Promoters race for sponsors, grants to stay running
July 12, 2006
When most people shop for a T-shirt they find one they like and then buy it. They don’t shop around because pennies generally don’t matter.
Parkite Jolie McTavish recently shopped for four months before finding a T-shirt she liked at a reasonable price. But, then again, she wasn’t buying one, she was buying 750.
"When you have to buy 750 shirts, pennies matter," she said. "That kind of money is significant to us."
McTavish is in her second year as the race director for the Park City Marathon, and had to purchase $4,000 worth of shirts for both runners and volunteers for the upcoming event. For many other race organizers like her, counting pennies is an everyday affair.
The business of race promotion is all work and no glory. Most of what promoters and organizers do is behind the scenes and goes unappreciated by many of the participants. From raising money to advertising, and buying supplies to buying insurance, it’s the love the event that drives them.
"I guess I’m glad I didn’t take this on as a new race, because there are no assurances at all," McTavish said. "There are all the fixed costs, whether you get five runners or 500. As a business, the first thing you have to do is to figure out the per-runner cost and if you can’t make that work out then you shouldn’t be in business. It’s stressful. You have to love it to do it."
Recommended Stories For You
The Utah Road Runners, the non-profit corporation McTavish heads, has one purpose to put on the Park City Marathon. This year’s event, the 10th annual 26.2-mile race, will also feature a two-person marathon-relay. The race is also the middle event of the Triple Trail Challenge, with the Jupiter Peak Steeple Chase coming on Aug. 12, two weeks before the Park City Marathon, which is followed two weeks later by the Midmountain Marathon.
The entry fee for the Park City Marathon is $50 early entry or $65 on race day. They average about 500 racers, so, assuming most people meet the early entry deadline, the race brings in about $25,000.
McTavish usually counts on two grants to help subsidize the race and to help with advertising, but won’t be able to count on it this year.
"We have been, all these years, really dependent on two grants the Restaurant Tax grant and the Transient Room Tax grant," she said. "Those have been our only source of funding for advertising and we didn’t get either one this year. Somehow we’ve managed."
She estimates the advertising expenditure for this year’s race to be between $3,000 and $4,000.
Although sponsors do help, she said they’re hard to come by.
"We’re not a big event, so a lot of national sponsors are not too interested in us because we just don’t have the numbers," she said. "The national sponsors are more interested in the bigger markets."
Another major stressor for McTavish, and all race organizers, is a changing schedule. In the past the Park City Marathon has been in June, but when the Salt Lake City Marathon moved its dates from April to June, it forced McTavish to reschedule for Aug. 26.
The new date also comes with its own inherent complications.
"Since the date is in August and we’re worried about heat, I bought 500 washcloths and pump sprayers to help the runners through the last couple of aid stations. That probably cost $300."
Another $300 is spent on liability insurance for the day, with all landowners whose property the racecourse crosses listed on the policy.
Then there are the participants medals at $9 a piece, costing a total of $4,500. That does not include the medals for the top finishers in each age group, which cost about $15 a piece and total of $990.
They also have to pay $300 just to keep their status as a non-profit.
With all the volunteers and racers around drinking cup after cup of water (which is paid for by sponsors), somebody is going to have to pee. Portable bathrooms cost about $1,000, McTavish said, in order to rent the 40 they will need.
How much does a professional timer, photographer and announcer cost for a quarter day’s work? Another $1,800.
And how will the racers know where to run? The course has to be spray painted, costing another $30.
Although they don’t need to be bought every year, all the signs and banners from last year have to be updated to account for the date change. McTavish said she generally spends $100 to $200 on aesthetics.
This year, because it’s the 10-year anniversary, they also have to pay for a professional speaker to talk at the pre-race dinner. The speaker for 2006 will be Paralympic gold medallist Chris Waddell.
If, after all the expenses are paid, there is any money left, it goes into an account to help pay for the next season.
"We start accumulating charges before the entry fees start coming in so the money in the account is very important," McTavish said.
Bike races challenge promoters, racers, EMTs
Ed Chauner, director of the Intermountain Cup Mountain Bike Race Series, said there aren’t too many differences between organizing a mountain bike race and a marathon, but the differences that do exist can be expensive.
Chauner is in charge of organizing 14 races in the series, each of which averages about 300 racers at about $31 per racer, which adds up to over $100,000 income.
Professionals who finish well get 80 percent of their entry fees back and bikers who do more than four races get a discount.
He said the main difference is in the inherent danger that comes with mountain bike racing. He spends more than $1,000 per race on insurance and also pays several emergency medical technicians $120 each to help at each event.
"It’s a little bit riskier because there are higher speeds and a lot of racers can crash and get hurt," he said.
Site fees for races can be more than $1,000 per race, leaving Chauner with a profit, but race promoting is his full-time job. And with races, nothing is ever a sure thing.
"We’re fortunate enough to have a good track record so people know the events are run well and we have cool venues so people come out," he said. "But it’s like the stock market you never know what’s going to happen."