Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 150 May 2022 | Page 8


Have Your Say

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It ’ s a contentious topic in running circles that race entry fees have dramatically increased in the post-COVID era . This is not only happening in SA , but all the same , many in the SA running community are unhappy about the situation . Columnist Manfred Seidler unpacked the topic of race entry fees last month here in the mag – you can read it here – and came to what may be an unpopular conclusion that our races are , in fact , not over-priced . “ I am probably going to take some serious flack for this opinion piece , but I think this is something that needs to be said … and it has been coming a long time , irrespective of whether the COVID pandemic had happened or not ,” wrote Manfred .
As he predicted , his opinion was not shared by all in the running community , as can be seen from the comments we received in response to the article .
R oad races entry fees have been climbing over the last few years , resulting in a regular outcry from the road running community , especially on social media . In recent weeks , runners have been particularly vociferous and scathing about the entry fees for the 2022 Totalsports Two Oceans Marathon and Comrades Marathon , with the phrase “ rip-off ” featuring very prominently . But is this outrage and outcry justified ? In my opinion , not at all !
It is a hard fact of life that prices and costs go up . And before the response , “ But it doesn ’ t have to go up by so much !” is fired back at me , it is important to note and understand that race organising costs are dependent on what the suppliers charge the race organisers . There are various standard costs that apply to all races . Paramount amongst those are :
• Road closures ( partial or full )
• Metro / traffic officers
The Comrades Marathon is being heavily criticised for its high entry fee , but many runners may not realise the huge costs associated with putting the event on
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No , Races Are NOT Too Expensive
I am probably going to take some serious flack for this opinion piece , but I think this is something that needs to be said … and it has been coming a long time , irrespective of whether the COVID pandemic had happened or not .
• Paramedics
• Venue hire
• Refreshments
• Portaloos
Those are your big line items . Others may include scaffolding , staging and fencing , medals , sound equipment and MC , parking venue , etc , depending on the race , but the above-listed ones you cannot get away from . And their pricing is determined by either the municipality or the city , or the individual service providers . In some cases , it is not like you can look around for better quotes – you just get told what those services will cost . And if you don ’ t pay , you do not get to host a race . Simple as that .
Currently , you also need to add the extra COVIDrelated safety protocols that have to be implemented , and keep in mind that these protocols are not added on by the races to make extra money , these are enforced by government . Again , no COVID compliance , no event , end of story . No debate , no negotiation … It ’ s no compliance , no event .
Size and Distance Count Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the size of the field ( number of entries ), and the distance being run . These factors will affect the duration of time you need the services of Metro officers and paramedics , and how long road closures are needed . The longer these are in place , the higher your cost . Bigger fields also mean more facilities and supplies are required , such as toilets , fencing , refreshments , medals , etc . With these line items , you may be able to negotiate a sliding scale of costings , i . e . the more you rent or buy , the less you pay per item , but the costs still rack up .
What has also changed for some races is that some or all the marshals are no longer volunteers , and this can also affect the bottom line of the event .
Images : Action Photo SA & Shawn Bejamin / Ark Images
For example , your local 10km race may use club members of the organising club as marshals , and then there is generally no fee attached , but take a bigger race such as the Comrades Marathon , and marshals are no longer volunteers , they are appointed by a paid supplier , and that cost the Comrades Marathon Association ( CMA ) R275,020 in 2019 , when the race was last run before the pandemic .
In the Good Old Days I have heard this argument so many times over the last few years , it is frightening : “ When I ran back in the 80 ’ s or 90 ’ s , races were much cheaper .” And I get it . I used to run quite substantially in the late 80 ’ s to mid-90 ’ s , and races were cheap . But here is what has changed . Back in those days , the municipality / city would sponsor the police and paramedics , whereas those two line items are now the most expensive items in your race budget , because you need to pay for them now .
