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That Costs How Much?- Andrew Shelly Guest Post #2

Participation in trail- and ultra-running in New Zealand is soaring, and so are entry fees.
Back in the introductory post I described this one as:
(The data geek / statistician post) Various charts of race entry prices for different distances and surfaces including from sub-marathon trail races, standard road marathons, trail marathons and short ultradistance races, 50 mile races, 100km races, and 100 mile races. Some thoughts on what might be a sensible way to compare prices across events, and what the numbers do and don’t tell us.
The data likely will produce gasps of disbelief in some, and could all too easily be interpreted as poking the stick at certain events. I expect this will have some rushing to defend their favourite event. However, I’m a much more fair-minded guy than that, so later posts will poke the stick at runners themselves!
So here we go…
The original motivation for this entire series of posts was the extent to which race entry fees seem to be getting ever higher, some reaching levels which had me shaking my head. New races would appear with entry fees that made previously high entry fees look moderate. Road races initially blamed the cost of traffic management plans, and having been a committee member at my harrier club I know that those costs are real. Back in those “good old days” trail races were starting to look like the good value alternative to road. Then DOC joined the party and not only implemented a fee structure for concessions that could double some race entry fees, but also started to demand an audited safety plan (with a list of approved auditors limited to just three firms and no apparent process for others to be granted approval). So race entry fees keep going up and up, and it’s the regulators to blame. Or is it?
Let’s look at the data. First up, a big chart of race entry fees expressed on a $/km basis. Once upon a time I was used to doing races with entry fees that were $1/km, give-or-take a bit. This could be the local 5km or 10km race, half marathons, and even marathons. These races are represented by the green bars on the chart below. Race entry fees of around $2/km, give-or-take, could be justified for special events. These are the brown bars on the chart.

Dollars per Km

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we start to move in to the realm where race entry fees are becoming “significant”. I am always astounded when people are prepared to pay $30 for a 10km race, I simply cannot justify that. I have also never yet been able to justify to myself the price of the Auckland Marathon, and yet I have previously entered the Avalanche Peak Challenge and would happily do so again if it were closer to home. Both are in the same position on the chart (Avalanche Peak is very slightly more expensive on a $/km basis).

And after that, it seems that entry fees know no bounds. $4/km, $5/km, $6/km… really? I must admit to have entered a $5/km race once upon a time, but there were “other factors” involved in that decision.
Comparing Between Races
The first and most basic assumption in the above chart is that $/km is a good basis for comparison between races of different lengths. From the point of view of the consumer, this is probably a reasonable first approximation for different distances at the same event: when moving from a half marathon to a marathon on the road the number of drink stations doubles; and all else equal the number of marshals will double. [But note that there is more to the story of cost structure and entry fees than this, but that is part of the 5th post.]
However, to be fair, $/km is not necessarily a good basis for comparing between events. When we move from road to trails it may be that $/hour is a better basis for comparison. If the difficulty level of a course means that participants are on the course for twice as long, then marshals and safety personnel are also on the course for twice as long. For some events (such as the Tararua Mountain Race and Kepler Challenge), marshals may even have to pack in the day before. Comparing events on a $/hour basis would also allow timed events such as rogaines and the 24 hour track race to be included on the chart, but for most events participants take a range of times and hence the calculated $/hour would also cover a range.
The example of my decision of Auckland Marathon v Avalanche Peak Challenge demonstrates how we individually have “other criteria” by which we judge events. For me it was something along the lines of city crowds on the road vs a select group of mountain athletes in an awesome scenic setting.
Actual Prices
Having looked at a comparison of race entry fees on a basis that might or might not be valid, how about the actual entry prices?
Marathons, DOC Fees, and Traffic Management
The two charts below show race entry prices for offroad marathons and road marathons, respectively. The prices for offroad marathons are clearly higher than the prices for road marathons, with only the Auckland Marathon exceeding $100 for road events, but a price in excess of $100 being the norm for off-road events.
The key question this raises for me is whether the difference is primarily due to DOC fees. If we assume a price difference of $50/entry and 100 entrants, the total difference in entry fees is $5,000. A “non-notified concession” has an application fee of $1,330+GST=$1,529.50. This can then be spread over the three years that the concession is granted ($509.83/year), to which the annual concession fee must also be added. Annual concession fees may include an annual management fee ($500 last time I heard – a couple of years ago), and a per-head fee of $10 + GST for a whole-day activity. So for our hypothetical race with 100 entrants that is an annual cost of $2,009.83 or just over $20 per entrant. What about the cost of the audited safety plan? That should be much the same between the two types of races, but the per-head cost will be less if the road event attracts more entrants.
Road events, and some trail events, also have the cost of traffic management plans. The plans themselves are relatively cheap, but the on-the-day implementation is not. Race organisers are looking at several thousand dollars for someone to tick that every cone and sign is placed exactly where the plan says they will be placed, and that they stay there until the last runner is through the relevant section. And it’s not just anyone who can do this: a special qualification is required for this type of box ticking. A special qualification just to tick boxes restricts competition the provision of box-ticking services, so the price of said box ticking inevitably goes up. And there may also be the cost of hiring all the road cones and signage. So traffic management is a very real and potentially significant cost. A trail race with no traffic management requirements has a safety plan, but does not need to pay for someone to monitor the plan for the entire duration of the race. Does this mean that trail races should be cheaper?

