Study finds social impacts of Flying Pig Marathon, connections to Boston

For immediate release…
Monday – April 29, 2013

- Multi-year research conducted by professors at Northern Kentucky University and Xavier University has found that Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon has had positive influences on the city’s social assets, including image, local pride, social networks and support of social causes. Their findings have new relevance and meaning in light of the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Dr. Julie Cencula Olberding, associate professor and director of NKU’s Master of Public Administration program, collaborated on the research with her husband Dr. Douglas Olberding, chair of the Sport Studies Department at Xavier University. They collected and analyzed data from surveys of local participants in 2002, local and nonlocal participants in 2008 and volunteers in 2012. Some of the key findings from their article, which will be published in the International Journal of Hospitality and Event Management, include:

  • Responses on both participant surveys and volunteer surveys indicate the Flying Pig Marathon has had a very positive impact their perceptions of downtown Cincinnati. An example of a qualitative statement supporting these findings is: “I realized how beautiful Cincinnati really is and how it is taken for granted. I visited several neighbor[hoods] that I would never have gone to if I had not ran the Flying Pig Marathon. I always thought some areas were dangerous, but I found out otherwise…The areas are quite nice and they are in the process of being renovated and improved.

  • Local participants and volunteers from the Greater Cincinnati area also indicated the Flying Pig had a strong positive impact on their local pride – i.e., their own sense of pride about living in the region (internal component) and their assessment of visitors’ perceptions of Cincinnati (external component).

  • Volunteer survey results indicated that they believed the Flying Pig had a positive impact on social networks. The article describes how a special event like the Flying Pig Marathon involves interaction and communication among runners, walkers, organizers and volunteers. These activities tend to build community and a sense of solidarity, or the idea that “we’re all in this together.”

  • In terms of support of social causes, about $9 million has been raised for more than 100 nonprofit organizations through the Flying Pig Marathon since its inception in 1999. These include national organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Association as well as local organizations such as the Cincinnati Museum Center, Hospice of the Bluegrass, a few branches of the YMCA, various Boy Scout troops and a number of elementary and high schools.

Dr. Julie Olberding said that, like much of the nation, she was shocked and saddened by the bombings and her initial thoughts were on the needs of the city and its people. But after about a week, she said, she began to realize that the framework for her Flying Pig study is relevant to the bombings and to the reaction of Bostonians to them.

“In terms of city image, our article discusses the importance of leveraging a marathon or special event by directly linking its name to the host city, like the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon and the Boston Marathon,” Dr. Julie Olberding said. “After the bombings in Boston, we saw an intense connection between the marathon and the city in terms of names, images and colors in billboards, social media and other places. The event and the city became a very unified image with the blue and gold unicorn logo.”

Other observations from this tragedy struck a chord, such as the strong local pride and sense of solidarity. “After the bombings, some residents and former residents changed their Facebook cover page to a big ‘617,’ which is the main area code in the city,” said Dr. Olberding. Also, there was the creation and support of social causes to help people affected by the bombings, particularly The One Fund Boston, which has raised more than $25 million to date.

But the Olberdings initiated their study long before the Boston Marathon. Actually, it goes back to April 2001, when two days of civil unrest or riots broke out in Cincinnati after a white police officer shot and killed a 19-year-old black man. The immediate damage to buildings and other property was estimated at $3.6 million and the longer-term damage of a national boycott was estimated to be $10 million in convention and entertainment revenue.

In 2002, the Flying Pig organizers considered options for re-routing the course, ultimately deciding that it should go through the heart of the city so that participants would experience its architecture and people first-hand as a way to counter the negative national news stories and photos. “With hindsight, it appears that Flying Pig organizers tried to leverage the event so that it would have a positive impact on participants’ perceptions of the city of Cincinnati – that is, its image – as well as positive impacts on other social assets of the city,” according to the Olberdings’ journal article.

The researchers worked with Flying Pig organizers to include items on the 2002 survey of local participants about city image. Then they asked to add questions about local pride to the 2008 survey of local and nonlocal participants. Finally, in 2012, they conducted a survey of Flying Pig volunteers – the first one in the event’s 14-year history – that included items about city image, local pride and social networks. More than a quarter of the 4,000 volunteers responded to the survey.

The Flying Pig’s positive social impacts are in addition to its positive economic impacts, which have been documented by other studies over the years. Studies by Dr. Doug Olberding and Dr. Steve Cobb, an associate professor of economics at Xavier, have conservatively estimated the economic impact of the event to be about $9 million to $10 million per year.

These social and economic benefits are significant in light of the relatively low costs to the City of Cincinnati to support the Flying Pig Marathon. The city pays about $100,000 per year, which is used primarily for police and EMS services.

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