To give you a few examples , the Comrades pays around R1 million on race day to the Metro Police , while the popular Tembisa Mile in Johannesburg spends R40,000 for Metro services . The Valentines Night Race in Randburg , a 10km race , has to fork out R90,000 to Metro . Similary , refreshments were also sponsored in those days . No longer . The Valentine ’ s race spends R8000 on refreshments , and in 2019 , the Comrades Marathon had to fork out R1.1 million for refreshments .
Back in the day , only the marathons and ultras handed out medals – the shorter races gave finishers a tracksuit badge . Even then , medals were not handed out to all finishers . Your top 10 men and women received gold medals , and then there were cut-off times to get a silver or a bronze medal – and if you didn ’ t make those , you might receive a tracksuit badge . Might . Not guaranteed . Race T-shirts were an extra that you chose to pay extra for . And it was not a fancy moisture-management shirt , it was a cotton T-shirt .
These days , if a race does not offer a quality T-shirt , massive medal and a goody bag with other freebies , it can be vilified on social media … but those things cost money . Lots of money ! Randburg Harriers spent close to R50,000 for the Valentines Night Race on medals alone . And with all these costs , from Metro and refreshments to medals and T-shirts , so race entry fees simply have to increase . There is no other way for a club to host a race unless they can meet their expenses , and the bigger the race , the more those expenses accrue .
Elusive Sponsors Prior to the pandemic , sponsorships were already incredibly difficult to come by , but now things are even harder . And yet , at the recent Comrades Marathon Launch , the race was accused of sitting on its laurels these past two years during the pandemic , instead of looking for new sponsors . To accuse the CMA of being lazy is beyond naïve , and is in fact actually malicious , as I know how hard they have been working to try secure sponsorship investment . And the same applies to many other race organisers .
Without sponsors , races cannot survive . Entry fees simply do not cover the costs of staging a race . They just don ’ t , no matter how loud the outcry from runners about increasing entry fees . Popular opinion does not change hard facts . We are all upset about the petrol price increase . There is huge outrage . Does the price come down ? No . That price is determined by various economic factors , and ‘ the economy ’ really could not
The bigger the field , the more it costs to put on the race , as the Two Oceans Marathon organisers know all too well
give a damn about our outrage . The same principle applies to hosting races . Economic factors determine costs , and entry fees , and how much shortfall must be covered by sponsorship money .
Sponsors become involved in an event to fulfil their objectives , not those of the race , organisation , event , etc . In other words , they want to advertise ( and sell ) their brand , product or service . So , the relationship with the event has to produce a tangible benefit to the sponsor , too – and it is no longer just about media exposure and seeing the sponsor ’ s logo pasted all over the event venue , race number , medals and T-shirts , and on TV ( if the event is televised ). No , it is about how the relationship will enhance the sponsor ’ s business . In other words , does the relationship drive more traffic through their doors ? Does the event speak to their target market ?
Duration and cost of the sponsorship also play a role . It takes years for a brand to form a relationship with an event , and if the sponsor stays on board long enough , then it becomes synonymous with the event . Classic examples of this in South Africa come from cricket and surfing , as well as athletics . The limited overs cricket format became known as “ going to the Benson & Hedges tonight .” In surfing circles , people spoke about “ The Gunston ,” and everyone knew exactly what was being referred to . Same with the Engen Grand Prix Summer Series in athletics . It became just “ the Engen Series .” These relationships were built over years , even decades . However , the nature of sponsorship relationships globally has changed , and sponsors no longer want to stay for long years in a relationship . They want to refresh and reinvent every few years , so if they stay with your event beyond five years , you have done exceptionally well .
Enter the pandemic and most corporations lost money , and when that happens , the first budget that is usually cut in tough times is the marketing budget . So , that makes finding an event sponsor even more difficult now . Those are realities . Yes , some
About the Author events have been able to secure sponsors , notably Totalsports signing for three years as title sponsor of the Two Oceans Marathon , but the bulk of events have been trying hard not to lose whatever sponsors they had . And those conversations were tough .
