The “classic no brainer.” That’s what VP–running for New Balance North America Tom Carleo calls the opportunity to join forces with Meb Keflezighi, one of the most accomplished and visible American distance runners of the 21st century.

In April, New Balance announced it had signed “Marathon Meb” to its athlete roster. Though the 49-year-old Keflezighi retired from competitive racing in 2017, he remains a visible – and rather beloved – force in the sport through his assorted speaking, coaching and philanthropic activities. 

“Meb fits in with our culture and values at New Balance,” Carleo says. “He’s the pied piper for what we’re trying to do in running and the community.” 

The Anatomy Of A Deal

Keflezighi spent the previous dozen years with Skechers, helping to legitimize the California-based brand in the running space. With the recent expiration of that deal, however, Keflezighi and his long-time agent and younger brother, Hawi Keflezighi, explored sponsorship opportunities with at least five other footwear players.

New Balance quickly emerged a top candidate given its long-term involvement in running and its status as the official footwear and apparel partner of the New York City Marathon. Keflezighi holds strong ties to the New York Road Runners (NYRR) and, by extension, the city’s marathon, where he is a three-time podium finisher. Keflezighi has served as an NYRR Team for Kids ambassador and co-hosted the NYRR’s Set the Pace podcast upon its launch last year.

Keflezighi, who favors long-term relationships with his sponsors, insists on partnerships that go “beyond product.” In New Balance, he recognized an earnest commitment to promoting the sport. 

“I enjoy brands that share my values and New Balance understands the magnitude of what running does,” says Keflezighi, who also maintains long-term partnerships with other run specialty-oriented brands such as UCAN and CEP Compression.

Leadership at Boston-based New Balance, meanwhile, saw something special in Keflezighi, too: a multi-dimensional force whose energy resonates with 15-year-old high school distance runners as well as 70-year-old marathoners and whose personal story from Eritrean refugee to NCAA champion to Olympic medalist inspires.

“Meb’s elasticity in the running community is really amazing,” Carleo tells Running Insight. “When you’re around Meb, it’s not just about his success in running, but how he got there and how he respects that process.”

The Keflezighi-New Balance marriage took flight days before the Boston Marathon on April 15, where Keflezighi laced up New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elites in his return to the marathon after a six-year hiatus. Keflezighi raced from Hopkinton to Boylston Street to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his memorable 2014 triumph.

“New Balance is in running for the long haul and I believe we can promote the greatness of the sport together,” Keflezighi says, adding that New Balance has pledged support to the MEB Foundation and Keflezighi’s efforts to tout health and fitness, particularly at the grassroots level. “I love running and want to be involved in the sport and inspiring people to be the best version of themselves. That’s a philosophy New Balance and I share.”

Carleo says Keflezighi will be an extension of New Balance marketing. He sees Keflezighi attending key races and retailer events and contributing to the brand’s broader work to champion running and its profound benefits. 

Partners With A Purpose

As New Balance has made the intentional decision not to invest in the front of the global pack at major races, Carleo says the brand continues seeking ways to create “goosebump moments” elsewhere at signature events. Meb showed his ability to deliver just that on the Sunday before the Boston Marathon when hundreds packed New Balance headquarters for a live recording of the Ali on the Run Show with Keflezighi as the distinguished guest.

“He activates things for us that bring an effective, relevant story to the masses,” Carleo says of Keflezighi, adding that his retirement from competitive racing affords him greater flexibility to be a brand ambassador.

And not surprisingly, Meb will deliver product feedback to the New Balance footwear team as well.

“He has a lot of miles on that body, so we respect his point of view,” Carleo says.

With New Balance coming off a record-breaking 2023 and focused on gaining market share, Carleo believes Keflezighi can help elevate the brand, particularly given his hefty following among marathoners and strong ties to the West Coast. 

“We want our buzz to reach further in running and Meb is a piece of that puzzle,” Carleo says.