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UTMB’s New Partnership with Hoka Is Another Push Towards Mainstream Domination

The ultrarunning event giant has doubled down on its deal with the major shoe brand as it faces increased scrutiny from the trail community

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For one week every year, Chamonix, France, becomes the epicenter of trail running, playing host to one of the biggest trail racing events in the world: Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB).

The event, however, hasn’t been without its highs and lows. Over the last year, critics from within the trail community have accused the brand of becoming too commercialized, which has detracted from the spirit of the sport and the core values of the ultra scene.

In another push towards mainstream domination, UTMB has now announced an increased partnership with shoe giant Hoka. Although no financial figure is available, Hoka has provided UTMB with enough support to be labeled as a title sponsor.

UTMB’s New Partnership with Hoka Is Another Push Towards Mainstream Domination 1
Hoka President Robin Green | Photo Credit: Hoka

Hoka’s new president, Robin Green, said to RUN (Outside) in a recent interview: “This is really an opportunity for us to further cement a longer-term partnership with UTMB.” 

“Hoka started in and around Chamonix like UTMB, so the partnership and the marriage, if you will, between Hoka and UMTB makes perfect sense. As we look to the future of Hoka, we believe we have a huge opportunity to continue to be a part of the trail community, to give back to the trail community, and further establish a dominant position in this space. We’ve had tremendous success over the last couple years, and I think we both want to grow the trail community in a way that leaves a really positive sentiment across the world.”

Hoka was founded by two former Salomon employees in France back in 2009. Initially, it was seen as a niche ultrarunning shoe, with its then unusual “maximalist” midsole in order to ease the damage done on long trail runs, especially down steep declines.

But Hoka was sold to U.S. apparel conglomerate Deckers Brands in 2013, and has since grown to be one of the largest and most dominant running shoe corporations in the world.

Green was hired by Hoka in February, making the switch from a 17-year career as a Nike executive. According to a press release, Green was brought in to deliver “continued growth at Hoka, expanding on consumer and athlete connection and accelerating the product innovation pipeline.”

The announcement came just a week after Deckers reported its most profitable quarter in history, led by Hoka’s 21.9 percent increase in sales over that time period.

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UTMB Continues To Profit Off The Growth Of Ultrarunning

Data from the International Association of Ultrarunners has shown an increase in participation in and the sheer number of ultrarunning events by nearly 350 percent over the last 10 years and nearly 1,700 percent over the last 20 years.

There’s no doubt that commercialization has helped push the sport forward, and it is necessary, to a degree, to help it continue moving forward. However, for a sport that was born from grassroots events and independent races, critics argue that UTMB hasn’t struck the right balance and is killing the spirit of ultrarunning.

This isn’t the first major brand partnership that UTMB has been scrutinized for.

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In 2021, when UTMB partnered with Ironman, the world’s biggest name in triathlon, accomplished trail runner John Kelly spoke to Triathlon Maganize about the impacts this partnership had on the sport.

“Monopolization of events through exclusive qualifiers to the ‘premier’ race, leading to sky-high entry fees & closure of independent races, complete disregard for host sites, athlete experience & safety, or anything in the way of money, different cultures/goals…”

UTMB began in 2003 when French event organizers Catherine and Michel Poletti introduced it as a standalone 171-kilometer (106-mile) race around the Mont-Blanc massif. Over time, it evolved from a single event into a multifaceted festival of races held in Chamonix, France. 

By 2022, UTMB had further expanded its reach, encompassing a global series comprising 42 UTMB World Series races. Among these, the original UTMB, along with its associated OCC 50K and CCC 100K races, has emerged as the championship event for ultra-distance trail running.

During the preceding three years, Hoka served as the official footwear and apparel sponsor of UTMB. 

However, in July of last year, Romanian automotive manufacturer Dacia stepped in as the title sponsor of both UTMB and the UMTB World Series for a three-year term. Despite Hoka’s increased support and involvement, it is anticipated that Dacia will maintain its status as a top sponsor throughout 2024.

a marathon couple of men resting because tired walking

What We Know About The New Partnership

Since 2017, Hoka has positioned itself as a brand supporting diversity and inclusivity through carefully curated marketing strategies, the composition of its ambassador teams, engagement with influential figures, and advocacy for key social causes. 

The brand has continuously tried to strike a delicate balance between expansion and the preservation of the sport’s grassroots essence. This approach could potentially benefit UTMB in the future.

Critics have highlighted areas where UTMB could enhance its role as a trailblazer in promoting diversity and gender inclusion in ultrarunning.

This includes fostering a more symbiotic and transparent relationship with elite athletes (we haven’t forgotten about that Kilian Jornet email…) and avoiding the overshadowing of grassroots trail running culture in pursuit of growth (Whistler controversy ring a bell?).

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Moreover, UTMB’s collaboration with Ironman since 2021 in hosting the UTMB World Series has faced criticism, particularly from dissenters in the North American market. Given Hoka’s longstanding sponsorship of the Ironman World Championships, they’re hoping the increased support of UTMB could potentially foster greater coherence within the ultrarunning community.

“I think both Hoka and UTMB are at a little bit of an inflection point,” Green said. “I think the power of the two brands coming together is around establishing a clear value system based on our interest in giving back to the community. With Hoka’s values around inclusivity, giving back to the community, and representation—both from a BIPOC and a gender perspective—we can really help to guide and influence UTMB on that end as well as with our deep connection to community and athletes.”

The partnership between UTMB and Hoka is set through 2028, during which time the brand will be a title sponsor for the UTMB World Series, UTMB World Series Majors, and the UTMB World Finals.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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