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Economic impact of Boston Marathon on city, businesses, runners

According to the Boston Athletic Association, the Boston Marathon has a sizable economic impact, bringing in $188.8 million to the city. PHOTO BY SARAH SILBIGER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
According to the Boston Athletic Association, the Boston Marathon has a sizable economic impact, bringing in $188.8 million to the city. PHOTO BY SARAH SILBIGER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Every year on the third Monday of April, visitors from around the world flock to Boston to cheer on runners in what is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious marathons in the world — the Boston Marathon.

Whether it is the Boston Police Department, the Massachusetts State Police or a plethora of volunteers, the marathon is fueled by people.

With all its attendees and onlookers, the economic impact is hefty. The Boston Athletic Association estimated that the marathon would bring in $188.8 million for Greater Boston, according to an April 7 press release.

One of the key facilitators of consumer spending during the weekend of the marathon is the John Hancock Sports and Fitness Expo, which ran from Friday to Sunday and promotes new running products and services each year.

“Although the Boston Marathon’s a one-day event, there’s a series of events leading up to it, and this Expo is considered the kickoff,” said Kathleen Chrisom, show director of the Expo. “So by opening up on Friday and even hosting this event, we’re attracting consumers to come here and spend their dollars in Boston.”

While Chrisom said exhibitors do not disclose statistics on sales, exhibitors have said that it is their highest-grossing runner’s expo.

This year’s expo featured 200 exhibitors and drew in more than 100,000 attendees, Chrisom said. Approximately 30,000 of those attendees were official entrants in the marathon.

Chrisom said that the Expo is unique in that it is considered the place to unveil new products.

“If Mizuno has a new running sneaker, they would unveil it here even if they were the shoe sponsor of an expo at another city,” she said. “They would unveil their product here in Boston, so we take great pride in that.”

Ashley Zolenski, a 2007 Boston University graduate and runner in this year’s marathon, said that she and her family and friends spend extra dollars during the marathon weekend.

“We have family coming in this weekend who are staying at a hotel downtown,” Zolenski said “We are going out for brunch tomorrow on Newbury Street … Eat at a restaurant, buy the clothes, things like that. People can spend anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a thousand dollars to watch their friends and family in the marathon.”

Jeffrey Furman, a professor in BU’s Questrom School of Business, said that while the marathon has positive economic effects on Boston, the numbers provided by the BAA may be inflated.

“I see that estimate as very consistent as the types of estimates run by sporting events typically release,” Furman said. “So to take their numbers at face value, they’re sort of suggesting that $190 million will be spent on the marathon that otherwise wouldn’t have been spent during that exact same time period. The right experiment to consider is not how much total will be spent on the marathon, but how much more will be spent because of the marathon that otherwise would have been spent.”

The projected spending estimates have increased year to year. In 2015, it was $181.9 million, and in 2014, it was $175.8 million, according to the BAA. The increase can be partially attributed to the heightened media attention around the marathon, specifically after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Furman said.

While the activity leading up to the marathon generates revenue, the closing of some businesses on Patriots’ Day may offset the potential total income generated.

“All holidays lead to a direct decline in manufacturing and office productivity on the day of the event, including the December consumption holidays, but most also involve substantial spending on services and boosts to spending, even in manufacturing, in the days and weeks leading up to the event,” Furman said.

On the individual level, running is a sport that is low in cost but yields great benefits.

Jennifer Carter-Battaglino, area director at Kilachand Residences and Fisk House and instructor for the marathon training class at BU, wrote in an email that marathons didn’t cost much when she started running the races in 2007.

“Relative to many other types of sports, the individual costs of training for a marathon are relatively low,” Furman said. “They are lower than spending time on an ice hockey rink or a tennis court. Or even a recreational golfer, which is expensive.”

For runners this year, the main costs are equipment.

Zolenski said that a good pair of running sneakers costs around $120 and they only need to be replaced a few times a year.

Kevin Doherty, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and runner in this year’s marathon, said that as a college student, “there’s definitely a little bit of a financial budgeting” when it comes to choosing which shoes he will purchase.

The cultural significance of the marathon, however, transcends worries about incurring costs and generating revenue.

“My sense is that the cost-benefit analysis is no longer the primary driver of an event that has taken on such a cultural and social relevance as the Boston Marathon,” Furman said.

For many, running the marathon is a lifelong dream. Doherty said that growing up outside of Boston, the marathon was something he wanted to be a part of.

“It embodies the personality and character of Boston,” Doherty said. “I wanted to make this a life dream, a life goal.”

Media attention has increased since the 2013 bombing. But instead of letting the media transform Boston into a spectacle, Doherty said Boston residents’ social unity is stronger than ever.

“I think the most remarkable thing I was able to see come out of that is the tenacity of the people that consist of this city,” Doherty said. “Instead of running away from these explosions, they wanted to see how they could help out their common man. Boston is a resilient city … To represent it would be a true honor.”

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