Ultramarathons
The chart below shows race entry prices for ultramarathons of 50 miles or more, grouped as 50 mile events, 100km events, and 100 mile events. For these distances there are clearly two categories of races: those with entry fees less than $100 and those with entry fees in excess of $300. There is a price gap of over $200 per entrant with absolutely no events in the middle ground! I could try and explain the difference by number of entrants, but I can’t: The Molesworth Run has always had few entrants (although it is held in conjunction with a relay) and a low price; Northburn also has few entrants (it’s a wee bit hard) but has a high price; the Tarawera Ultramarathon is host to the most popular 100km in the country and also has a high price. Race facilities might go some way to explaining the difference: Molesworth is a no frills event, Naseby and the Ultra Trio provide aid stations (but limited to two and one, respectively), Northburn has an event marquee with facilities (and lunch at prizegiving) and a finisher’s belt buckle, Tarawera has well catered buffet-style aid stations strategically located along the course, icebreaker race shirts and a finisher’s medal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The shorter ultramarathons (<70km) show a lot more diversity in entry prices. For someone who is really just interested in running and not so much in all the extra fluff, the Marton-Wanganui ultramarathon provides excellent value at just $15. I should know, 2012 will be the 10th time I have completed the event. At the other end of the entry fee scale, the Tarawera 60km and the Kepler Challenge provide an “event”, Tarawera perhaps even more so than Kepler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, a quality race can be delivered at low cost. The Great Naseby Water Race is a superb event held on a 10km figure-8 loop. Trails suitable for road runners in a picturesque setting. An aid station with basic supplies (and music) half way around the loop, and a fully stocked aid station at the start/finish. Lots of spot prizes, and a great friendly atmosphere. All for an extremely reasonable price. This year there were event t-shirts – a choice of three, with some cool designs in there. Runners were free to purchase any or all t-shirt designs if they value they would personally get from the shirt exceeded the price.

Shorter Trail Races
The chart below shows the entry fees for the short (less than marathon distance) trail races surveyed. I’ve got nothing particular to add to what I’ve already said, so I’ll let the chart do the talking.

Concluding Comments
So… at the end of all of that, what? There are a lot of events out there, some cheap, some really expensive, and lots in between. There’s different ways of measuring value, and the package for any given race includes different things. I haven’t shown the data here, but some of the most expensive events are hugely popular. The organisers of those events are clearly doing something right and delivering a product that a significant number of runners value. But I personally struggle with the size of some of the entry fees. Slick video clips, quality websites, all the hype of the big event… but it is the experience on the trail that means most to me. Hopefully the charts have thrown up some events that readers weren’t aware of.
The first post of this series attracted just one comment: “There is a simple solution- don’t run in events and pay nothing”. That’s true, but as the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it. Call me a right-wing neoconservative, but it just doesn’t sit well with me that to be “in it” requires a certain level of financial means. In the popular events it’s no longer enough to have the talent to turn up and race, you also need the money to enter the race, get to the resort town where it is held, and pay for accommodation in said town. Heaven forbid that trail running events become like getting to the top of Mt Everest: anyone can do it, so long as they have a big enough chequebook. Are we losing something, with back country trail events turning into slick commercial enterprises with hoards of runners turning the trails and environment on the day into something that is quite different to the treasured trail experience? This segways nicely into the next post in the series… “Everybody’s doing it, so why the hell should I?”.

