A Discussion of the Pros and Cons of Ultrarunner Sponsorship

Below is the fourth and final post in the iRunFar series on ultramarathon sponsorship in 2008. While the three prior posts have covered large ultrarunning teams, smaller ultrarunning teams, and individual ultrarunning sponsorships, this post focuses on how sponsorship of ultramarathoners affects the sponsors, the sport, and the sponsored ultrarunners themselves.

Actually, the post itself is only meant as a starting point for discussion of sponsorship of ultrarunners (as distinct from sponsorship of races). I encourage both sponsored and unsponsored ultrarunners to leave their thoughts in the comments. Although a long shot, it would also be great to hear the thoughts of individuals responsible for sponsoring ultramarathoners on why they do it. While I strongly encourage everyone to share their thoughts, I ask that you be civil and respectful in your comments. (Before posting a comment to this thread, please consider rereading your comment to consider its tone and content.)

Runners

Pros

  • Free or reduced price gear, stipends, and the like
  • Camaraderie with teammates
  • Pride in having been externally acknowledged for your achievements and/or character

Cons

  • Pressure to perform
  • Requirements to compete in a certain number of races
  • Requirement, whether actual or perceived, to exclusively use sponsors’ gear
Companies

Pros

  • Affiliation with top ultrarunners
    • Photos and endorsements used in print and online marketing
    • Perception that sponsor is giving back to sport
  • Ambassadors on the trail and, increasingly, online who can share their personal experience with sponsors’ gear with other ultrarunners
  • Feedback on current and developmental products from experienced runners

Cons

  • Sponsorship takes time and money
  • On rare occasions, over sponsorship by a company can lead to resentment by some within the ultrarunning community (there were some such rumblings re Montrail in 2007)
The Sport of Ultrarunning

Pros

  • Companies giving back to the sport
  • Improved products through feedback from experienced ultrarunners
  • Increased overall visibility of ultramarathoning through company marketing of personalities

Cons

  • Some would argue that sponsorship takes away from the purity or simplicity of trail ultrarunning
  • Feedback from top ultrarunners could skew product design towards their requirements which might differ from those of slower ultrarunners
  • Increased overall visibility of ultramarathoning

I look forward to hearing what you have to say – remember to keep the discussion civil!

There are 4 comments

  1. WVmtnrunr

    I feel that sponsorship of races, individuals, and the sport of ultrarunning is ultimately a good thing. The only possible "con" I can see is the potential for an extreme increase in overall visibility of ultramarathoning. Many ultrarunners have taken to the trails in effort to separate ourselves from the busy corporate nature of our society and to find some peace in the solitude of the woods. Having 2000 race entrants and huge sponsors at every race would threaten those ideals. What I don't want to see the sport become is just another chaotic commercially driven outlet similar to the marathon scene. I don't think sponsorships at any level will do that though. Ultrarunning and ultrarunners are unique. I'm sure the sport of ultrarunning will continue to mirror our eccentricities and altruistic ideals irregardless of sponsorships.– Casseday

  2. Trail Goat

    Casseday,Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I'll hold off my own commentary (including substantive responses to comments) for a couple more days.

  3. Footfeathers

    First, great blog, Bryon. Second, very happy and honored to be on the WSGMRT with you and the other members.My comments are obviously from a non-elite. I'm quick but not a top placer, so teams and sponsorships have always had that allure and vision of "elite runners" in my mind. I have to admit that I felt like I won the lottery when Scott (Mason) sent the 'welcome to the team' email to me. Granted, it's not the million dollar sponsorship people think of like Nike, but being a part of something that is an example of your values and beliefs in a great sport is special. I really appreciate the opportunity. The Wasatch team is a huge step in the right direction, in that it gives the non-elite athlete a chance to promote and benefit from products and companies he/she likely uses anyway, but shows that those companies support and understand the power of the enthusiastic athlete who competes, whether they always come in first or just top ten.I've always felt that (and I'm generalizing here) I rarely see the winners of events after the event (there are exceptions, i.e. Sean Andrish, Mark and Anne Lundblad, and others I'm sure). I tend to hang out and talk with many of the other competitors, the race director, and volunteers. So, who's giving the sponsors more bang for the buck, the winner who's left the event before most others even finish, or someone who's sitting around the bbq meeting and chatting it up with so many people while wearing the sponsor logos?I'm pretty pumped about being a Speed Goat, look forward to meeting you and the rest of the team sometime soon, and support and promote the team and sponsors nice enough to give me a chance to be part of it all.Tim Long

  4. Trail Goat

    Tim,Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'll still hold off a bit longer in commenting in hopes that others jump in.In the mean time, congrats on making the WSG team!

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