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Sponsored Athlete Marketing: U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon


Sponsored Athlete Marketing: U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon

As a marathon runner, I’m excited for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon on February 3. As a marketer, I love following the athletes, seeing their training and feeling like I’m hearing their story from them, being part of this niche market. I was listening to a podcast by Des Linden and Kara Goucher, Nobody Asked Us, where they were talking about the athletes and trying to build hype, inspiring me to write this blog.

So, for those who don’t know, the U.S. holds a trial for the marathon, unlike other countries that decide the team based on different factors. As long as they have the standard time, the top 3 men and top 3 women from this trial are then on the Olympic team. This year, the trial is being held in Orlando, Florida at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 3.

Currently, only two men have a guaranteed spot due to the World Athletics new system. There are a few options for the U.S. men and I’m going to refer you to the Runner’s World article for more details on that specifically. The women’s team has a lot more athletes who have met the regulations made by the World Athletics, making their race more straightforward.

With those details covered, join me as I discuss some of my personal favorite athletes competing, as well as the marketing strategies and tactics behind the posts.

Emily Sisson

As the American marathon record holder (2:18:29), Emily Sisson is one of the favored to go to the Olympics. She ran the record at the Chicago Marathon in 2022, which was exciting for me as I ran the race the same year. She’s a track athlete turned marathon and is a New Balance athlete, as well as a UCAN athlete.

For her social media presence, she focuses on Instagram, sharing her training through Reels. She primarily shares Reels. She posted about her first workout since the Chicago Marathon in 2023, sharing good luck to those running the New York City Marathon.

To engage with her followers, she shares her views, fueling preferences (by UCAN), shares information about her runs (like mile repeats or a 20-mile cutdown) and even asks for song recommendations for her playlist. Her videos make you feel like you’re part of her journey toward the Trials. While most of her content has music, it still feels genuine and it’s fun to watch her journey.

Her posts give props to UCAN and New Balance, proving value to both the brands and her audience. She’s also made numerous podcast appearances, with her appearances on the Ali on the Run Show standing out most to me. My favorite: Love on the Run with Emily Sisson & Shanw Quinn.

Keira D’Amato

Fun-loving, Keira D’Amato brings fun into running while running record-breaking times! She quit running for almost 10 years, hitting the “roads again in 2017 to chase after some unfinished business.” She’s a pro runner for Nike, Flynn Sports and UCAN. She previously broke the American Marathon record and is the current American Half Marathon record holder.

She previously told Runner’s World, “There I was, a mom, with a job, running for fun, and I just ran a 16:09 rep in practice by myself. It rocked my world.” She has an amazing underdog kind of story and brings fun to all the things she does.

I started following Keira closer when she ran the 2022 World Athletics Championships - Marathon. Loved seeing the women supporting women at this event. They celebrated and hugged at the end of the race while also working together in the race. 

Her podcast with Ali on the Run Show after Worlds was fun and they have since partnered on content as well.

Keira brings fun to her Instagram posts to also highlight the brands she works with. For example, she did a spot the UCAN recently in a post, where the gels were captured in different spots during the race.

Overall, Keira has brought fun into running and shares this fun through her posts, content and collaborations, focused on authenticity.

Molly Seidel

The Olympic Bronze medalist is back! Molly Sidel is running the Trials to return to the Olympics. Molly hit the scene last Trials, qualifying on a half marathon and placing in the top 3 at the Trials for her first marathon. Since then, she has gone on to be a bronze medalist in the 2020 games and made her comeback at the 2023 Chicago Marathon.

Molly has been completely transparent, being an advocate for mental health. She removed herself from the World Athletics Championships and focused on herself mentally and focused on recovery from a stress fracture. She was diagnosed with ADHD after dealing with an eating disorder, OCD and depression.

She has focused on fun and being brutally honest. She has also become known for her FTK (fastest-known turkey) Thanksgiving Day 10K costume.

Molly is sponsored by Puma, Coros, Maurten and Sidekick. Everyone was excited to see her come back at Chicago, follows her for her humor and would love to see her make it back to the Olympics.

Des Linden

Des Linden has been known as one of the most consistent women’s marathoners, recently setting a new American Women’s Master’s Record in the marathon at the 2023 Chicago Marathon.

As mentioned earlier, Des and Kara started “Nobody Asked Us,” which has become a hit, starting their second season. Des recently wrote “ Choosing to Run,” is a two-time Olympian, 2018 Boston Marathon Champion and 50K World Record-holder. She’s a Brooks runner and is ready to see what her 5th Trials have in store.

She’s made a name for herself as a professional athlete, but also through the work she does on and off the roads. She also shares her authenticity. Also, one of her dog's names is Boston, named after the Boston Marathon!

Conner Mantz

Ok, I primarily only have one male I’m rooting for, but as mentioned before, only two have ran the needed time.

Conner Mantz is coming to his first Trials qualification after running a 2:07:47 at the Chicago Marathon in 2023. He is a Nike runner and has been an athlete to watch. Since turning pro, he has ran Chicago twice and Boston once. He hasn’t been a pro for very long, but he has a lot of potential and is just getting started. 

Special Mention: Emma Bates

Emma Bates has sadly had to make the difficult decision to pull out of the race after injury at the 2023 Chicago Marathon. Many of the running community, myself included, felt for her when she shared the news.

But, I wanted to note her primary tactic on Instagram is sharing race recaps in an unplanned number of posts. She tells the story from her point of view through various stages of the race and makes you feel like you’re there with her.

Boston has announced Emma will be returning in 2024 and Emma is currently focusing on recovery. She is starting a recovery series on Instagram, structured similarly to her race recaps, where she doesn’t have a planned number of posts. 

Brands Sponsoring Athletes

Brands sponsoring these athletes generally require sponsored athletes to make a certain number of posts per their contract. Brands utilize this to highlight their products through an elite athlete for those non-elites deciding on the products to buy. Oftentimes, brands will also collaborate with the athletes, such as New Balance launching a redo on their Pacer 2 model, focused on Emily Sisson’s running preferences.

Overall, there are so many amazing runners hitting the roads in Orlando on February 3. I hope this has helped bring in some fans to the sport, giving people a few names to root for, but there are so many more!

Separate shoutout to:

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Meet the Author

Stefanie Moore

Stefanie Moore
Marketing Manager

Stefanie is a marketing manager in the Marketing Communications Online Programs through the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. She is an alumna of WVU's M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) and has been working in marketing for over 6 years after beginning her career in the newspaper business. She's a marathon runner and she recently ran a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.

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