Making The Most Of Haile Gebrselassie’s Legend

By Yomi Kazeem, Creative Director Elev8 Sports

In the 1980s, young Haile Gebrselassie ran a distance of 10 kilometres to school and back every day. What started as a necessary regimen quickly turned into an intriguing talent in no time as Haile’s stamina and quiet efficiency was clearly above contemporary levels. Years on, Haile’s talent and legend is all but confirmed as a retinue of medals from the Olympics, The World Championships in Athletics and the IAAF World Indoor Championships adorn his medal shelf.

In 2012, he was memorably and deservedly selected to carry in the Olympic Flag for the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics to confirm his global iconic status. For Ethiopia, Haile Gebrselassie has been a great son but the relationship will not end there as forces are working to leverage smartly on Gebrselassie’s legend by creating a vibrant synergy between Gebrselessie’s legend and Ethiopian tourism, they call it the ‘Haile Gebrselassie Marathon and Tour’.

At first glance, it is not so special but a closer inquest reveals the economic undertones which, when taken into consideration, play a bigger role in revenue generation. The Marathon and Tour event will be held in the last quarter of 2013 (October 9 to 29) and will take place in Hawassa, Ethiopia. The brains behind the event leave no doubt that it will be a one-of-a-kind experience. Tim Murphy, one of the world’s most influential race directors in the last 20 years; Ermias Ayele , the ‘nuts and bolts’ of over a dozen races per year including the United Nations powered Peace Run in conflict-ridden Liberia; Habtemaryam Fentaw, a renowned tourist expert and Toni Reavis, with a CV that boasts of 30 years of racing coverage and a 2009 Inductee into the Racing USA Hall of Champions, Toni is hailed as ‘the voice of racing in America; they all make up a part of a team of proven international experts who are tasked with and are capable of delivering a spectacle. For these guys, the race is not just a marathon, it is a business product that achieves a fine blend of Haile Gebrselassie’s legend, Ethiopia’s famous running terrain and a lucrative window of unleashing immense tourist potential in the region.

As far numbers go, there are various unique races which have the capacity to entail about 1200 participants. Prices for these races range from $1,150 for participants who are strictly interested in racing but not touring. For racing cum tourist packages though, the price is significantly higher. A 12 day long stay is pegged at $3,650, 10 day stays vary between $3,550 and $3,250 while the lowest prices are for 6 day stays and are priced at a cool $1,850. The prolonged stays include running/races but have a huge dose of tourism as the major and unique selling point. Millions of dollars could potentially be made from selling such packaged tour and race bouquets. Another major source of income for the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon and Tour will be sponsorship and brand association. For brands, it is a no-brainer. A marathon in the home of marathons led by a legendary marathoner is bound to be an event worth their while. Expect some of the world’s most famous brands to jump in bed with Gebrselassie when the time is right.

And then there is tourism.

For many North Americans, for whom hiking is a religious hobby, and Europeans, the lure to Ethiopia is in its terrain and landscape. For others who have archaeological interests, several geographical discoveries of ancient origins in Ethiopia could do the magic. The wildlife and safari movement is also a huge slice of Ethiopia’s general tourism package and of course, lest it is forgotten, Ethiopia is home to 9 United Nations World Heritage sites.

The influx of foreigners who want to partake in the sporting activities or those who simply want to witness, first-hand, the genius of Haile Gebrselassie will contribute handsomely to Ethiopia’s increasing profile as tourist destination. One suspects that while this may be the first Haile Gebrselassie Marathon and Tour, it will not be last. For Ethiopia, Haile Gebrselassie has been a blessing, to the sport in which he competed, he has been a hallmark of greatness- usually the case if you set 26 World Records and leveraging on Haile Gebrselassie’s name and abilities positively is a fantastic way of using what you have to get what you want.