Why Do Long-Established Races End?
Some bad news hit the local road racing community this week. After 35 straight years, the Louisville Triple Crown of Running will not take place in 2020. The series consisted of a 5K, a 10K and a 10 Miler each spring. At the beginning of the series, it included a half marathon before that became a stand-alone event at the 5K was added in its place.
Thousands of runners would race at least one of the races, and many would do all three, which took place over a four to five week stretch. Training for these races would be the start of the race season for many runners and for others a reason to get moving after the holidays. I personally participated in one or more of these races eleven times and eight of the last ten years. It had become a tradition for me as well.
With the news this week came a lot of questions. The official reason the race organizers gave for cancelling the race series was "steady decline in participation, available sponsorship dollars and rising operating costs.” They went on to say that they "could not continue to create the type of experience that would meet their standards and measure up to the quality events they have nurtured for nearly four decades."
People speculated as to how the races that continued to draw around 4,000 participants per race could have trouble with costs. With race entry fees of $25-$35 per race (depending on when you registered), how could they not be making enough money to keep the series going?
While I have never attempted to organize a race, I have worked closely with people and organizations that have put on road races and triathlons. I can tell you that for the most part, when it’s a local race and not put on by global corporation like Ironman®, race organizers are not making much money. They put on races for the love of it and to support the local community. It’s not an easy job. A race director or committee has to worry about the safety and satisfaction of hundreds or thousands of participants and volunteers. It’s a big responsibility!
In the last few years, fundraising for a charitable organization has become an objective of most races. If this is the case, it creates an added stress of the balance between offering a quality race for the participants and raising as much money as possible for the beneficiaries. As for the Louisville Triple Crown, according to their website all net proceeds from the 3 events went to the Crusade for Children and they have contributed $1.8 million to the charity in the last 17 years, which averages out to over $100,000 per year. So where they just not willing to continue the races if this amount was going to be less going forward?
There are numerous variables that impact what a race may cost and how much money can be raised for a charity or earned by the race director. These usually include:
- The number of participants registered
- The race experience and “professionalism” you want the participants to feel.
- The venue where the event is being held (cost of road closures, permit fees, etc.)
- The swag participants get (t-shirt, food, entertainment, timing, medals, etc.)
- The race beneficiary (if for charity) and how much it is expecting to receive
According to a few sources and a little research, a typical race budget looks something like this:
20% - Miscellaneous and charity donations
20% - Race equipment rental (sound system, port-o-pots, trucks, tents, start and finish lines, etc.)
15% - Management fees & Insurance (USATF or USAT Sanctions)
10% - Police coverage (blocking roads, directing traffic, etc.).
10% - Advertising, marketing, and promotions (social media, print, email, flyers for other race goodie bags, booth at race expos)
10% - Participant and volunteer t-shirts, medals and awards.
10% - Timing equipment (race bibs, timing mats, computers)
5% - Medical coverage (Having EMS on the course and at the finish line).
When you break it down like this, it’s easy to see how you can blow throw a $25 per person race entry fee pretty quickly. There are few places where you can cut corners, but would people continue to do the race if you went with a non-technical shirt or a chintzy finishers medal? Or is it worth all the planning and work if you only end up being able to donate a few thousand dollars to your charity?
Getting sponsors to cover some of the race expenses is pretty common for bigger races. A corporate sponsor could even have the race named after them. The Louisville Triple Crown races were most recently called the “Anthem” 5K, the “Rodes” City Run and the “Papa John’s” 10 Miler. While I do not know how much the sponsors paid to have the naming rights, I would suspect that it was not inexpensive. Not to mention the many sponsors the contributed less, but still got their logo on the race shirt and their banners at the start and finish lines. According to their website, the Louisville Triple Crown had over 20 sponsors.
I feel like the Louisville Triple Crown could continue with a few changes, but I am not privy to all of the information the committee had before making their decision. While raising money and awareness for children with special needs holds a special place in my heart, having local races that encourage and motivate people to stay active is important to me as well.
The American College of Sports Medicine published a Fitness Index this past May. It evaluated the cities on 33 indicators, including health behaviors; health outcomes, from obesity to pedestrian fatalities; and various community and environmental factors. Louisville ranked 95th out of 100. Our city is not healthy. These races provided a reason for a lot of people in this city to get off the couch in January and start running. I fear that their absence will lead to an absence of exercise for many people in this community.
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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,
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