 


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16 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Interesting … think you have to consider with trail running events the actual physical location they are held in also, ie how to get safety support into the locations, and the back up safety support should you need to uplift someone from the track. For some events the safety crew have to travel to the location (adds in cost) and may have to tramp in the day before and then out the next day (also adds in costs).

    Also the physical conditioning of those entering is quite varied to what it used to be in previous years, and therefore a higher level of back up support is often needed. Also – how many of these events are ‘packages’, the key word there is ‘event’ not ‘race’ – gone are the days of turning up and just racing from A to Z. Perhaps, you could think of the differences between just a race on trails as opposed to an event on trails too? I don’t think everyone is after just a ‘race’, more are after an experience nowadays and therefore are happy to pay for that service?

  2. Hey Andrew – great post and a heap of work gone into the analysis.

    Just to stick my neck out there or really add some comments to further the discussion from an event diretors point of view….

    Only a portion of the potential costs are mentioned in your post – you mention DOC fees, audited safety plans.

    What about first aid (and not just a basic St Johns service), additional DOC costs like cultural monitoring costs, trigene solution, marshals, event helpers, food (if provided), equipment hire (portaloos etc), timing (if relevant), merchant fees and entry system fees, marketing, petrol, and more often now days, topping up the prize stash. There are also overheads like public liability insurance, websites etc. Not saying that some entry fees aren’t high but there are many costs to running an event that people don’t see or remember when reading an analysis like this.

    As an example the Big O Trail Run in Rotorua is mentioned in the graph and it’s probably middle of the field in the price graphs above. DOC fees this year were about $1,700 including cultural monitoring but excluding the original 5 year consent fee paid a couple of years ago and the safety plan audit . Then $800 for the event centre hire. So we’re up to $2,500 just to be a the location without the safety plan audit or 5 year consent fee, which spread over the 5 years might be $500 a year.

    In the 5 years of the Big O we’ve tried to keep the entry fee down and it hasn’t increased over that time more than $5. It has averaged a profit of $2,500 a year over the 5 years including a loss of $3,000 in the first year. This doesn’t seem ridiculous in return for the time and effort put into an event?

    I guess I’m trying to say that there are many true financial costs to putting on an event, for which the list is vast and more than many participants would think about or recognise. Then you would expect a reasonable return for the event organisers in return for hours put in. Some events obviously have the profits going to charity or the clubs organising the events. We need to remember many event directors/clubs etc aren’t doing this to make a living – there are easier ways! We put events on to share a great location or trail and to encourage people into the sports/racing.

    If people start to question all entry fees and enter events purely based on price (and I know Andrew you’re not necessarily suggesting this) as the main motivator based on some assumptions of the costs they think relate to putting on an event, then we run the risk of losing some great events as participant numbers drop and it means the events are not economically viable. We organise events for the reasons mentioned above but that desire to share a location or spread the good word of running, doesn’t extend to losing money and that impacting families etc.

  3. I tend to consider the level of support I get during the run, along with goodies I get before and after when I think about the value of a run. As a climber, tramper, etc. I am happy to go and run pretty much any trail on my own or with a few friends. Indeed, having hundreds of other people on the same trail, as in a race, is not something I think adds to the experience. Essentially, I see no reason to run in an organised race other than the on-trail support and goodies.

    If I am able to carry minimal gear, refuel at aid stations, and have signs pointing the way that is great since it means I’ll get more actual running done. If I get a free magazine and a muesli bar (or something like that) before, and a tshirt or medal after then that’s awesome. That’s where I think the value is. Yes, aid stations may detract from a ‘real’ or hardy experience, but that’s the point. If I wanted to bush bash for a couple days I’d just go and do it. The reason I pay for a more ‘sanitized’ experience is so I can concentrate more on the running.

    Using that reasoning Tarawera is good value (aid stations, signage, medal, etc.) and The Goat is poor value (nothing provided), despite both being expensive.

