In a partnership together with insurance and asses management company NN Group, Global Sports Communication — a Netherlands-based sports management agency — launched the world’s first large scale marathon running team: NN Running Team.
The team hosts an impressive group of 60 runners from 13 nations, and will run over 150 competitive races all across the globe, including World Major Marathons such as New York, Boston, London and Berlin. Runners of the team will wear their branded NN running kits, and their first race is scheduled for April 9 at the Rotterdam marathon.
Teammembers include reigning Olympic Marathon Champion and Sub-2hour marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, Multiple Olympic and World Champion Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia, reigning World Marathon Champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie from Eritrea and former Olympic and World Marathon Champion Stephen Kiprotich from Uganda.
The NN marathon team is the brainchild of Jos Hermens, former marathon runner turned sports manager. For years he pursued changing the world of athletics for the better, and with this new partnership between his company Global Sports Communication and NN Group, he seemed to have pulled it off.
So why is this a big deal?
Well, I believe there are 5 reasons why this new partnership will have a large impact on the future of marathon running.
A. It opens up the sport for new commercial sponsorships
For a sport that is known by insiders to be lead by shoe companies Nike and Addidas — with actually very limited possibilities for outside companies to step in — the launch of the first marathon team is the big change required to get an inflow of new sponsors into the sport. In the past there has been quite some controversy around who is allowed to sponsor when and where, and it seems that this new partnership — which is actually endorsed by Nike — is a first step opening up the sport to a wider audience of sponsors.
B. It creates more wealth for athletes
Bringing in more sponsorships and endorsements into marathon running will drive incomes for athletes up as there will be more money available. Moreover, by being part of a team, athletes might benefit from team(-members’) performances through bonusses and similar prize-schemes. Bringing in more money into athletics is a great thing, as the sport is small in terms of financial gains. Athletics has just 1 athlete, Usain Bolt, in the world top-100 of best paid athletes, and this athlete literally outsprints his colleagues by a landslide. As for impact, you could compare the introduction of the NN Running team to the launch of the first Speedskating team (in 1995!) that eventually brought significantly more wealth into the athletes’ pockets.
C. It drives innovation and better performances
By becoming part of a team, individual athletes will have access to better and broader support than they previously had. You already see a larger role of science into running, such as the Sub 2 Hours project and Nike’s own version of it. Their sub2 project is due in May, when top runners Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese and Lelisa Desisa will try to break 2 hours on the Italian Formula 1 track in Monza. However, with the new team it means that 60 athletes will get more assistance in training, nutrition, clothing and medical support than they had before and this will likely drive innovation and improve athletes’ performances.
D. It changes the way races will be run
Traditionally marathon running has always focused heavily on individual athletes eyeing for fast times through orchestrated races, where pacemakers bring the lead group to 30–35km before the battle really takes off. In an effort to change this sometimes unattractive racing, some larger marathons, most notably Boston and New York, have recently opted for leaving pace makers out of the competition. However, with the new formation of teams, there will be new battles for the first prize between teams rather than individuals and this will create new dynamic for the races, and more joy for the fans.
E. It re-invents the current athletes’ management structures
Lastly, due to a combination of all the reasons mentioned above, I also believe this new partnership will change the current structures underlying athletes management to begin with, as it becomes way more important than before for athletes to pick the right management/team. Even though there seems to be a number of leading management agencies in the current world of marathon running, these new changes have the potential to further consolidate the distrubution of top runners over a limited set of to-be-formed teams. Hence, I believe that, in an effort to match the fundamental shift Global Sports Communication has made through the introduction of the NN running team, other management agencies will hurry to launch there own teams in the months to come.