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Baltimore’s marathon just one production of Corrigan Sports

If there’s one thing Baltimoreans love to do, it’s throw their support behind a local success story or a homegrown hero.

The Corrigan Sports Enterprises booth at Thursday’s Runner’s Expo at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Under Armour Baltimore Running Festival, which celebrates its 12th anniversary on Saturday, is a prime example. It’s locally owned and managed, with a local fan base, local corporate sponsors and local community outreach.

The multiple-race festival has a $2 million budget, an estimated economic impact of $30.5 million and a record 27,000 registered runners —and it’s all organized by the 14 people of Corrigan Sports Enterprises.

But company President Lee Corrigan is like a little dog with a ferocious bite — seemingly unaware of his company’s size compared to the massive events it produces.

Corrigan doesn’t let the size of his employee directory limit the projects they undertake; rather, he said it is an asset.

“We’re a very tight-knit group,” Corrigan said. “People always expect a lot of structure and a lot of documents … but there is no substitute for yelling down the hall, ‘Hey, where’s Chris? Where’s Ragsy? Let’s meet in 10 minutes and figure out the marathon water stops.’ BAM. Done.”

Corrigan Sports Enterprises produces events “from conception to fruition,” as their slogan goes.

With an established presence in Baltimore, a long list of corporate contacts and an impressive resume of successful events, the Elkridge-based company has made a name for itself in the world of sporting competitions.

In addition to the Baltimore Running Festival, CSE is behind a host of other large-scale events, including volleyball and lacrosse competitions and similar running festivals in Frederick and Oakland, Calif. For Charm City cyclists, the company also hosts the Baltimore Bike Jam.

For the running festival — which Corrigan said he expects will generate between $2.5 and $3 million — he knew negotiations with local corporate sponsors would be crucial to success.

“We knew those partnerships would be the most likely to attract participants and help build a brand,” he said. “If we can get a big sponsor like Under Armour, like CareFirst … that helps take a lot of the risk out of it for you.”

Local sponsors

Saturday’s event is often referred to simply as “the Baltimore Marathon,” but it also features a half-marathon, relay, 5K and kid’s fun run. The festival’s sponsors include Legg Mason Inc., T. Rowe Price Group Inc., WBAL radio and television and The Baltimore Sun.

Representatives from several sponsors said associating with a successful event in their hometown is a win-win opportunity for Corrigan and themselves. Several people said they think runners appreciate the idea of participating in an event that is so intertwined with the community — local management, local philanthropies and local corporate sponsors.

“All the sponsors are all home-grown, so it’s great for local companies to take the lead,” said Ted Rand, a 60-year-old Reisterstown resident and veteran marathoner.

Selling sponsorships became more difficult when the economy soured, Corrigan said, but added participation levels have remained steady despite the recession.

So how does a small business owner — even one with extensive connections and experience — convince people to drop a hefty wad of cash on his events?

“A big part of our success, especially in the past five or six years with the economy being so tough, is that we chose to focus on lacrosse and running, which are two great demographic groups … that tend to have some disposable income,” he said.

Corrigan also credits his team’s ability to coordinate a seamless event with keeping attendance high. When runners have an enjoyable, hassle-free experience, he said, they come back for more.

Rand said Thursday he’s impressed by the Baltimore festival’s growth since he participated several years ago. Rand said he has completed 19 marathons over the past 15 years, but Baltimore’s is easily one of the largest and best organized.

“Clearly, you have to have all your Ps and Qs together for a marathon this size, and have the support of the community,” he said. “It’s an awesome job they put on.”

Rand was on his way out of the Runners’ Expo at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday with his two children — Cara, 22, and Liam, 23, who are both running the half-marathon Saturday.

Swag bags

Runners attended the expo to complete their registration, pick up swag bags of sponsor merchandise and browse dozens of vendor tables showcasing sports apparel, nutrition bars and other athletic gear.

Corrigan Sports Marketing set up its own section in the expo, with many of its employees bustling around the area.

Rachel Ridgway, race director for the Frederick Running Festival, was stationed at a table of items emblazoned with Baltimore Marathon logos.

One challenge of working for a small business, Ridgway said, is figuring out how to maximize a limited amount of manpower. The company doesn’t have a marketing department, for instance.

“When you’re dealing with multiple large events, it can be overwhelming,” Ridgway said. “That’s why it helps to have some people like myself — I’m mostly dedicated to Frederick, and then I come and help out here in Baltimore.”

That kind of organizational structure places a high premium on trust between co-workers, but Corrigan employees said they embrace that kind of work environment.

“It’s a great team,” Ridgway said. “We really rely on each other and depend on each other heavily, and it all works out well. We’re like family. It’s nice being able to sit at one table and discuss good things, bad things, what we want to work on. It’s great working in a small business atmosphere like that.”

Corrigan also brings extra people on deck to handle the increased workload leading up to major events, he said. For the festival Saturday, he contracted about 20 people.

Then there are the volunteers — 500 to 700 of them, Corrigan said, who show up eager to help out by manning the water stations or distributing information. Many of these people work for charitable organizations, and in return for their service, Corrigan said he donates generously to their groups.

Economic impact

A study by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute calculated the economic impact of last year’s running festival to be about $30.5 million, using existing metrics and data from marathon events elsewhere.

By comparison, the Grand Prix of Baltimore in 2011 had an estimated $47 million economic impact, by one study.

RESI Director Daraius Irani, who authored the study, said the races are similar because both attract many out-of-towners. Those visitors tend to stay at least a day or two, he said, and almost certainly spend money on food, lodging and transportation.

“You’re bringing in a lot of individuals, both causal and hardcore runners, and you’re setting up a large festival downtown,” he said. “You’ve got people coming from out of town, spending money and going around doing other things. I think it’s an event that’s bigger than the running.”

Irani said his team received a “nominal fee” from Corrigan to produce the study.

He said while he thinks the numbers are impressive by themselves, they don’t deserve all the credit.

“It’s the intangibles — you’re putting Baltimore in a really good light, showing that it’s part of a sports-centric community,” he said, also citing the Grand Prix and the Oriole’s playoff berth. “We can talk about the dollars and cents, but really, it’s that we’ve got Baltimore in the spotlight now.”