The sponsorship history of the London Marathon closely reflects the history of nearly all athletics marketing since the event began in 1981. The £75,000 supplied by Gillette for the first race, compared to the £17 million budget being injected by Virgin between 2010 and 2014, tells of the rise of professionalism in athletics and the importance of funding.
1981-1983 – Gillette
From the outset in 1981 it was clear that funding for the London Marathon would have to come from the private sector, and sports agencies were asked to find the race a sponsor. West Nally came up with Gillette who funded the race for the first three years. In 1981 they paid £75,000 to be the title sponsor, and delighted with the increased exposure, continued to sponsor the race for another 2 years.
The stakes were raised in 1982 when a cataclysmic decision was reached by the sport’s governing body, the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), to allow payments to athletes. In one stroke the era of amateur athletics came to an end. From now on the elite would expect to be paid, and marathons the world over would vie for their services. Inflation was on the cards and robust sponsorship would be vital.
1984-1988 – Mars
Following the 1983 London Marathon, a two year contract was signed with Mars for £150,000, index-linked, which rose to £217,000 by 1985. For 1986 that figure rose to £350,000. Professionalism had well and truly taken hold.
1989-1992 – ADT
Six companies presented their proposals to the London Marathon board, hoping to become the new sponsor in 1989. ADT, led by Michael Ashcroft, was the winner. Although the total sponsorship figure was never disclosed, ADT’s financial support played an instrumental role in the London Marathon being selected by the IAAF to host the prestigious World Marathon Cup in 1991.
1993-1995 – NutraSweet
By the time ADT’s sponsorship came to an end in 1992, the London Marathon was firmly established as one of the world’s leading marathons. Interest in sponsoring the event was greater than ever and NutraSweet were selected as the new sponsor. The partnership between NutraSweet and the London Marathon was a strong and professional one, establishing new levels of excellence in both the organisation of the race, and the behind-the-scenes administration. As a result of this successful partnership, the race witnessed record entry figures and the extension of the course to a spectacular new finish - The Mall, with Buckingham Palace as the backdrop.
1996-2009 – Flora
The choice of Flora for sponsor in 1996 proved to be a smart move, and the longest sponsorship period in the London Marathon’s history began, lasting 14 years in total. The London Marathon matured a lot during this period, and the race saw the rise of lots of new initiatives - most importantly the increased focus on charity fundraising.
During Flora’s sponsorship, runners raised hundreds of millions of pounds for good causes, and the event became the largest annual fundraising event in the world. 2006 also saw the London Marathon forming the World Marathon Majors group along with the Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York Marathons.
2010-Present – Virgin Money
Virgin Money were so inspired by the London Marathon's commitment to raising money for charity that they wanted to get involved and lend their financial expertise in an ambition to help the runners raise £250 million in five years.
Virgin Money's commitment to this pledge got off to a great start with the launch of their not-for-profit fundraising website Virgin Money Giving. Virgin Money Giving has improved the way donations and Gift Aid is collected online so that more money goes directly to where it's needed most.
Since the beginning of Virgin Money's sponsorship of the London Marathon in 2010 we have broken the fundraising record each year.