The Boston Marathon has agreed to a 10-year sponsorship deal with Bank of America that organizers hope will allow the world’s oldest and most prestigious annual 26.2-mile road race to grow over the next decade while maintaining its historic character.
Financial terms of the deal announced Monday were not disclosed. But the deal does not include the naming rights that typically allow the sponsor to boost its profile and an event to boost its coffers.
“Why would you ever change a legacy? ... No, we’re not going to do that,” said David Tyrie, Bank of America’s chief digital officer and chief marketing officer. "Everything you know and love about the Boston Marathon — and things that are around it — will continue. And then there’s going to be (an additional) 30% that we haven’t figured out yet that are going to be the taking it to the next level thing. And those are really exciting ones.”
The bank already had a foot in the distance-running world as the sponsor of the Chicago Marathon for the last decade. Unlike that race, which is officially named the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the Boston Marathon will keep its name, with the "presented by Bank of America” tagline.
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“At some level we realized that Bank of America saw this differently,” Boston Athletic Association President and CEO Jack Fleming told The Associated Press. “They saw us as a different opportunity and maybe didn’t need to have that title and wanted to preserve it for everyone else. And for Boston.”
First run in 1897 by 15 men who were inspired by the marathon race at the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens the previous spring, the Boston Marathon has grown into a weekend-long running festival and the signature event of the Massachusetts holiday known as Patriots’ Day. For 30,000 recreational runners who have to qualify just to line up in Hopkinton on the third Monday in April, it is a bucket-list event.
The race remained an amateur competition — with runners competing for a gilded olive wreath and a bowl of beef stew — until 1986, when insurance giant John Hancock signed on as the main sponsor. The financial influx allowed the BAA to draw the top professional runners from around the world and offer a prize purse that is now approaching $1 million.
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But Hancock, a Boston institution since 1862, was acquired in 2004 by the Canadian insurance firm Manulife Financial. In September, the company announced it would not be renewing its sponsorship deal after 38 years.
Within a month, the BAA was hearing from potential new sponsors. Fleming said the BAA was leery of the recent deals with crypto exchanges and other internet startups that evaporated when the sponsor went bankrupt.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America stood out for its ability to see what made the race special.
“We don’t do this very often. We don’t want to do this very often. We’ve only done this once prior,” Fleming said. “This is our next chapter."
The bank also has a large presence in Boston: The course runs past 11 Bank of America branches or ATMs — two of them on the final sprint down Boylston Street to the Copley Square finish line.
“There’s an inherent appreciation for the uniqueness of the Boston Marathon,” Tyrie said. “We make sure that we have the best interest of the BAA, the marathon, its runners, its legacy (in mind). We make sure we really understand all of that.”
Other events in connection with marathon weekend, including the charity bib program, the professional and para athlete fields and the weekend-long runner’s expo, are covered by the sponsorship deal and could take the Bank of America name. Tyrie said the company wants to raise the race's profile year-round, capitalizing on its experience in Chicago to bring new ideas to Boston.
“There was never a strategy that says, ‘Hey, listen: We’re going to be the sponsor of choice for endurance sports,’” he said. “Chicago is run really well and we’ve been doing it for a while. ... We’ve got some pretty cool ideas that we’ve leveraged in Chicago. But it’s not really about taking a playbook."
“That’s Chicago," he said. "Boston’s unique.”
The 127th edition of the Boston Marathon will be on April 17, two days after ceremonies to remember the 2013 finish line bombings that killed three people and wounded hundreds more. Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the world record holder at the distance, will be making his Boston debut.
But for now, Bank of America will remain in the background until the new deal takes effect with the 2024 race.
“We don’t want to be disruptive right now,” Tyrie said. “Once (the BAA) has a chance to kind of take a breather after this year’s event, game on.”
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