Catch up with longtime industry vendor MarathonFoto and learn how they are gearing up for running’s next chapter
By Leah Etling
As a pioneering service provider in the running industry, MarathonFoto is known far and wide as the preeminent name in race photography.
For nearly four decades and over 3,000 races, the company has earned its spot as a respected and reliable partner for events of all sizes, a positive promotional force for their sponsors, and producer of lifelong memories for runners.
“The last four decades have been very good to us,” says Brad Kroll, MarathonFoto President, who has been with the company since 1998. “Our service has helped inspire runners to continue their journey, culminating in crossing the finish line at races of all distances. We help capture those accomplishments of their personal excellence at a moment which is preserved as a lifetime memory.”
We had the chance to hear directly from Kroll and David Lavallee about the latest innovations at Gameface Media Inc., which acquired MarathonFoto in late 2019. Lavallee is the Co-Founder and CEO of Gameface Media, as well as the creative force behind the popular Six Minute Mile runner newsletter.
“We grew from zero subscribers in August 2019 to more than 650,000 subscribers now,” shares Lavallee. “That growth has mainly been through word of mouth as well as some advertising and promotions on our MarathonFoto site. We try hard to keep the information serious but presented in a fun way that is never stuffy or egotistical.”
In a similar vein, Kroll shares that while a race photo may be just a photographic memory to some, it can also have far greater impact and reach.
“By commemorating these important accomplishments in athlete’s lives, we hope to inspire their friends, family, and peers to pursue a physically active lifestyle. I believe the inspiration we have provided to the runners has helped build and propel the sport,” he said.
Read on for more insight from Brad Kroll and David Lavallee about the future of race photography and its relationship with events.
RDM: What is the current business focus for MarathonFoto?
Brad: The focus of MarathonFoto has always been to enhance the athlete experience at some of the highest quality endurance events in the world. The images we capture along the course and at the finish line represent the culmination of months and sometimes years of training and dedication. We offer athletes a way to celebrate those achievements and preserve them for years to come. Equally important is our aim to support and sponsor our event partners and align with their objectives as well as their sponsors’ objectives. Our partnership approach helps these long-term relationships to constantly grow and evolve.
RDM: What innovative areas are you exploring in the year ahead?
Brad: For athletes, this year we released a new product that incorporates video footage of runners in the race with a dynamic course map that weaves those videos into specific locations from the race. It has been a huge hit with the athletes so far and we hope to roll it out to more and more races over the next year. We have also been offering images that are more social media friendly thanks to a new automated photo tagging solution. Since we no longer have to identify bibs manually, we can take wider shots that include iconic backdrops like the Citgo sign in Boston or the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York. We are still delivering the high standard of excellence by capturing the iconic images that athletes have come to expect from us throughout the course. Another recent accomplishment is delivering athlete’s images immediately after they cross the finish line via our Rapid Image Delivery process. I can personally attest that this real-time delivery represents a big evolution, because I have been around since the days when we sent out photo proofs in the mail.
For our race partners, there are many ways that we have improved how we support them and their sponsors. Thanks to new technology, we can now provide race directors with brand data, detailing which shoes and apparel the runners wore on the course. This helps race directors to support and strengthen brand sponsorship of events by giving detailed information on how products were used by runners. Another way we are supporting our race partners and their sponsors is by allowing them to place ads in our Six Minute Mile newsletter which reaches more than 650,000 runners twice each week. These ads and sponsored posts can drive up registration for events and provide valuable sponsor brand recognition.
RDM: The Six Minute Mile is known as an enterprising player in the endurance sports media that delivers news, tips and motivation to runners. How would you add to that description?
David: This has been a true passion project for me over the past two and a half years. I was a nerdy sports editor of my
high school and college newspapers who ran the Boston Marathon during my senior year in college. I have been hooked on running ever since, so Six Minute Mile has given me a way to marry these two interests. I frankly never expected it to be as well-received as it has been by runners and other fitness enthusiasts.
The next step in our evolution will be to create more of a community among our runners. We absolutely love the feedback we get from readers shooting us an email or posting a comment on social media. Often these nuggets turn into new features and stories. To help enhance two-way communication between Six Minute Mile and our readers, we are planning new features such as a race directory and an injury database where runners can learn from other runners about important issues.
RDM: From where you sit, are runners still invested in photos of themselves running?
Brad: Runners are invested in the images we capture more than ever before, both digital and prints. We have experienced the exact opposite and are seeing record levels of engagement and purchases of our race photos. Social media has created new opportunities for runners to share these images with friends and family. Our race photos are also often used to promote the charitable causes that provided a bib to runners and raise additional contributions post-race. While digital images comprise most of our sales, our print products and plaques will always serve as a terrific gift for those looking to celebrate their loved one’s achievement. Whether completing a 5K for the first time or running a marathon for the twentieth time, that race day feeling is something you will always want to preserve. Runners can share their achievements on social media platforms, but that is more fleeting than a physical photo display. In general, runners have become more sophisticated about what they want. They expect higher quality images than we offered 20 years ago. As photographers and technology providers, we love the challenge of meeting these higher standards.
As a sidenote, in 2020 when no races were taking place in person, we took the idea of personal legacy a giant step forward by uploading more than 250,000,000 old images into the cloud so runners could find photos of themselves in action from many years ago. You can find them on MarathonFoto.com using “Search Archival Events” in the top menu bar.
RDM: What factors should events be considering as they make photography decisions in the next couple of years?
Brad: Event organizers should look for a true, year-round, partner that is supporting them, their sponsors and the athlete. By partner, I mean someone who is looking to take the athlete experience to the next level. We pride ourselves on collaborating with race organizers and fully integrating their goals. Since every course is unique, we take a curated approach so that we can highlight the best aspects of the runner’s journey. Organizing a race with tens of thousands of athletes and even more spectators is a major undertaking. We assure our race partners that we will handle the photo and video operations so they can cross one major item off their to-do list and focus on what they do best. We’re a photography company that makes decisions based on decades of data. That data drives pricing and product decisions along with photographer location assignments. Our decisions are made on data that we have on every race and every runner demographic. We also use the input and feedback that we receive from participants as well as our Six Minute Mile subscribers. Modern race photography companies need to do more than just take pictures. By using the digital reach of Six Minute Mile, we can also help race clients raise awareness when registration opens and enlighten runners about expo, charity and product opportunities.
RDM: Anything else you would like to add?
Brad: We are humbled by the support that we have received in this industry over the last four decades. We have also tried to give back and support the race community in various ways and will continue to provide that support to help events develop and grow. We have a strong, diverse, international team that has years of experience in endurance photography. As I mentioned before, all our decisions are based on years’ worth of data and participant feedback. Endurance photography/videography is something we are truly passionate about and we can’t imagine ever doing anything else.
Whether it’s a local 5k with hundreds of runners or a major marathon, we go into every event with the same enthusiasm and hold ourselves to the same high standards that we have upheld for decades. Over the years our clients have become like family, and we are grateful for the relationships we have been able to build. As endurance sports get more popular, we can’t wait to continue making new friendships and capturing these special moments in athletes’ lives.