b2bpee.jpgThe 2011 Bay to Breakers race has signed a new title sponsor just nine weeks before the event’s centennial, organizers announced today.

Zazzle, a Redwood City-based company that allows customers to create personalized products ranging from calendars to skateboards, inked a six-figure deal last week to become the title sponsor for the next two years, company co-founder and chief product officer Jeff Beaver said.

Terms of the agreement weren’t released, but Beaver, 31, noted it was “actually pretty pricey” to take over the city for a day.

“This is a cherished Bay Area tradition with a national spotlight,” Beaver said. “We couldn’t be more excited.”

The race has been barraged for the past several years with complaints about safety, sanitation and property damage – not to mention the errant nude runner – prompting former sponsor ING to drop the event less than two weeks after the 2010 race.

The race, which is run by AEG, was never at risk of not happening, but organizers were happy to find a sponsor to help shape and manage the event, said Angela Fang, the race’s general manager.

Alcohol and floats are banned on the race course this year in hopes of moving the race away from the bacchanalian spectacle it has become and back toward a family-friendly event with creative costumes and safe traditions, such as tossing tortillas, Fang said.

The course will have heavy fencing, checkpoints and police enforcement of the alcohol rule, and problem areas such as the Panhandle and Alamo Square will be more heavily monitored, she said.

There will also be 1,226 toilets – a significant increase from other years, Fang said. Race organizers hope to eliminate at least 65 to 70 percent of problems reported in the past.

“There were very difficult days for me after last year’s race,” she said. “But the neighborhoods did pull together.”

Beaver said his company had discussed safety and cleanliness issues, but was generally not concerned about the bad publicity that reportedly drove away insurance giant ING.

Zazzle officials heard through a friend of the company that the sponsorship was possible, and within days it had decided to take advantage of the opportunity, Beaver said.

The company is offering custom centennial merchandising and plans to use social media platforms to expand the race’s audience, he said.

“We really felt there was brand synergy with Zazzle,” he said.

“Bay to Breakers is diverse and fun; it’s a perfect fit for our brand.”

He added that despite the recent controversy over the race’s “more extreme events,” the company wanted to be there for the centennial event.

“We wanted to preserve the fun aspects and make it safe for everybody,” said Beaver, a Bay Area native who has participated in the race several times. The event has been a tradition in his family since he was a kid.

“(My parents) have their 75th anniversary shirts and windbreakers,” he said.

Bay to Breakers sold out Thursday at 50,000 runners, but organizers are trying to open up a few thousand more spots, Fang said.

Janna Brancolini, Bay City News

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