Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Race fees going up......

I just read a post by Steve Tillford about the cost of racing, especially for the young developing bike racer. Like everything else the cost is on the rise. Bikes cost more, gas, food, kit, all of it is more expensive that "back in the day". Steve talks about how when he was younger races actually paid elite racers to show up to Nationals, maybe even other high level events. Now kids have to pay upwards of $75 per race.This seems like a lot when you read a lot of the comments left by readers who host or race at races costing anywhere from free to $10. When compared to other youth sports I don't know if it is out of the norm. I think Steve did have another good point, that racers race a lot more than many other sports compete, I did 45, Steve had over 80! For example my gymnasts will compete 11 or 12 times a year. Each competition will cost from $60-$130 for really 4 min of total competition time. Triathlons cost upwards of $600 for one event. But how many Iron Man length triathlons can people do in a year? Maybe 3 or 4 I would guess if you count half, or shorter triathlons, and those don't cost as much.

The interesting thing about the increase in the price of racing, is the winnings seem to have diminished. Not that I would know this as my winnings have been kept to a minimum. I have read on Steve's blog and from other older racers that races often had huge payouts upwards of 10K. I have rarely seen a race with this kind of money. I think that a big change in the payout amount is the amount of sponsorship associated with races. Also I feel like many towns, cities, and municipalities have backed away from helping with these kinds of activities. I think it really takes someone in the right place in government to get support from the town. With what I have seen in terms of the hostilities towards cyclists I can see why there are more and more cities and towns getting rid of bikes. People are prejudiced towards them and think we need to stay on the walking paths in Forest Park, on the Katy Trail, or Grants Trail.

I think there are some great promoters out there that are working really hard to make a great impact on a lot of cyclists. I know for a fact though that the more people you attract to your race, the more complaints you get. And I also know it is easier to listen to the one negative than embrace all the positive.

My team will be putting on a few races this year. One of them will be a crit, a race on the pricier end of bike promoting. This is because of road closures, police rental, and other city permit fees. We will be hoping to just break even on it. We are also thinking we are going to keep things really simple and streamlined. With only a few categories on offer it will hopefully make the city happy that we can run a quick, fast, clean, and neat event that keeps just about everyone happy. Then I am hoping we can keep the price down as low as we possible. I would love to have sold out fields instead of 20 fields with 10 riders. So we will have a Cat Pro/1/2 field, Cat 3/4 field, Cat 5/Junior field, Women's open, and Masters 40+ open. I think we are going for a hometown, grass roots feel. I don't think we will do online registration, just sign up when you get there. It might take us a little longer to get people their numbers, but that is money we are saving, basically not transferring money from one bank account to another. Last year I stopped pre-registering for races, unless you were staged based on your entry time. (Memorial day races in Quad Cities was the only one) Other than that, paying at the race was often times cheaper than paying online. With keeping the price down I think we will be going with the Wal-Mart model of business, as long as we get big numbers in entries we will be good to go. It will help if we can get sponsors, but I am not going to count on it.

A lot of people really got on Steve's case for his criticism of the cost of racing. Many of the haters commented that he shouldn't complain because he has never done it. I don't really know what that has to do with it. I don't think Steve was bashing on promoters. I felt like it was more of a critique of all of USA cycling, which isn't something new from Steve. I think that USAC has a lot of problems that another governing body that I am associated with does, USA Gymnastics. Both have gotten too big, neither support their top athletes very well, and both are loosing touch with why they started trying to represent their sport. Governing bodies should be there to cultivate new talent, and to do that you need large pools. In USA Gymnastics, there are under 100 elite level gymnastics girls in the country. For cycling there is no support for young athletes coming up. There should be grants for bicycles, race fees, travel, the lot. Cycling is not an NCAA sport so being considered pro status by the NCAA for cycling is a non issue. Now if it does one day become an NCAA sport then athletes cannot be supported in that way. But again, the only way to have the best chance to find the best athletes is to have a bigger pool. My gym will go through hundreds of gymnasts to find one level 10 athlete. The thing with cycling is everyone rides a bike, now get them to a race. Just like every girl at sometime in their life was a "gymnast", why can't everyone say they did at least one bike race in their life? If I was in charge of development in USA Cycling, my goal would be to get every kid who owned a bike to get into a race. So take some of those license fees and kick them back to race promoters to host free Juniors races.

I think the only way to change the current culture of high price race fees, low payout, and low attendance, is lower the price of racing. It might seem crazy but if all your fields are full, wont you make more money? I don't know for sure yet but I am willing to try it out on my race. I am thinking $20 is a good place to start. If we do well then I will drop it more the next year. One example of this working for me in the past was this last year we dropped to entry fee for spectators at my home gymnastics meet. When people showed up for the meet and it was free to get in, now they had more money to spend on sweatshirts, t shirt, food, and anything else we had on hand. Then when I can show local businesses that we are brining in lots of business for them, then maybe the sponsorships start to role in. Once that happens the payouts go up. All these steps make sense to me, but just because something makes sense doesn't mean it makes good business sense. We will just have to wait and see.

To be continued................
Downtown Maplewood has a great small town feel just outside the City limits of the STL. It also has some great streets for crit racing!

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