Race Fees: The Other Side of The Story

Following on from my views on race fees and Simon’s views on triathlon fees I wanted to give you the other side of the story. That of a race organiser. So we could see why races cost what they do and in the spirit of fairness.

I wasn’t sure who to talk to but I knew it had to be an organiser of a race I had done/would be doing. Laura suggested I approach Events to Live because “they are really friendly”. So I did, and Ihave to agree with Laura, Alan from Events to Live is really friendly and I’m even more excited about Bacchus Marathon now.

Here are the questions I asked Alan and his responses. I’ve highlighted some of the key things that jumped out to me. It’s really made me think about which organisations I run with and I’ll be sparing a thought for all race directors from now on!
Bacchus Marathon  Image thanks to Sussex Sports Photography http://sussexsportphotography.com/

Bacchus Marathon Image thanks to Sussex Sports Photography http://sussexsportphotography.com/

1.What made you start organising races?

We opened our running shop (www.runtolive.co.uk) in 2008.  A huge premise of opening the shop was to be part of the local community in our village and surrounding area.   We included in the initial business plan to organise a local half marathon (Surrey Badger) specifically to raise money for a local charity (initially it was the local arm of The Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity).  This would be our way of being able to contribute financially to the community in which we live and work.  The Surrey Badger was a huge success and gained rave comments from Runners World who came along to review it.  And so the event side of the running shop grew.  Partly down to our love of running and desire to share our beautiful training routes (and we thought they would be fun and make good events).  But also to raise the profile of the fundraising arm (including raising awareness of the selected charities).  As the portfolio grew we realised that it was impeding on the shop quite significantly.  Event organisation is very stressful and time consuming and even now we do not take a salary from it.  So we decided to split the business and create Events to Live and offer shares to our friends who were willing to take on some of the work load.  One race led to another and now we have seven days of events.  

2.What are the biggest costs facing you as a race organiser?

This depends on the event.  If you take the Bacchus last year, we had just over 1000 participants and the cost for the wine and the Hog Roast BBQ came to just under £20,000.  If you take the Surrey Spitfire 20 and Tempest 10 at Dunsfold in March, then it costs just under £4,000 just to be at Dunsfold Park. Chip timing can be very costly and is not normally viable for any event under 500 runners.  We also pay VAT.  Obviously the more participants you have the more toilets and marshals required.  Fortunately we do not have any road closures at our events so do not have these overheads, which start at around £3,000.  These costs are followed by the technical tops and medals.

3.Are there any costs (tiny or big) that newbie race organisers and runners don’t know about?

Everyone forgets about the tax.  We pay VAT on all income and corporation tax on any profit we make (before giving it to the charities).  The event material is something organisers may not think about, from signage and stakes for tape etc through to advertising.  The cheapest way to advertise is to flyer other events.  If you want to have 1000 plus then you will likely have to take out advertising in magazines etc.  All this can be very expensive.  They would also have to consider the implications if the event had to be cancelled for whatever reasons.  Ensuring reliability in your providers is also really important.  A few years ago we were let down by St John Ambulance the week before the Bacchus Marathon.  We had to source a private first aid company (who were brilliant) but much more expensive.  It turned the race around from making a very modest profilt of a couple of hundred pounds to quite a big loss of a couple of thousand.  But the biggest unseen cost is probably that of stress to the race organiser.  Do not underestimate the sleepless nights and amount of time you will need to invest in the event to make it successful.

Events to Live Race Image thanks to Openhouse Creative www.openhousecreative.co.uk

Events to Live Race Image thanks to Openhouse Creative www.openhousecreative.co.uk

 4.How do you decide on pricing?

We look at the whole costs involved, the amount of runners we anticipate we can attract.  As a general rule we try to keep 10k’s around £14 – £16, 10 miler’s around £18, half marathons and 20 milers around £20.  In relation to the Bacchus, because of what is involved we had to move out of the brackets we have.  We looked at the Medoc Marathon (around £80) as well as other bigger half and full marathons and worked on the prices with Denbies.  We then set the events prices at £43 – £45 knowing full well that it would lose money until we had around 1100 entries.  We always run a new event under capacity ( knowing that it will make a loss in its first year) to see if it will work and identify where the problems are.

5.What is your biggest challenge when organising a successful race?

Pleasing everyone!  Ensuring we have sufficient marshals, although we have a fantastic member of our team who works on this throughout the year. Coping with the stress.

6. Do you make a profit on all your races?

Most of our events make a small profit. The Bacchus in its fourth year last year finally made a profit after three years of losses.  We donated that profit to the Children’s Trust at Tadworth.  The reason this event didn’t make money was because of everything that is involved, from the high amount of marshals, wine, BBQ, fruit/cake, medals, tee shirts and first aid.  Having said all this we have been able to raise over £100,000 for various charities in 6 years. This includes, St John’s Ambulance, Red Cross, Guiding Association, Rainbow Trust, Children’s Trust, Headley Court, Surrey Air Ambulance, First Touch, Downs Syndrome amongst others.  This does not include monies raised by runners from the events.

Alan’s Final Word…

We have learnt over the past 6-7 years that things can (and do) often go wrong.  Our contingency plans have often been tested and thankfully stood up to the test.  It is really hard to prevent human error, just look at Hampton Court Half, Sheffield Half in the past couple of months.  Our philosophy is to provide a great, well organised event for all types of runners, no matter how fast or slow.  Our basic aims are to not lose anyone, no one gets seriously injured and finishes safely and as many participants as possible enjoy the run.


Big thanks to Alan for his responses.

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  1. Sarah says:

    This is a really fantastic post, that covers things I doubt many runners think about when choosing races and possibly complaining about prices. I know I certainly didn’t realise that many new races make a loss their first few times, and will bear that in mind. Also: who knew chip timing was so expensive?! Bacchus sounds awesome- definitely one for the bucket list!

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks Sarah. I completely agree, I was so surprised! I’m hoping to hear from some more race directors as I know there are some costs Bacchus don’t have e.g. road closures. There’s a wide variety of chip timing options which have different costs, the throwaway ones (less volunteers) are a lot more pricey!

  2. Lissy says:

    These have been a great series of posts and this one in particular is really interesting and a great insight into putting on a race. I am running Bacchus for the first time this year, so this is especially fascinating!

    Great stuff! 🙂

  3. Sophie says:

    Having just heard about this blog, I’ve read the race fees with interest. I’m a Race Director for a small novice triathlon based in Wimbledon (The Womble Triathlon) and we use chip timing despite having only 112 participants. It is indeed expensive (it’s one of the two major costs) but have to say it is totally worth every single penny when it comes to triathlon timing. We did it manually in the first year and I think all those who were involved will agree that it’s something to be avoided, plus our novices LOVE the fact they can take a print out of their swim, bike, run and transition times. Despite the huge cost though, entry into the Womble is still only £33 (with a £3 BTF day license fee if not a BTF member). The aim is to break even and being only in it’s third year, so far that has been accomplished. Admittedly, we managed to secure funding for the first two years which made a massive difference, but this year, it was all on our own, and break even we did. I realise we don’t have the huge numbers Alan caters for, but its all relative…..even if we were only half full, we still have to hire the pool and need all the bike and run equipment. Our advertising costs aren’t high as there is a huge amount of word-of-mouth, and we also get to advertise in the England Triathlon Handbook if we pay the event deposit before October which is a big bonus. Plus, over the past three years (how long the Womble has been taking place), I’ve found ways of reducing the costs without compromising standards. Roll on next year to see if the Womble can break even again.

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