RUNNING COSTS: What It Takes To Host The World’s Most Beautiful Marathon
“Are entry fees too high?”
“Why are races so expensive?”
“How much money are you willing to pay for your race entry? Where do we draw the line?”
These questions may seem familiar, but they are in fact the headlines of entry fee related articles in running publications and blogs in 2011.
Race entry fees have long been a concern among runners, especially those who participate in races almost every week, who are exposed to different organisers and fee structures, and who can feel the pinch of rising costs.
Many runners have come to question what a race entry fee actually gives them. If businesses can demand a positive return on investment, surely runners should too!
The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM) – Then and Now
The OMTOM’s current format is a far cry from the experience of the 26 athletes who lined up at the start back in 1970. In those early years, the event was organised and promoted as a Cape Town based ultra distance training run for the Comrades Marathon.
The entry fee in 1970? 50 cents!
The OMTOM first results sheet in 1970.
Now, almost 50 years later, the event looks very different. It is a global icon that attracts 11 000 Ultra Marathon athletes, 16 000 Half Marathon runners, 1 000 Trail runners and over 3 000 Fun Run participants to the event, and over 100 000 visitors to Cape Town over the Easter weekend.
Gone are the days of it being a humble long distance run. Today, the OMTOM creates jobs, promotes tourism, fosters skills creation and – transfer, positively supports B-BBEE, and brings over R672-million into the City and Western Cape. The event also serves as a fundraising platform for many charities and charitable causes, and over R3,5-million was raised through their efforts in the 2017 event.
The organisational structure has also changed. The OMTOM of yesteryear saw a small group of friends representing a few running clubs organise a small race. Fast forward to 2017, and the event forms part of a non-profit company - the Two Oceans Marathon NPC - which is managed by a board of directors (all volunteers) that represent athletic clubs and Western Province Athletics (WPA), as well as ordinary members (Blue Number holders who joined the NPC). They ensure ongoing good governance and effective financial management, and safeguard the event’s sustainable future by investing final proceeds.
While the board of directors look after day-to-day requirements, Blue Number Club members (individuals who have run more than 10 OMTOM Ultra or Half Marathons) are invited to become members of the NPC, and have a say in how the event is organised at the TOM NPC’s AGM. In addition to Blue Number holders, Clubs that have over 50 licensed members and have been affiliated to WPA for at least five years, are also invited to the AGM and can nominate members to serve on the Board.
The Anatomy of an Entry Fee
No race organiser likes pushing up entry fees. The OMTOM team is no different, and entry fee increases are always a hotly debated topic in the boardroom. The 2018 OMTOM’s event entry fees increased by between 8 and 10%.
But the reality is that there are many costs that need to be covered to run a world class event. The OMTOM has also grown to the extent that the event can no longer be run on entry fees alone, which is why our sponsors are vital to the success of the event.
Some of the obvious – and hidden – costs include:
- The costs associated with adhering to the City
of Cape Town municipal bylaws and rules that enable us to stage the event,
- Logistical costs (incl. fencing, security, toilets, finish line structures)
- Public liability insurance
- Medical, Emergency and Disaster Management support
- Permits (incl. SANParks access to host the Trail Runs)
- Hosting an environmentally friendly event
- Traffic support, especially around road closures
- Timing (incl. timekeepers, start / finish clocks, timing chips, timing mats, a timing service provider)
- Medals & Trophies
- Prize money (the more attractive the prize money, the higher-profile the elite athletes who participate and, in turn, the more attractive the media profile of the event)
- Aid stations resources (e.g. water, cups, snacks on the Ultra Marathon)
All mass participation events, including the OMTOM, rely on sponsorships. And thanks to these event sponsors the entry fees can be kept down through their contribution of cash, services or products in exchange for sponsorship rights.
But ultimately, entry fees plus sponsorships cannot simply equal the event’s expenses. In the OMTOM’s case, the surplus – after the necessary sustainability investments have been made - is ploughed into athletics development in collaboration with WPA in the form of logistical support and/or skills transfer. This includes events like the WPA Street Athletics series, and assisting Hewat AC with the organisation of the Cape Town Festival of Running.
The Case of Entry Fees vs Expenses
Many runners are perplexed by increased entry fees, and rightly so – running a mass participation event does not come cheap, especially when the whole family is involved, and you need to factor in travel costs.
But: OMTOM entry fees contribute to only 30% of the event’s overall income.
That is right. Only 30% of the event’s income is generated through entry fees, which once again highlights the importance of sponsorships.
Why is Race X Cheaper?
There are many reasons why another half marathon, marathon or ultra marathon is cheaper:
- The cost to organise a race differs from province to province. Some cities are simply more expensive than others.
- Many rural events can be organised at a lower cost. They don’t have the bells and whistles of an international mass participation event, and can keep their costs and entry fees low – even with very limited local sponsorships.
- There are many events in Cape Town (especially ones that are privately organised) that do not comply with official City regulations in terms of public liability, permits, medical support, etc). The OMTOM can NOT be hosted without 100% compliance, and full compliance carries a price tag.
Sustainability and the Power of Choice
But when will “too much” be too much? By simply looking at incremental price increases across the board – in life as well as sport – it is clear that an event’s fixed costs are not going down.
Take a look at the race calendar year on year, and you will find that many smaller races simply fall off the radar because hosting them was no longer viable.
The Two Oceans Marathon NPC is privileged to host a series of events over the Easter Weekend that remain popular. The Trail Runs sell out within hours, the Ultra Marathon sells out within weeks, while the Half Marathon had to move to a ballot application system to counter the high demand. The 2017 Half Marathon received 25 000 ballot applications for 16 000 spots, and application numbers are projected to increase for 2018.
Popularity attracts media attention which, in turn, attracts sponsorships. And in OMTOM’s case, sponsorships account for 70% of the event’s income.
Some runners will prefer to participate in smaller and more traditional running events with an old school approach – races without the glitz and glamour of a mass participation event, and where you can meet up with old friends.
Some runners will participate in an iconic event like the OMTOM to tick it off their bucket list.
Some runners will aim to run a few major races during the year while others will prefer to run smaller and more affordable races more regularly.
Runners have the power of choice. There is a place for all running races – big and small. In the end, running wins.