featured charity for the series, and we also work with other charities, including Team in Training, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and others. Runners can make a choice of what they want to run for. Everyone has their own reason for running, and we’ll support any reason they have.
SDM: Personally, what are your favorite race destinations?
Bennett: Oh, that’s hard. I think Las Vegas is the Super Bowl of our events, but I love Montreal as a destination and Savannah is great. So is Brooklyn. I go to all our events.
SDM: What makes a city a good match?
Bennett: Some cities are really supportive of us. San Antonio is one of those. So is Raleigh. It’s great to have the cities that work with us on a collaborative basis – the ones who really open their doors and ask ‘What can we do to help you?’ They know we help them too. Ultimately, we’re trying to make this a supportive community event rather than just a race.