When the Las Vegas Marathon was re-launched and reinvigorated two years ago, event organizers knew the longstanding business credo of “You have to spend money to make money” would be very much in play.
Devine Sports might not have expected to spend more than $9 million since then reshaping the race, but in doing so the company is finally reaping some rewards. On Monday, race organizers unveiled the event’s first title sponsor: online shoe sales giant Zappos.com, which is based in Henderson.
“Zappos is just a natural local and national sponsor, being headquartered in the Las Vegas area,” said Bill Burke, president of the Las Vegas Marathon. “They’re a significant company, with over $400 million in sales a year. They wanted to partner with us as a corporate neighbor.
“Obviously, among other things, they sell running shoes. The marketing relationship between a running event and a shoe company was just a natural fit.”
What helped the deal happen, though, was Zappos chief executive officer Tony Hsieh and chief operating officer Alfred Lin competing in last year’s marathon.
“It’s just a fun event,” said Hsieh, 33, whose first marathon was last year’s race. “It turned out to be a great experience. And sponsoring it was a great way for us to give a little bit back to the community.”
Said Burke, “They had firsthand knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of our event. So they’re working with us to improve our strengths and correct our weaknesses.”
Hsieh, who moved Zappos.com from San Francisco to Henderson 3 1/2 years ago, said the company has a three-year contract with the event. Between the actual sponsorship cost and what Zappos.com will spend internally to support the race, Hsieh said the deal will amount to more than $1 million.
“Depending on the participation and how much it grows, we’d like to spend more,” said Hsieh, noting that 150 of his 650 local employees have signed up to compete in either the marathon or half-marathon on Dec. 2.
In addition, the event brought FTD on board, with the florist company now sponsoring the run-thru wedding chapel at mile 5, among other commitments. Plus, Las Vegas Events matched its $250,000 commitment from last year, continuing to promote the online marketing of the race for national and international runners.
LVE president Pat Christenson said the event — which has grown from about 12,000 runners in 2005 to 18,000 last year, with another increase fully expected this year — offers several things that benefit his organization.
“It’s the time of year, the type of customer, but also the growth of the event,” Christenson said.
Burke said the sponsorships show the event is rapidly moving forward.
“We spent $5 million in 2005 and about $4.3 million last year,” said Burke, noting some low-level sponsorships helped recoup some of last year’s expenses. “We had $9 million invested, and it’s starting to turn the corner now, no question about it.”