  4. i guess im a race directors best friend.Im not wealthy by any stretch,typical kiwi battler from struggle street.But trail running is my vise,i dont drink or smoke,i dont gamble. Im a bit of a sociaphobe so i dont go out alot.Every winter i choose 6-10 events that i want to do in the coming year and enter them.Most of the time the i dont even take notice of the price until im filling out the entry form.It is what it is,i like running,its what i do and im happy to pay for it.Shoes and other gear…yeah i pick and choose what and where i buy from.Event prices tho i dont take much notice of….most of the time.

  5. Great post Andrew,

    Admittedly Tarawera is on the upper end in terms of cost per km. For me, it’s a constant juggling act between putting on a true kiwi trail run (the course, the volunteers and the general atmosphere accounts for that) and putting on a world-class endurance sports event.

    I see Tarawera as a hybrid between grassroots Kiwi trail run (and you do not get more grass-roots than a race that had its origins in Kawerau) and the big endurance event.

    The former is pretty cheap, the latter is hellishly expensive. Some of my bigger costs were athlete food+medals+socks+shirts, $18500; advertising and photo. $8000, safety+timing+key staff+insurance $7800; land access $5500. That comes to $43,000 before adding in the usual stuff like accountancy, legal, travel*….

    Anyway, point is, I chose to make Tarawera a “big race”, with its associated bells and whistles. And, that was a very deliberate decision. It was an itch I had to scratch.

    My hope is that the “whole Tarawera package” is a truly special and memorable experience for as many people (runners + supporters) as possible.

    *on the topic of money, I’d like to say that without the generosity of the events’ sponsors, the Vibram Tarawera Ultra. would not be possible . That is not an understatement – it actually does not quite break-even financially each year – but the losses are tiny enough to allow me to continue on.

    - Paul Charteris
    (btw – great post Andrew).

  6. Looks like I should be charging more. Seriously I started putting on races that I wanted to run myself. Now there popularity makes it hard for me to actually race. There isn’t many others cropping up either so I guess the only option is to try and make a buck and fly to someone elses race.

  7. If you include the race with the largest field – the Auckland Half Marathon – it will be firmly in the red band at about $5/km, not that you could buy an entry 3 months out as it sell out sooner than that.

  8. As has been noted, there’s much more to the event costs than Andrew has listed.

    Our aim, and I am sure that of all event directors, is to put on the best and safest event we can at an affordable price. We’ll never please everyone.

    Where this piece goes wrong, in my opinion at least, is with the comments alongside the coloured bars.

    If there’s money in putting on events, I certainly have yet to see it.

  9. An excellent article, very balanced. I have been running a road cycle event for the past 14years and setting the entry fee is always difficult.
    I also have been running a MTB trail ride for 5 years and once again the Entry fee causes a great deal of thought. Each year I think that I will not run it again as it only just breaks even, but then I talk with the entrants and they love the ride , so I keep doing it.
    This year in an effort to get more entrants I will have a Mountain Trail Run on the same property, on the same day. My hope is more entrants will reduce the cost per person. After reading your article I have decided to reduce the proposed entry fee by $10.00.
    As you will be aware costs to organise an event for 50 entrants is prety much the same as for 300. Hopefully the lower entry fee will encourage more entrants and costs will be covered.
    Thanks again for the article.

  10. “Where this piece goes wrong, in my opinion at least, is with the comments alongside the coloured bars.”

    Funny, those comments alongside the coloured bars are almost identical to the ones my wife uses whenever I tell (in reality, ask) her what I would like to enter next. :-)

  11. I asked the ultra runners forum on runningahead.com about ultra prices and one of the replies had this list;

    “As long as we sign up early – We have some reasonable race prices – All these were based on early registration, but I listed Chippewa for both as the cost doubled and you had to pull the trigger 5+ months in advance

    Ice Age 50M ~ $90 / $75 for BLS members (Many aide stations – Great post race food / beer) $75/80km ~ 94 cents
    Crusty 50k $10 = 20 cents
    Glacial 50M $60 – 75 cents
    KM100M $125 – 78 cents
    KM 100k $90 – 70 cents
    Zumbro 100 (MN) – $185 – $1.15
    Chippewa 50k $30 early register (5 months early) then goes to $60 – 60cents / $1.20
    Afton 50k (MN) $60 – $1.20
    Keys Peak 50k $85 – $1.70
    Badgerland Striders 24 hour race $70
    Mad City 50k $90 – $1.80 – Received a nice running hat, shirt, hard cover book and 30 count box of chocolate truffels
    Tuscobia winter ultra 150 mile $120 – 50 cents
    Tuscobia winter ultra 75 mile $75 – 63 cents
    Tuscobia winter ultra 50k $60 – $1.20

