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John Hancock layoffs prompt BAA to take over managing elite athletes for Boston Marathon

Lawrence Cherono (left) won the 2019 Boston Marathon, finishing just ahead of Lelisa Desisa.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

A round of layoffs at John Hancock on Tuesday has led the financial firm to hand over the responsibility of managing the elite athlete field at the Boston Marathon to the event’s organizer, the Boston Athletic Association.

The arrangement was unorthodox to begin with, as most major marathon organizers — not their sponsors — are responsible for all the logistics and details involved with recruiting top marathoners to a race.

Tom Grilk, chief executive officer of the BAA, said John Hancock “did the BAA a series of great favors” when it infused money and assumed assorted responsibilities when it began sponsoring the race in the mid-1980s.


“We now have a more robust organization that can do more, and it makes sense to connect those activities that are closest together,” Grilk said Wednesday morning. “Since we deal with everything having to do with all the other athletes, it just made sense to combine all of that in one set of hands, ours.”

Approximately 160 John Hancock employees were let go Tuesday. Among them was Mary Kate Shea, the longtime event liaison for runners at the company.

Grilk said he hopes Shea will be able to maintain the same responsibilities working with the BAA.

“We’ve all felt like colleagues for a long time, just as we feel we are with John Hancock, and I expect we’ll be able to work a smooth transition,” said Grilk.

The BAA also will take over credentialing responsibilities for workers, volunteers, visitors, guests, and media from John Hancock, said Grilk.

“John Hancock continues to be the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon and we are proud to partner with the BAA to work toward a 2021 Boston Marathon this fall so we can collectively share what is great about this race for our city,” said Anne McNally, head of communications at John Hancock.


The elite men break from the start of the 123rd Boston Marathon in 2019.Stew Milne/Associated Press

“We have worked with the BAA to move to a more traditional sponsorship model, whereby the race organizer manages the professional athlete field.”

If the pandemic eases enough for Massachusetts to lift its current restrictions on road races, the 125th running of the marathon will take place Oct. 11. The event was canceled for the first time last year because of the pandemic.

The race, from Hopkinton to the Back Bay, finishes on Boylston Street, in the shadow of the John Hancock skyscraper.

John Hancock’s other major sports sponsorship is with the Red Sox, with the iconic “John Hancock” signature perched atop the center-field videoboard at Fenway Park. The company’s sponsorship arrangement with the Red Sox is not changing.

Neither the BAA nor John Hancock would comment on any terms of the marathon sponsorship arrangement, which extends through at least the 2022 race.

John Hancock’s sponsorship of the Boston Marathon began in 1986 with a reported 10-year, $10 million deal. When the sponsorship began, so did prize money for the race.

According to the BAA, runners have received in excess of $20 million over the last 34 years. Only runners in the elite divisions of the Open, Masters, and Wheelchair divisions are eligible for the prize money. This year, the guaranteed prize money will total $868,000, split evenly between men and women in each division. A first-place finish in the Open Division is worth $150,000; in the Wheelchair, $25,000; and in the Masters, $10,000.


John Hancock was purchased by Canadian-based Manulife in 2004 and employs approximately 5,000 employees in the United States.

Its primary offices are in Boston, Westwood, and Portsmouth, N.H.

Regarding the layoffs, McNally said, “As we continue our efforts to become a digital, customer leader, we have embraced a new operating model that will evolve the way we work as a team. These changes are being made to help us grow our business in a disciplined way, operate with speed, agility and efficiency, and deliver a better customer experience. As we shift what we focus on and how we work, we will need fewer team members in several areas, and this means some of our colleagues will be leaving John Hancock.”

Jon Chesto and Larry Edelman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com.