North American-based companies will spend an estimated $86.1 million to sponsor marathons, triathlons, 10Ks and other running events this year, a 2.5 percent increase from the $84 million spent in ’08.

While the projection is down significantly from the nearly 9 percent increase in spending from ’07 to ’08, it outpaces IEG’s expected .7 percent increase on overall sports properties.

The reason: Increasingly sophisticated sponsorship sales techniques by marathons and other types of running events, as well as the upscale demographic of runners and other endurance sports athletes.

Corporate interest also has been fueled by a new player on the scene: Competitor Group Inc. New York City-based private equity firm Falconhead Capital, LLC formed CGI in January ’08 following its acquisition of four media and event companies in the endurance sports space: Competitor Publishing, Elite Racing, Triathlete Magazine and Inside Communications.

The acquisitions gave CGI a number of assets—including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, the Muddy Buddy Series, Inside Triathlon and Velo News—around which it is offering multi-dimensional marketing platforms.

Those packages have caught the interest of corporate marketers, with CGI this year securing new deals with Brooks Sports, Inc.; Nissan North America, Inc.; Amway Corp.’s Nutrilte vitamins; and MillerCoors, LLC’s MGD64 brand.

Other new deals in ’09 include The Procter & Gamble Co., which inked presenting status of the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, and the Jamaica Tourist Board, which partnered with the Nautica New York City Triathlon. Manhattan’s Hospital for Special Surgery and T-Mobile USA, Inc. both inked new deals with the ING New York City Marathon.

Thus far this year, CGI has increased sponsorship revenue for the series 43 percent and expects it to grow another 25 percent next year.

IEG SR recently spoke with Scott Dickey, CGI’s chief operating officer, about the marathon sponsorship marketplace and the company’s new deal with Brooks. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: You are having success in a generally difficult year for securing sponsors. What sales tips do you have for other sponsorship sellers?

Dickey: The biggest takeaway, based on our experience, is that you are never going to be successful if a sponsor doesn’t allocate money to activate the partnership.

You need to make sure the client is thinking about activation and understands that without activation, the partnership won’t deliver results. You have to leave money on the table for sponsors to invest in activation; if there aren’t any dollars to activate, the partnership won’t yield any benefits.

IEG SR: When you offer packages that span different marketing platforms, including events, magazine ads and digital media, who do you typically pitch, the sponsorship department or the media buyer?

Dickey: There are three avenues to the decision-maker: an agency of record, the CMO or the head of sports marketing.

Since we have both media and events, it doesn’t matter who we approach. We can go through any of those avenues.

We try to go to brands that are already invested in the space, or companies with a CMO who is an avid runner, cyclist or triathlete. It makes our job easier if someone knows the space and is passionate about it.

IEG SR: Tell me about your new partnership with Brooks and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.

Dickey: When we acquired the series, there was an official footwear brand and an official apparel brand. Those deals will expire at the end of ’09. (Editor’s note: the two sponsors are New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. and Dorel Industries Inc.’s SUGOI Performance Apparel.)

When we looked for a new partner, we wanted to combine the two categories and find one sponsor that would be vested in helping us develop the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series brand.

Brooks is clearly the number one or number two brand in the specialty running space. They are part of Berkshire Hathaway, so they have great financial backing, and they are run by talented executives. They know running, and they have credibility and cachet in the space.

Brooks was interested in the audience the series brings to the table. What makes the series different from the New York City Marathon or Boston Marathon is our participant base–40 percent of them have never run a marathon or half marathon. We are the entry point for new runners that want to challenge themselves at these distances.

Most runners in Boston and New York have already made a conscious decision on which brands they will be loyal to. Our runners are still trying to figure that out.

Brooks also has made a significant media commitment to promote their brand to our readers, both online and in print. They also will serve as the official merchandise provider at the events.

This is their number one investment to promote and grow their business, and they have divested resources from other investments to pay for it.