Bank of America Chicago Marathon, 2009: Analysis, by Larry Eder



Start of the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, October 11, 2009, photo by Coniglio

The thirty-second edition of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon showed once again, the race director's mantra; "if you build a great event, the runners will come". Over the past two decades, Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski and his team have build an event that has a fast course, the best Expo, great volunteer support, local government support, and the sponsorship of key global brands, Bank of America and Nike, to name a few. Here is how we saw the race, and some behind the scene insights from our key observers:

The EXPO: McCormick Center gives the Bank of America Chicago Sports & Fitness Expo the most spacious expo of any major marathon in the world. The room to walk and check out a plethora of booths, from upcoming races, to major footwear companies, to key sponsors. I like the signage of Bank of America, and VW, which I thought stood out nicely. The Triage unit at Brooks running booth was well received.

One of our key observers noted one thing; the race does not have a clothing color scheme, like Boston, New York and London. The space for the Nike booth was great, and I personally liked the special make Chicago Lunar Glide plus colors, but I do agree with our key observer-clothing for the event in one color would be great!

Free buses from the Hilton and other hotels is a great way to combat the distance between McCormick and other venues in the Windy city.

Hotel accomodations: Until a decade ago, one could get into the Hilton last minute, and for $200 room cost. Not any more. The rooms at the Hilton and Palmer House are some of the first to go, althought Palmer house had rooms open Thursday before the race at $279. I ended up staying at the Essex Inn, right next to the Hilton for an average of $215 a night. Nice, clean rooms, and close to all things good.

Restaurants: Chicago has any type of food that one could want. Gioco is a decade old Italian restaurant on Wabash, about six blocks from the Essex Inn. Wonderful antipasto, reasonable wines (Zune Chianti, $36 bottle), the service was cheerful and knowledgable, the food was excellent and the ambiance was neighborhood Italian. We sent people to Rosebuds, a local Italian steakhouse, which really gives one a flavor of Chicago. On Saturday night, we journeyed to Cafe Iberica (796 North LaSalle), which serves Spanish tapas, and upstairs, the food of Northern spain, which featured grilled skewers of meat and vegtables, with excellent red Sangria, and for entertainment, spanish music videos. Great place for people watching!

MediaThe media guide at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is well done ( I have two decades of them), and the press conferences were well organized, with Tim Hutchings doing the emcee honors. Tim, the 1984 fourth placer in the 5,000 meters, is a well accomplished emcee, and provides the assembled media (about three dozen on race day), with mile splits, five to six TV screens, and updates from motorcycle observers.

I am pretty happy with the media set up. I get frustrated with the local television that does not feature the top ten finishers, nor the top Americans. Coverage has gotten better over the years, but they do not want to appease the geeks-they need mass audiences. Ed Eyestone does a super job each year. I enjoy his coverage and same with Juli Henner, who should be doing national broadcasts-strong voice, great observation skills and does not get flustered.

Post race press conferences were good, and we had access to the top athletes. Understand the signing up for interviews, but find it a bit annoying. Snafu with the wheelchair times, but, to the race's credit, it was announced, and dealt with. Hats off to the Chicago media room having to deal with a couple members of the media who make it a sport to snipe on their every move. No event is perfect, but, in dealing with obnoxious outbursts, it takes away from the atmosphere which is relaxed and encouraging.

Sponsorship I took a couple of marketing observers around the HIlton, Expo and other areas and asked for their comments on the signage and promotions. We liked the expo set up, and the themes on the signs-the footprint was understood. A bit of confusion over the signage around the Hilton and in the Nike store at the Hilton. Some of my 20-25 year old observers sensed a tie in with Napoleon Dynamite and did not find the messaging favorable. They admitted that they had been spoiled by much stronger messaging from Nike and their agency, W& K.

Comments from runnersWe spoke to runners of all shapes and sizes, all levels of experience, before and after the marathon. While people said it was cold, they said it was preferred to the hot weather of three years ago. The veterans spoke of how many times that they had raced here and loved it. I met a Finnish runner who had run all five of the Marathon Majors now and made it a point to see if there was a Marathon Majors shirt, one just for finishing all five races! People wore their medals all around the city and we saw them driving back to Wisconsin in the mid afternoon, at the rest stops.

A great weekend for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon! Next blog on the actual race....

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