Area runners may have one less race option to choose from. As of right now, the 2014 Rockford Marathon is canceled. Chicago-based company Special Events Management, or SEM, has organized the Rockford Marathon since 2008. Executives say putting the race on hiatus is a dollar-based decision. Sponsors are lacking and the company won't open registration until it gets more funding.
SEM says participant and sponsorship numbers peaked in 2009 with nearly 1,800 runners and roughly $24,000 in corporate underwriting. This last race in May 2013 brought in about 1,200 participants, but only $3,000 in sponsorship money. SEM CEO Hank Zemola says the company is looking for the right Rockford Marathon sponsors.
"We're still trying to find that person who's really thinking out of the box, who's looking for the health and fitness aspect and someone's who's really committed to the area. I truly believe we just haven't met that person, but there's got to be someone out in the general area who would like mind that."
Zemola says SEM has only profited from the Rockford Marathon one out of the six years its produced the race. He says the company took a roughly $50,000 loss for the 2013 event.
"To get a loss like that is staggering. It's very difficult. We hope to be back there, 2014 would be great, but right now our eyes are on 2015." -Zemola says.
One Rockford area runner thinks the problem is profit-seeking.
"If it were to come back, I would certainly like to see it as a fundraiser for something. That's certainly one of the reasons why they may not have attracted any sponsorship, because it really wasn't a charity event. It was a for-profit event. If I'm a business owner, why would I want to donate to a for-profit event?" -says Rockford Road Runners President Mike Mapes.
Hope isn't completely lost for a 2014 race, but SEM executives say they need at least $25,000 in sponsorships before they'll open registration. If it is canceled, city leaders say Rockford will see an economic impact.
"I think the spending of people coming to the marathon was probably north of $100,000." -says Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau President & CEO John Groh.
The Rockford Marathon isn't the only event to leave Rockford.
"This year, we saw On the Waterfront go away. The Airfest was canceled because of the sequester. Then, you see a smaller event like this go away and you do start wondering what's happening." -Groh says.
Groh believes Special Events Management can be successful in the Forest City. The RACVB says they want to help the out-of-town company.
"We would ask, 'If sponsorships are down, why do you think they're down? When people told you no, why were they saying no?'" -Groh explains.
Groh says there may be other issues aside from sponsorships.
"Runners have some pretty specific opinions about the course. So, could the course be more interesting? More challenging?" -he asks.
But, Rockford Marathon Volunteer Committee member Steve Korn disagrees.
"Some people didn't like it because they're going through some dicey neighborhoods once in a while, but for the most part we got some really good compliments on it. Everybody loved the first half." -Korn says.
Earlier we reported...
The Rockford Marathon will not be held next year.
Organizers say "dwindling sponsorship" is behind their decision to put the run on hiatus for 2014. However, if enough sponsors come forward, organizers will consider bringing the race back for 2015.
Despite a steady increase of participants over the last six years, sponsorship money has dropped from $24,000 in 2009 to less than $3,000 in 2013. This year, almost 1,200 runners from over 20 states participated.
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