River Run loses Bank of America as sponsor; Kansas Health Foundation enters

12/29/2011 5:00 AM

12/30/2011 6:16 AM

Bank of America is ending its more than 30-year association with a marquee Wichita River Festival event, the River Run.

A bank spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that the bank won’t be the named sponsor of the 10K and two-mile run that draws thousand of participants annually and is held on the first Saturday of the nine-day community festival.

The Kansas Health Foundation will assume sponsorship of the run, that organization’s spokesman said. Chris Power, vice president of communications, said the health foundation will spend $30,000 to sponsor the 2012 River Run and Tot Trot.

“The foundation plans for this to be a long-term partnership with annual renewals,” he said.

Bank of America spokeswoman Diane Wagner did not say why the bank was dropping the sponsorship.

The bank, which has its headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., has recently initiated a series of cost-cutting moves, including shuttering hundreds of branches nationally. In September the bank announced it would eliminate more than 30,000 jobs over the next few years.

“We remain committed to the Wichita market and as our funding priorities as a company change, we will continue our support by redirecting our resources to other events of the Wichita Festivals Inc.,” Wagner said in a statement e-mailed to The Eagle. “We take pride in being active and involved members of the Wichita community through both our charitable giving, sponsorships and volunteer activities.”

River Run race director Clark Ensz said Bank of America and its predecessors — Boatmen’s Bank, NationsBank and Bank IV — have been a sponsor of the race since 1980. Ensz said he approached what was then Fourth National Bank about being the sponsor of the River Run 32 years ago.

“When the bank made that commitment in 1980 they really did it right,” Ensz said. “They promoted it very heavily. It was a big risk that the bank took to put so many resources behind it because there was no history behind it to say this would really work.”

Janet Wright, Wichita Festivals CEO, said the bank’s level of involvement initially was to the point that it organized the race and marketed it. All Wichita Festivals did was oversee the operations of the event on the day of the run.

But Wright said Wichita Festivals has gradually taken over most of the River Run’s operations in the past 10 to 15 years.

She said she was grateful to the Health Foundation for agreeing to be the run’s new sponsor. She said when the bank told her it was ending its sponsorship, the foundation was the first organization Wichita Festivals turned to.

“I think it’s a great partnership,” Wright said.

Ensz said he was not surprised that Bank of America let its sponsorship go. He is surprised that the bank continued to support it for as long as it did.

“It was actually a compliment to the event and people working on it that Bank of America stayed with it as along as they did,” Ensz said.

Fourth National Bank changed its name to Bank IV in the early 1990s and a few years later was acquired by St. Louis-based Boatmen’s Bank, which was acquired by NationsBank shortly after the Bank IV acquisition. Then, NationsBank acquired Bank of America and kept the name.

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