Internet-banking giant ING and their sponsorship of perhaps one of the largest sporting events took a big blow in 2012.
“Superstorm Sandy” landed on the upper east coast starting on October 22 through October 31st, 2012. Hurricane Sandy would become the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history. The ING New York City Marathon, which was scheduled to take place on November 4, went through a painful decision-making process that resulted in the full cancellation of the marathon only two days before the event.
With the cancellation, ING and the New York Road Runners club faced a hailstorm of criticism. Runners were upset the marathon was cancelled. Runners were upset the marathon was not cancelled sooner. Participants took to blogs and social sites to express their feelings. Race organizers faced a daunting PR challenge, but one not completely unique to events of this nature. What to do with all the race swag?
From t-shirts and clappers to the actual finishers medal, race organizers faced a difficult problem. In an effort to create goodwill among racers who couldn’t race and wanting to encourage people to sign-up for next year’s race they made an unprecedented decision. They would take every opportunity to get the gear to the 2012 registrants. When race entrants showed up to the 2013 expo to get their race bibs and promotional items, the 2012 registrants were directed to a location within the Javitz Center to receive the 2012 race shirt and their 2012 finisher’s medal.
The icing on the PR cake for ING and the NYRR came in the form of a poncho. In light of the events in Boston last year, race entrants were strongly discouraged from checking a bag at the race start for security reasons. Following the completion of the race, if a runner had not checked a bag they were directed to a special area of the race route. Upon exiting the official race area, runners were given a customized fleece-lined poncho.
The ING Marathon is not the first event to face a swag problem. Each year teams produce promotional items to acknowledge a sporting event that hasn’t happened yet. In the event that your team is playing in the big game, chances are the celebratory shirts and hats have already been printed. When the team loses, what to do with the promotional or marketing materials? Because of licensing agreements, most items are donated overseas.
The ING NYC Marathon organizers were able to heal some old wounds by giving 2012 runners their gear and medals. And, they were able to build good will with the 2013 by rewarding them for choosing the less convenient bag option. In this case, the ponchos went a long way towards swag redemption.