These are good days for endurance sports events.

A growing participant base, an affluent audience and rising interest in health and wellness are driving new deals across the endurance sports landscape.

And that activity is lifting sponsorship spending to new heights. IEG SR expects North American spending on marathons, triathlons, 5ks and other endurance sports events to total $102.1 million in 2012—the first time the category has breached the $100 million mark.

Further reflecting the growing popularity of endurance sports among corporate marketers, year-over-year spending is expected to grow 6.7 percent in 2012, outpacing IEG SR’s projected 4.6 percent increase in the overall sports category and 4.1 percent increase in total sponsorship spending.

Recent deals range from six-figure naming rights of national event series to four-and-five-figure ties with grassroots running events.

Those include Allstate Corp. and the Allstate Life Insurance 13.1 Marathon Series; HumanaVitality, LLC and the Kentucky Derby Marathon; and PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.

Another factor driving the increase in spending: The growing popularity of mud runs, adventure races and other nontraditional endurance sports events. Those range from the Dirty Girl and Color Run 5k events to Run For Your Lives, a property that bills itself as “the world’s first zombie-infested obstacle race experience.”

Below, IEG SR highlights sponsorship trends and developments at four national endurance sports organizations: The Competitor Group; New York Road Runners; Tough Mudder and US Road Sports & Entertainment Group.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series/Competitor Group
More interest in narrowly defined categories, ROI measurement and unique, one-of-a-kind experiences

The producer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, Lady Speed Stick Women’s Half Marathon Series and other events has seen a shift in interest from broad exclusivity to more narrowly defined categories.

Case in point: Jamba Juice Co.’s partnership with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series affords status as the series’ official fruit blended smoothie.

“Companies are more comfortable owning a smaller piece of an event,” said Sean Clottu, Competitor’s vice president of client development and activation, noting that narrow exclusivity also comes with a smaller price tag.

Recognizing the growing importance of quantifiable ROI, Competitor this year has started to offer sponsors the opportunity to ask two or three questions in post-event consumer surveys.

“We’re including that in our benefits grid, which is something we haven’t done before.”

Competitor offers the benefit to Jamba Juice, The Sports Authority, Inc. and other major sponsors, said Clottu.

The Competitor Group also is seeing more interest in experiential marketing programs that provide a unique experience for event participants.

For example, Brooks Sports, Inc. this year rolled out on-site changing tents at Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series events. Runners that visit the tents can access towels, change clothes, slip into sandals and otherwise freshen up.

Brooks also activates the sponsorship by offering customers access to VIP portable toilets. Runners must purchase Brooks or Running Comfort merchandise before or at a race to access the climate-controlled trailers.

ING New York City Marathon/New York Road Runners
Moves away from one-off sponsorships in favor of year-round partnerships that support the running lifestyle

While New York Road Runners this year canceled the ING New York City Marathon as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the 58-year-old organization has found success with a new year-round packaging strategy.

The strategy moves away from one-off deals with the ING New York City Marathon in favor of year-round partnerships that span multiple events and consumer touchpoints throughout the training process.

“Instead of selling the marathon on its own, we’re now selling year-round engagement with New York Road Runners as a whole,” said Ann Crandall, NYRR’s executive vice president of business development and marketing strategy.

NYRR put the strategy into action earlier this year as part of its multiyear extension with the Hospital for Special Surgery. The extension included the ING New York City Marathon as well as the NYC Half and NYRR New York Mini 10K.

Looking to create a connection with event participants, the hospital enhances the event experience by providing on-site recovery services at each race. It also provides weekly training content on www.NYRR.org.

NYRR this year secured a new partnership with Snyder’s of Hanover and renewed and expanded ties with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. and NestlĂ© Waters North America’s Poland Spring.

Tough Mudder/Tough Mudder LLC
Secures U.S. and international partners as it expands global footprint

Reflecting the growing popularity of adventure races, the two-year-old Tough Mudder series is quickly establishing an international footprint.

The event organizer will host 33 events this year, up from 14 in 2011 and three in 2010.  Tough Mudder has even more ambitious plans moving forward: the event producer plans to host between 55 and 60 events in 2013, with roughly 20 of those events located in Australia, Canada and other international markets.

That growth has helped fuel corporate interest. Tough Mudder this year has secured a number of new partners including The FRS Co., 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide, Inc., Under Armour, Inc. and BIC Consumer Products USA Inc.’s  Flex4 Razors.

Sponsors outside the U.S. market include Foster’s beer (Australia), Samsung (Canada) and Camelbak (global).

“Companies are starting to see how the Tough Mudder brand is being built, and they’re looking to engage consumers at a much higher level,” said Dan Weinberg, Tough Mudder’s director of strategic sponsorships and licensing.

Publix Georgia Marathon/US Road Sports & Entertainment Group
More corporate interest in charitable overlays

The producer of the Publix Georgia Marathon, Allstate Life Insurance 13.1 Marathon Series, ING Miami Marathon and other events is seeing more interest in activation programs built around charitable overlays.

For example, Allstate activates the Allstate Life Insurance 13.1 Marathon Series with Give Your Sole, a nonprofit that solicits and distributes gently used athletic shoes to homeless shelters in race markets, while Hyundai Motor America activates the Chicago Half Marathon and other events with Hyundai Hope on Wheels, a proprietary nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research.

“It’s an intelligent activation platform. It allows them to be viewed as responsible community citizens and develop direct relationships with runners,” said Greg Laird, CEO and founding partner of US Road Sports & Entertainment.