Sport companies back running clubs for long-term gains

Big companies such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas are increasingly seeing opportunities in backing local running clubs.

In anticipation of the world’s richest long-distance running event, several new running clubs backed by global sports brands have been sprouting up in Dubai.

Last month, Fitness First launched a running club in collaboration with Adidas. Besides receiving expert training advice, members are also given a high-tech Adidas T-shirt (that integrates the brand’s signature ventilation boosting technology) upon joining. After three, six and nine runs, members are given more items of Adidas apparel.

According to Salim Faraj, a 29-year-old Lebanese engineer, the Adidas-sponsored running club is free for members of Fitness First, and they can also bring along a friend at no extra charge.

“The running club is still in its infancy. So far there are about 30 members. As I’m running my first Dubai Marathon, I was keen to join,” says Faraj. “The other runners are from all over the world and all walks of life but everyone is brimming with energy. We all have a shared goal, and it’s great bonus that we get to wear Adidas, too.”

Last month, the Dubai fitness experts Urban Energy also launched a running club in partnership with Reebok. Coinciding with the launch, Reebok branded the promenade at Dubai Marina Mall and the running track with distance markers and inspirational messages to motivate runners to push harder. Laurence Acra Bathe, the founder of Urban Energy, admits she was eager to team up with an international brand such as Reebok.

“Our running club already existed but, since teaming up with Reebok, the numbers have increased – we now have around 60 members. After the first session, members of the Reebok Running Club receive a goodie bag that includes a cap, headband, wristband and workout towel.”

Manav Fernandez, the director of operations of Insignia, a branding and brand marketing firm based in Dubai, says that beyond the challenges of recruiting members to keep a running club going, financing a running club can be a formidable challenge, although having a big sports brand on board can alleviate the pressure.

Fernandez also points out that it will take time before reaping the benefits of teaming up with a global sports brand. “There will be little to be gained in the short term. Take the example of football and the brand Emirates – their sponsorship deals are signed over five- to 10-year periods with a clear understanding that real returns are gained in the long run. The same holds true for small running clubs – brand loyalty is built over a longer period.

“For every collaboration that makes it big, there are several start-ups that fail. The brands need to pick and bet on the right horse. It’s crucial to pick a running club that is more than just a fad, and to align your goals carefully – that is critical to the success of such a partnership.”

Perhaps the most established club in the UAE is the Nike+Run Club, which started in September 2010.

“We are an authentic running club that is part of a global movement – the biggest running club in the world,” says Tom Woolf, the head coach. “In Dubai alone, we have about 1,000 active regular runners.”

But participants have to do more than just show up to get Nike apparel, says Woolf. “Receiving limited-edition apparel is related to regular attendance and performance. It therefore acts as an added incentive. Once you reach certain milestones, you get one of our unique T-shirts. For instance, this season’s black T-shirt – emblazoned with We Run Wadi Bih 2013 – is specifically designed for those running through the Hajar mountains; they are only available to participants in the upcoming 72-kilometre Wadi Bih Run.”

The club, which has grown organically, is not jumping on any bandwagon, says Woolf. “We are here for the long haul.”

Nike+Run Club

Members meet on Tuesdays at 6.45pm at Al Safa Park, Gate 5. Fridays at 7.45am at Burj Park Downtown, Saturdays at 7.45am at Make Hub, JBR, and Mondays at 6.45pm at Abu Dhabi Corniche. It is free to join.
For more details, go to

Reebok Running Club

The club meets on Mondays at 8.30am and Fridays at 7.30am at the Promenade, Dubai Marina Mall. Each session costs Dh50 per person, or you can purchase a package. For more details, visit

Fitness First Running Club

This Adidas-sponsored running club is free for members of Fitness First and hosts weekly runs at Fitness First Meadows Community on Sundays at 7pm, Dubai Creek Park Gate 4 on Tuesdays at 7pm, and Al Safa Park Gate 3 on Thursdays at 6.30am.
For more details, go to