Tough Choices Runners like to complain about entry fees . A glance at other sporting events will show you that running is still one of the cheapest sporting events to enter . Have you looked at the entry fees of an Ironman triathlon ? Or the Cape Epic in mountain-biking ? You will fall off your chair ! What runners also need to start taking into consideration is that races of the calibre of Comrades , Two Oceans , Cape Town Marathon , Soweto Marathon , the Run Your City Series and the Spar Women ’ s Series could not be staged to the level they are , if they were not run as a business . Not a club , a business . Putting on these events requires full-time staff , and that also comes at a price . The expertise required is not a ‘ side job ’ that can be done just by volunteers .
While the pandemic appears to have suddenly caused races to become expensive , it has actually exposed what was always a problem , the unsustainable model of entry fees being too low . Yes , I said it , too low . The system was inevitably going to crash someday , and the entry fees being charged now are economically more realistic . That simply means that athletes will have some tough choices to make about which races they can afford to run . Sadly , that is a harsh reality , and no amount of griping on social media will change that .
I liken events to cars … I love Audi and Volkswagen cars , and recently the VW Tiguan caught my eye , but it is so far off my financial radar right now , I would need make some very big sacrifices to buy one , even to the point of cutting out necessities … but that is a choice I need to make for myself . The same now applies to races , as runners may not be able to afford entering a race every weekend anymore , so they may have to make a choice which races they can afford .
Manfred Seidler is a freelance sport journalist who has been in the industry since 1994 , in both print media and broadcasting , covering four Olympic Games for SABC Radio , and producing various athletics shows for the SABC . Follow him on Twitter : @ sportmansa ; Facebook : Sport Man SA ; Instagram : sportman _ sa .


Johann Brand : Whoever made the changes in race entry fees , thinks all runners are in the same financial bracket . R1500 for a Comrades entry is a joke .
Eddy Braz : For me , races are very expensive . l have stopped going to the races .
Gary Daly : Races are far too expensive for Grand Masters , they should be R100 for 21km . Some races don ’ t even mention Grand Masters entry fee and only show R250 for 21km .
Peter Purdon : I disagree ! Races are far too expensive . Comrades doubled in price from 2020 . Why do you think there are only just over 9000 entries as at today ? It should have been sold out in an hour or two . Some races , like Jackie Gibson , are still keeping prices down , so why can ’ t the others ? Very few are offering discounts to older runners , too .
Alan Buckley : What Peter Purdon says about Comrades also applies to the Two Oceans , so much so that the organisers abandoned the lottery system due to poor participation . Also , doing away with all spectators , including at the finish , has taken away the atmosphere of the event .
Jacqueline Friedman : Races are too expensive now , therefore I only go for the ones where I will get a goodie bag or a medal .
Due to rising entry fees , many runners may now only be able to afford one ‘ flagship event ’ a year , like the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon
Jabulani Hlaba : Races are too expensive . We have runners who are unemployed , and in most cases , an employed runner will pay for race entries for a disadvantaged runner .
Benjamin O ’ Neil : Clubs complain about a lack of sponsors , but sponsors no longer want to get involved with events , as there is no oversight . I ’ m specifically referring to large regional clubs – most ( not all ) don ’ t keep sponsors for longer than two years . Also , I ’ m aware of clubs that charge R400 for a marathon , but the medal you get is cheap and nasty . The mould of that medal was paid for three years ago , so there is very little cost in making the medal with a picture stuck in the middle . You also have to pay for your T-shirt . And you are encouraged to run with your own hydration .
So , you are charged R400 + R150 for a t-shirt , but sponsors cover the cost of JMPD , the medals , etc . Coke and water are sponsored by ABI , or supplied at a greatly reduced price . The event is managed and
Images : Action Photo SA & courtesy Cape Town Marathon
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