Boston 2009-Bellwether of the running Industry, by Larry Eder

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It is late Tuesday night, the week of the Boston marathon. For myself, as the president of the Running Network, this is one of the busiest weeks of the business year. And for someone in media, where the first thing most companies cut during bad economic times is advertising, this winter and spring has been, shall we say, anxious. Boston could tell us if the sport will continue to grow.

I am in Boston early due to the launch of the New Balance Research Lab. NB brought in a dozen members of the media to observe the lab, and get a feel for the changes going on in New Balance. On Wednesday, Brooks Running launched a new website,
www.runningsportfans.com, a very different approach to running marketing. Starting Wednesday, April 15, ASICS, with their marathon wunderkid, Ryan Hall, will be providing a blog plus exclusive video as Ryan tries to be the first American male since Greg Meyer to win the Boston Marathon (1983). The blog is www.asicsamerica.com/ryanhall, and Ryan is to be giving his fans a personal view of his battle for Boston supremacy.

Nike is doing a media event on Sunday and will obviously be hoping for Kara Goucher, who is running Boston for the first time, to give US women their first victory here since 1985. And on top of that, adidas continues to sponsor the Boston marathon, in a way, in my mind, that continues to give Boston its iconic presence in our global sport. Add to that group that PUMA, Reebok, Ecco, Avia, Mizuno, and many others will be pushing their footwares on the many who come through the Boston expo doors.

There is the story about a former president of a company which uses a swoosh for a symbol, who came through the Boston expo, seeing its well done shoe booths, booths for races, and then, booth after booth of discounted shorts, apparel and shoes and noted, "this is not a race, it is a flea market."

Boston is a bit of all those things-bellweather, meeting place, health and fitness expo, great weekend of spring. It shows that our sport has grown up. It shows that, even with the economic woes that we have, running is growing and the focuses running brand can do well. The unfocused running brand, well, that party is over.

2009 has about three dozen running footwear brands. Perhaps a dozen are very good to excellent. Good does not make it anymore, perhaps in the discount rack. The consumer is educated, and wants a shoe to fit their needs and they have read the running magazines to know that there is a shoe for everyone out there.

Boston is the most exclusive marathon in the world. One has to qualify to get here. The expo has these 25,000 plus their families. In fact, if a product does well here, it should do well just about anywhere.

Running is growing up. If Running figures its place in the sun, the current need to lower our carbon footprint, to counter obesity in childhood, to cut health costs could all be done with running and walking programs. As one of our titles says, Get Active!

Watch the expo closely, watch the restaurants and hotels around here. Rooms are down, and folks will be watching their dollars, but Monday will be a celebration of the human spirit from first place to 25,000th place. The 2009 BAA Boston Marathon is not just about who wins, but if our sport is still winning.

For more on our sport, please click on http://www.runningnetwork.com

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