    Wild Duluth 50k – $50 – $1.00
    Wild Duluth 100k -$75 – 75 cents

    Chicago Lakefront 50k – $40 = 80 cents
    Chicago Lakefront 50M – 50 = 63 cents

    There are a few marathons that push the money train – Ice Breaker Indoor
    Ice Breaker Indoor Marathon $95
    Cold Medal Challenge (1/2 sat and full sunday) $160″

    And my favourite comment:

    “Even at Pittsville $7 no t-shirt race, they have post race food (Ok) and a barrel of beer – This year I managed 11 beers before the barrel kicked ~ Heck the race was free and I only paid $7 / 11 = 64 cents a beer”

    We need one of those races….

    Another comment I had was that in some races if you provide a volunteer then you can run for free, or you earn credits for volunteering which you can use to pay for future races.

  12. Andrew, I personally prefer the larger and usually more expensive events which
    “show a little love” eg some hot,salty,somewhat fatty snack at the finish line
    plus a medal or buckle to remind one of the fun that was had.The large fields are also high on my list.(oh yeah a choice of Speights or Coke too!)
    I like the race to be an epic in length or degree of challenge,the cheap,” easy ”
    events can be done any Saturday in your own backyard free of charge.
    We have done several IronMan events which make the races you discussed
    seem incredibly good value.We justify it by saying well we dont pay gym fees
    and the race gives us reason to train for half a year.
    Your article is good food for thought……Cheers,Jim

  13. And” poor old Juddie” is finding it tough out there…$300 + GST to just do the Coast to Coast Run…

  14. Really interesting stuff Andrew. I think in very general terms you’ve captured and illustrated some good points. I’ll keep it short and sweet… people get what they pay for – there are events and there are “events”. A bit like purchasing food, gear or infact anything. The quality levels are ludicrously varied.

    Events of this nature are an outlet for people, and people have the choice to spend what they want to (and feel is fair) depending on their palate. What I can absolutely tell you is this though. We event organisers (and total sport as one of the larger ones) are not in this game to retire early. We work hard, we are driven by our passion for the outdoors and the stunning locations we are lucky enough to be able to access to put on these events. We have enormous pride in our work, our products and our desire to continuously improve. If only our balance sheets matched our enthusiasm!

  15. I’ve deliberately sat back and not responded to comments; I wanted to see where this would go. Have to say that there’s really been some great comments, particularly by race directors. Athletes grumble less about race directors when they understand the cause of higher entry prices… and where there are external factors, a few might be motivated to help do something about it.

    Quite coincidentally there were three happenings over the week or so after this post that were quite pertinent:

    1/ As Stretch Cunningham comments, Robin Judkins has opened up the Coast-to-Coast run as an event in its own right. $300 + GST. “Plus GST”? Funny, I thought that anything sold to the end consumer was supposed to give a GST inclusive price just so people know exactly what they will be paying, rather than being hood-winked into thinking they are paying something lower. Another running commentator produced an interesting chart of coast-to-coast entries over the last few years and concluded that Judkins is killing the goose that laid his golden eggs. He HAS found the point at which further price increases reduce participation. I wonder, though, whether runners will make the choice between $3/km on the South side of Arthurs Pass and $10/km on the North side? Maybe some will front up for Judkin’s run just so they can say they’ve done it?

    2/ The Goat Kamai appeared, at $99 (first 99 entrants) for just 17km. Granted this includes bus transport, but like the original Goat it stakes out the high ground in terms of price.

    3/ I received an email from Event Promotions stating that the late fee for the Tauranga City-to-Surf had been removed, and promising a refund for anyone who had been charged. Mind you that was still $40 for 12km or $30 for $5k, so maybe Event Promotions has also found the point at which price sensitivity starts to bite?!

    Aaron… I love the club membership that you guys at Total Sport do… it will get an honourable mention in one of my planned future posts!

  16. Can you add the Mukamuka Munter event to this analysis? 29km for $20……http://www.betterthantv.co.nz/munter.html. Cheers, Shane.

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