Brands Are Flocking to the Star Wars Nerd Procession

The Course of the Force attracts big sponsors

If you’re driving down the Pacific Coast Highway this summer, and you see a cadre of Sand People or a lightsaber-wielding Boba Fett, don’t be alarmed. The Course of the Force, a Star Wars-themed Olympic-styled relay, will have begun.

Initiated last year by Nerdist Industries and endorsed by George Lucas himself, Course of the Force is the equivalent of a geek ultramarathon. This year, the event is even bigger, as participants will make their way July 9 to 16 from Skywalker Ranch through San Francisco, Los Angeles and finally to Comic-Con San Diego.

And this time around, the Force is strong with sponsors, including Qualcomm, State Farm, Ford, Cinemark, RealD, Xbox, Hasbro, Angry Birds and Otter Pops. In addition, some proceeds from each stop on the race will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Revenue has increased fivefold versus last year, officials claim.

Besides the actual live event, Course of the Force will entail seven videos by Broadway Video (Saturday Night Live) featuring Nerdist talent like Chris Hardwick getting dressed in Star Wars garb as he prepares for the race (the first clip went on last week). In addition, Nerdist CEO Peter Levin said that 40 to 60 videos of race footage will be produced throughout the race (last year the company tried streaming the race in full).

Levin said Course of the Force helps make Comic-Con accessible to more fans and marketers. “There are lots of brands that talk about how to rise above the noise at Comic-Con,” said Levin, who was inspired by his own Olympic torch run prior to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. “Each year, it’s like there are three winners, and everybody else is a loser. And part of the problem with Comic-Con is that this fan base is the biggest consuming community out there, but at the end of the day, only 150,000 people get to go to the show. This gives fans all these other touchpoints.”

Nerdist has partnered with sports marketing agency Octagon to produce and sell the event. “I got an email from Peter last year with all these goofy diagrams,” recalled Andy Bush, Octagon’s svp of global events. “And when I got done laughing, I said, ‘This makes sense.’” It was easier to focus on selling the event to brands this time around, said Bush, since most of the local logistical hurdles had been cleared. For example, Qualcomm is powering the Course app and will be featured in two of the videos.

“We are trying to reach tech geeks, and there is total synergy with this audience,” said Liya Sharif, Qualcomm’s senior director, marketing and global communications.