Increase in race fees
I have been running races ranging from the 5K to the marathon since 1996. I have run about 16 marathons. I have experienced some sticker shock in recent years over the dramatic increase in registration fees. The NYC Marathon, which I first ran in 1997, cost about $45 - $60 that year. Now, it costs between $138 - $171, depending on your membership (or lack of) in the NYRRC. For foreigners, I believe the fee is well over $200. Other smaller marathons, such as Philadelphia, were priced around $50, even just a few years ago. Now Philly will cost you $125. Even smaller, out of the way marathons routinely charge $65, $85 and up.
My question is: What justifies the increase? Has there been some sort of large increase in staging a marathon, even if the # of runners stays largely the same? Or, have RD's been charging higher fees simply because they can?
Runners are a committed, loyal bunch. I know many people who wouldn't think of missing the NYC Marathon. It just isn't possible in their mind. I think that RD's have exploited this commitment and charged exorbitant fees while providing no value-added service in return.
Simply put, what's in it for me? I don't seem to be getting anything more for my money. Water and Gatorade, which in some cases like NYC may be donated or sold on the cheap. A tee shirt, which wears out over time. A finisher's medal, which gets worn for an hour after the race and then never worn again. And a finisher's certificate that is suitable for framing. These are the standard amenities when I started in the late 90's, and they are standard now. There is nothing extra being given to me to justify charging me $100 + for the privilege of running on city-owned streets. Is there?
It isn't just marathons. I run very few 5K's these days because I won't spend $25-$30 to run for 20-21 minutes. Yes, I know many marathons offer "early-bird" pricing, but the bottom line is that the fees are just too high. One thing I loved about running when I started in the late 90's was the "purity" of the experience. I didn't mind paying a small fee ($12-$15) to run the local 5K, or $60 to line up at the NYCM, because that was reasonable. But that purity is gone, replaced by what seems to be nothing more than greed.
So, I'm hoping some RD's will respond to this post and share their perspective. If there are operating costs I haven't mentioned, and if all operating costs have risen 200 - 300% like the race fees have, then inform me of this, please. If however, this is, as I suspect, nothing more than profiteering, then I'd respect the RD who owns up to it. I may not think it's right, and I won't patronize the race, but I can respect someone who says, "Hey, people will pay it, so I'm getting it while I can."
Lets see for an example event for me:
Shirt or hat (Everyone wants something)
Finisher award or medal
Maybe sanctioning the event
Maybe getting the course measured
Timing system use (we use a simple one for now, but I still had to buy it)
Pretty hard to provide all that with so little. So yes fees have increased. If your talking marathon, then you have to throw in aid stations each mile. Just some items I could think of off the top of my head.
race entry fees
Ecampbell: I understand your frustration and, having managed several races, I partially share it. There are a few factors that have led to higher race entry fees compared to 9 years ago, when I got involved with my first race.
1) Costs have gone up, particularly for Police/EMT support, facility rental and liability insurance. If you manage a race in a large city, police support costs are higher.
2) Sponsorships have gone down or must be allocated to a charity. It used to be that races could use some of the funds from sponsors to cover race costs. Now, this is only true for races that receive marketing sponsorships. For races in which the sponsors are making philantropic sponsorships, all of these funds must go to one or more of race charity beneficiaries.
3) Race management/timing personnel labor rates have increased. When races began, much of the work done to plan and stage them was on a volunteer basis. Now, if you want people who know what they're doing to get up at 4am on a Sunday morning and spend 8-10 hours managing/timing a 10K because they have to wait for the walkers to come across the finish line, you have to pay.
This is what I and many other RDs are faced with. The fact of the matter is that costs have increased and we must pass them on.
You ask a valid question. I'd encourage you to join the Race Committee of a larger local race or your local running club and get familiar with the budget process. I think you'd be surprised at the list of expenses. And it's not just road races whose costs have increased to such a degree over the past 13 years. In general entertainment expenses have outpaced inflation over that time. In 1996 greens fees at our local club were about $18/round and now they're $38 (more on the weekends). Movies, I used to hit the cheap seats for about $2 in 1996. Now the cheap seats are closed and I think last time I went to the movies it was about $8.50/person. Beers, I think I remember about $15/case for the good stuff on sale back then and this weekend a case of Long Trail on sale was $28.
(oh man do I sound crotchety or what!)
Entry fees for the company I work for have just about doubled since 1996. For example our marathon has gone from $35 to $80 and the largest 5k we produce has gone from $12 to $25. In addition to SV's list above:
--Police, 4 hour minimum per officer, number of officers needed often mandated as a condition of using the streets. Overtime rate possibly if the race is on a holiday.
--Parks & Rec fees/City permits. This ranges anywhere from $1.50/runner for our larger races to $5/runner for our smaller races to get the streets closed or to have exclusive access to a park.
--Tech shirts are about double the cost of cotton t's. We've gone to "shirt optional" for our smaller races for those runners who don't need another shirt.
--Barricades aren't free. You can get up over $10K pretty quickly for barricade costs if you're producing a city race.
--Need stages? Tents? PA? Fencing/stakes to define the course? $$
--Need an announcer? Professional timing? $$
--In our case you can also add in stipends for a lot of our experienced, critical "volunteers". It's not big bucks for anyone but it adds up. I'd rather spread a little cash around and get these people back next year rather than recreating the wheel in a critical position with someone new.
--Also in our case we now have a Youth Running initiative that we did not have in 1996. It's not close to a break-even program yet. Proceeds from our main race subsidize the operating costs. We feel it's an important mission to promote youth health education/phys ed and to develop the next generation of runners. Other races support local charities, we've basically built our own charity.
"What's in it for you?" is hard to answer. These are the decisions people make all the time. I used to race almost every weekend and spend about $1000 on race fees every year. That was back in the dark ages when Boston was $35 and you could do professionally organized tri's for $50/pop. Now I race maybe 8-10 times/year and most of that is smalltime local stuff. When you ask "What's in it for me?" I ask "What are you looking for?" If you get a chance to test yourself against your buddies and racing keeps you training (i.e. fit and healthy) isn't that enough?