Nathan Barnhart and Elaine Lau are the founders of Cerulean Sports Group, a sports marketing agency specializing in the creation, brand development, and production of running and Mob-style events. With a strong focus on branding and creating unique participant experiences, this team has built a thriving business in just a few short years. They manage the Hell Run event series, the Chicago 10K, the New York City 10K, the Crosstown Classic 10K, and the new Ditka Dash 5K. Plus, they’ve got more on the horizon for 2014.
How did Cerulean Sports Group get its start?
Before founding Cerulean, I was a vice president at a commercial real estate branding firm. Essentially, it was in the start-up stages, so I was fortunate to see firsthand what it takes to start a company. One day out of the blue, I received an email from Muddy Buddy and it reminded me of when I ran that event ten years ago. That was sort of the “a-ha” moment. I remember going home that very day and pitching Elaine on the idea.
How did you make the transition from commercial real estate to sports?
I went in blind. Creating events was something that really interested me but I needed to do some research. I knew Fleet Feet Sports put on great events, so I volunteered for them regularly. Mark Colpoys, the vice president of marketing, was a great mentor to me and helped me learn as much as possible. As time goes by, our blueprint continually gets stronger and our events get better and better.
How big is your team at Cerulean?
By design, our staff is small. Full time it’s me, Elaine, and our Labrador, Brooks. Our business model is focused on outsourcing to trusted third party companies to keep overhead low.
How are you able to manage so many events with just the two of you?
We bring in key personnel for each event, and many of our events are powered on volunteers. For example, we get help from non-profit volunteer groups like sports and club teams and in exchange we donate to their cause. This works really well for both parties.
And we rely on ACTIVE’s race software. It’s easy to use and terribly efficient. Online registration runs itself and we use the reports every day to see where our numbers are. We’ve been with ACTIVE since the beginning and wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.
How do you differentiate your events?
We enjoy creating the branding for our events. For us, it’s all about design and creating an emotional experience.
For Hell Run, we focus on creating the best medals and t-shirts. We also give out capes, which no one else is doing. We have a nickname generator on our website and our registration form asks if participants want that nickname on their bib.
Is merchandise a big revenue channel for your events?
With the Ditka Dash, we relied heavily on the model of selling merchandise within the registration path. At checkout, registrants can buy one of three shirts. This was a new way of operating for us (we didn’t sell merch within the reg path previously) and it has been awesome.
Do the social media integrations in ACTIVE’s software help you drive registrations for your events?
Yes, absolutely. No one runs a race alone. The social network buttons are super important and really help spread word of mouth.
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