Louisiana Marathon has an economic impact on BR _lowres

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Runners line up and stretch at the starting line during the Louisiana Marathon and Half-Marathon last year in Baton Rouge.

Whether from Texas, Mississippi or Georgia, runner requests begin even before the gun fires to start the Louisiana Marathon.

“Where can I get crawfish,” one asks.

“Are there king cakes? What about Mardi Gras stuff,” others add.

Those three states send the most runners to Baton Rouge for the running festival, according to Visit Baton Rouge Director of Marketing and Communications Katie Guasco, who said the running festival’s continued growth markets Baton Rouge to more newcomers each year.

An economic impact study conducted by Kent State University analyzed the 2014 Louisiana Marathon and estimated 66 percent of the 6,476 race participants were non-locals. Those non-local participants spent $1.6 million in the Baton Rouge economy, the study concluded.

That $1.6 million was part of a $3.6 million spending impact, the study showed, creating an employment impact of the equivalent of 64 full-time jobs.

When they founded the Louisiana Marathon four years ago, co-founders Danny Bourgeois, Pat Fellows and Craig Sweeney set a goal to have 15,000 participants by the race’s fifth year.

Now that the running festival projects for 8-to-10,000 participants in its fourth year, Guasco said she’s excited the city is being projected to have so many people, but admits she’s a bit surprised running is what’s bringing the tourists in.

“From a tourism standpoint, there’s so much that we don’t even think of that are drivers to our area,” Guasco said. “It’s a community sport, it’s not just an individual hobby. We have a great running community in Baton Rouge, and it’s been great to see the entire community come behind that.”

“It’s a natural fit that we could have a successful marathon.”

Driving the increased numbers is the increased national footprint the Louisiana Marathon is maintaining, highlighted by three new sponsors with local ties and national prevalence.

Todd Andrews, president and co-founder of tascPerformance, said his company has been interested in the Louisiana Marathon since its inception, but found the sponsorship opportunity to be greater this year after both the company and marathon had a chance to grow.

“We wanted to participate with our home marathon,” Andrews said. “It’s a unique event. They’ve been able to draw from such a wide base around the country and internationally. It’s becoming somewhat of a signature event in the marathon community.”

Abita Brewing and BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana joined tascPerformance in new sponsorships this year, and all three local companies that have expanded nationally.

“Our state is not known for health in many ways,” Andrews said. “I think they’ve done a great job of capturing the spirit of the state and creating great events around the marathon itself.”

Guasco said with the improvements Baton Rouge and downtown has made and continues to make, it’ll be a new venture for even the most seasoned Louisiana Marathon participants.

“We’re still getting a very organized, well-formatted race to the guest,” Guasco said.

“For them, if they run year after year, they’re kind of seeing a new town every time they come back.”