Cerulean Sports Group, founded by Nathan Barnhart and Elaine Lau, is 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.
Q&A with Nathan Barnhart, Co-Founder of Cerulean Sports Group
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT ALL OF CERULEAN’S EVENTS?
The Hell Run events are in Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, and Austin, and each event attracts 3 - 4,000 participants. The 5K course features 12 obstacles and offers participants mud pits and obstacles with music and beer at the finish line.
The City 10K series currently includes the Chicago 10K and New York City 10K. The Chicago 10K starts and finishes in Grant Park, and attracted over 4,000 participants this year. This was the New York City 10K’s inaugural year and it was a big success. That race starts and finishes on Roosevelt Island.
Then we have the Crosstown Classic 10K, which plays off Chicago’s northside vs. southside rivalry. When participants register, they choose either Team Northside or Team Southside, stirring up territorial rivalry in a head-to-head 10K race for bragging rights. Participants get team shirts and thunder sticks are handed out to the crowd (just like at the baseball game). The average time from the first 1000 finishers from each team is calculated and the team with the fastest overall average time is declared the winner. The event starts and finishes in Grant Park and we had over 3,000 participants in 2013.
And our newest event is Ditka Dash 5K, which will be held at the iconic Soldier Field. Registration for the inaugural event (in 2013) sold out in 30 days at 10,000 participants. We worked closely with Mike Ditka’s agent to put this event together and there are elements of Da Coach everywhere. All registrants get a mustache, aviator sunglasses, and a branded shirt.
HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO MANAGE SO MANY EVENTS WITH JUST YOURSELF AND ELAINE?
By design, our staff is small—our business model is focused on partnering with strong third-party companies to allow us to keep overhead low. Full time it’s me, Elaine, and our Labrador, Brooks. 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.
"We rely on ACTIVE’s race software. It’s easy to use and terribly efficient."
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.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING WITH ACTIVE?
We’ve been with ACTIVE since the beginning and wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. People call us regularly to switch but we aren’t interested. Considering all the reports and tools that ACTIVE supplies and the fact that we a great account manager, I would never leave. We do our homework and look around at other providers, but nothing else compares. We have a strong partnership with ACTIVE.
YOU HAVE SOME REALLY UNIQUE ELEMENTS TO YOUR EVENTS. IS THIS PART OF YOUR STRATEGY FOR DIFFERENTIATION?
Yes, definitely. 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 the participants enjoy. We have a nickname generator on our website and our registration form asks if participants want that nickname on their bib. So you see people running in capes with “Captain Kick Ass” above their bib number.
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. On the Ditka Dash alone, we’ve had a great response.
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.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR CERULEAN SPORTS GROUP?
We’re expanding the City 10K series to Philadelphia and Milwaukee in 2014, and we have a few more unique events in the works.
“We’ve been with ACTIVE since the beginning and wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Co-Founder of Cerulean Sports Group