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Active Brands Rev Up for NYC Marathon

Annual event presents marketing opportunities.

NEW YORK — The slumping economy hasn’t slowed the marketing engine of the ING New York City Marathon.

Activewear brands Asics, Nike, Adidas and Reebok, among others, view the 26.2-mile event and the festivities surrounding it as an opportunity — and possibly a business forecasting tool.

More than 108,000 applicants — up from 98,000 last year — sought one of the 39,000 spots in this year’s race through the five boroughs, which begins at 9 a.m. Sunday and will be watched by an estimated two million spectators on the streets of the city, as well as a television audience.

Since the ING marathon’s sponsorships are long-term — for example, ING’s goes through 2010 — the economy has not had an immediate impact on the event, said Ann Wells Crandall, senior vice president of business development for the New York Road Runners Club, which operates the marathon.

Active sponsor Asics is looking to the marathon as a predictor of how the business of running will be affected by the economy.

“Since it’s sort of a bellwether event, we are anxious to see how it is going to be in New York this year,” said Gary Slayton, Asics vice president of marketing. “Our running business is up for the year,” but sales are slowing.

“One of the last things people will do is give up their personal activities, and they may even work out more when they feel stressed,” Slayton said. “But if we do see the economy affecting things in New York, we will have to look at how we approach next year.”

Asics hasn’t reduced its spend going into the marathon. The brand’s campaign slogan is “(Sound Mind) x (Sound Body) x New York = Heart.” Twenty double-decker tourist buses and 10 shuttles have been emblazoned with the phrase, which also appears in printed form. Asics took over the kiosks and signage in Manhattan’s Union Square subway station for two months as well as the mall at the Time Warner Center this month.

Asics also created a competition in which contestants submit videos about their motivations for running the marathon. The winning videos will air in 15-second commercials on NBC during the marathon broadcast. Participants who stop by Asics’ 19,000-square-foot space at the three-day ING New York City Marathon Health and Fitness Expo at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center can also film their own short videos, some of which will air on the Times Square JumboTron during the race.

Timed for the marathon, Asics will launch the 15th-anniversary edition of the GEL-Kayano 15 NYC running shoe, including 2,000 pairs with a sock liner that has the map of the marathon route and pictures of runners going across the Queensboro Bridge on the upper part of the shoe. They will sell for $180.

The Road Runners Club buys cobranded merchandise from Adidas to sell on its Web site as well as at the expo, which has 110 exhibitors and attracts about 80,000 people from Thursday to Saturday, at sponsor ING’s cafe and on Marathon Monday in Central Park, where it sets up 13,000 square feet for merchandise between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The active companies’ marathon marketing is largely focused around the professional athletes.

Nike hosted a Thursday night event at Niketown with its athletes, Paula Radcliffe — who has won two New York City marathons, including last year’s — and Kara Goucher.

Adidas is sponsoring autograph signings Thursday to Saturday with its own champion, Grete Waitz, a Norwegian who won nine New York City marathons between 1978 and 1988. The Thursday event was at New York Running Company in Columbus Circle; today’s will be from 1 to 2 p.m. at 2 World Financial Center, and Saturday’s, from 2 to 3 p.m. at Paragon Sports at 867 Broadway.

Reebok, which is sponsoring runners Kim Smith and Katie McGregor, is doing an early release of its new running shoe, Reebok Premier Road Plus KFS VI, which will not hit retail until January. Retailing for $95, the shoe will be sold at the Expo with Reebok’s retail partner, the New York Running Company.

“This year, we are keeping it pretty low-key,” said a spokeswoman for New Balance, which is sponsoring James Carney, the 2008 U.S. half-marathon champion. At its expo booth, the brand is showcasing its fall line, plus two limited edition New Balance/2008 NYC marathon T-shirts, which also will be sold at New Balance’s four New York City stores.

Lululemon is collecting sneakers from runners and has been displaying them in its Manhattan store windows since Monday. They will be there through Monday before it ships them to Soles4Soles, an organization that distributes shoes to those in need. Today and Saturday, all of Lululemon’s New York stores also will have sign-making stations for guests to create signs to cheer on runners.

“People are stressed and stretched right now with the economy, and exercise really helps to reduce stress, so we see a great synergy there — plus exercise doesn’t cost a lot,” said a spokeswoman.