The San Francisco Marathon
Reclaiming and renewing the global identity of a much-loved sporting event
Public events like city marathons may have significant renown, but they often have small budgets. Race organisers use the prestige of these occasions, and the media coverage they attract, to appeal to big-name sponsors.
Jumping Fences, an event company that organises The San Francisco Marathon, had a three-year sponsorship deal with a consumer products company, requiring them to change the race’s logo to reflect the sponsor’s branding guidelines. When the three years were up, they needed to start from scratch – and to overcome the fact the race had developed such a strong association with the previous sponsor.
Our design team at Astro Studios, part of PA Consulting, which includes avid runners, worked with The San Francisco Marathon to develop a strong visual identity to attract sponsors and participants.
- Developed a powerful visual identity for a much-loved city marathon
- Used imagery from the city and bay in the logo design to create an iconic look
- Provided branding guidelines race organisers can use with sponsors in the future
- Created a branding toolkit for using the race logo across various channels
Creating a logo evoking an instantly recognisable cityscape
The San Francisco Marathon is the only marathon run in the city and has been held annually since 1977. ESPN has named it one of the top 26.2 milers in the world, saying it is “as good as it gets for views.”The San Francisco Marathon team was initially concerned about rebranding but recognised the problems with having its identity bound up with a past sponsor and how that could harm future fundraising efforts. So, they gave the green light for this work.The San Francisco Marathon brand includes the 26.2 race event, two half-marathons, an ultra-marathon and a 5K event, all held on the same day.
We brought our unique brand of research, identity development, branding and graphic design expertise to the project. We began by researching the visual identity of other major race events. Then we analysed the history and core values of The San Francisco Marathon, looking for ideas and imagery that were ownable. Participants typically run over the Golden Gate Bridge, past the city’s fabled waterfront, and down Vermont Street, which is even more crooked than the city’s more-famous Lombard Street.
A visual identity uses colours, forms, type, and design to bring a brand’s values and differentiators to life. While we initially took an abstract approach, we settled on creating a visual identity that would use the city’s landmarks to be instantly recognisable and highly memorable. We encouraged The San Francisco Marathon leadership team to show the preliminary designs to some of their elite runners for feedback, which was positive.
The final visual identity includes orange elements that clearly represent the Golden Gate Bridge’s soaring towers. Undulating lines of blue signify the bay and the city’s sweeping streets. A patch of green evokes the city’s many parks. The typeface is clean and modern, to signify the race will be accessible to all for many generations to come.
We also developed a branding toolkit, including a visual design language and branding guidelines that will help keep their brand identity intact when they eventually find a new sponsor.
Using a new identity through turbulent times
As The San Francisco Marathon began to roll out its new identity, COVID-19 struck. As a result, 2020 events were purely virtual, with race organisers encouraging participants to run wherever they were living. Participants were still able to sign up and get tee shirts, medals, and other items with the new identity, while sharing their successes on the race’s digital channels. The San Francisco Marathon’s visual identity appears in Google searches, on social channels, the organisation’s website and more, creating a cohesive look and feel for race events that attract prospective and current participants and encourage them to learn more. The event as well as its new identity has helped create community during a turbulent and uncertain time.
In 2021, the race was back to normal. More than 25,000 participants ran the event in person, bringing back the energy and dynamism for which the race is known. As participants plan for, run and remember The San Francisco Marathon, the race’s visual identity serves as an important signifier.