Marquette, Blue & Gold Ventures to help operate Milwaukee Marathon

Students learning about business management

Runners line up for the PNC Milwaukee Running Festival.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:10 pm

Students in Marquette’s Student-Run Business Program will help operate the Milwaukee Marathon in April.

Runners line up for the PNC Milwaukee Running Festival (the former name of the race) in 2015.

The partnership came about because Mike Zimmerman, chief executive officer of ROC Ventures, was an early supporter of the SRB program, which was formed about a year ago. In August, Zimmerman sold a majority stake in the Milwaukee Marathon to Boston-based race production company Rugged Races LLC.

“It seemed like a natural platform for Marquette students given the seasonal nature of the business,” Zimmerman said. “When Rugged Races acquired controlling interest, it was then up to the two parties to further vet the above hypothesis. I’m glad this was able to work for all parties.”

“Rugged Races has been a big supporter of us designing the marathon in a way where the students are able to operate large portions of it and over time, the goal would be to make it completely student-run,” said Owen Raisch, associate director of the SRB Program.

About 15 students will be involved in managing the event through 1881 Event Productions, an event management company housed under nonprofit holding company Blue & Gold Ventures Inc. as part of the SRB Program, Raisch said.

For 2019, the race timing was moved from fall to spring, and the course will start and end at the new Fiserv Forum. The race will be held April 6, and about 5,000 runners are expected for both the full marathon and shorter courses.

1881 expects to have between 300 and 400 students volunteering on race day, doing everything from check-in to water stations to handing out medals, said Kat Christian, president and founder of 1881. There will be about 1,000 total volunteers.

Christian said she’s been able to apply her classroom learning to helping manage the event.

“I would say that time management is probably the largest skill that I’ve had to adopt since becoming involved, because I am a student and I’m taking 17 credits, in addition to trying to help with the race as best as possible,” she said.

The Milwaukee Marathon has faced some challenges over the past two instances when the route wasn’t the right length. In 2016, some runners ended up running more than 26.2 miles due to a routing error. In 2017, the course ended up being eight-tenths of a mile short of the certified marathon distance. Rugged Races produces 90 events, including its signature Rugged Maniac obstacle course event, around the country annually.

“We wanted the marathon to continue but we needed proven operators like Rugged Races and the community to buy in to it,” Zimmerman said. “Marquette students will be playing a major role in achieving the community support and ‘return on community’ value proposition we all envision for this event.”

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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