Race Cancelations: Their Consequences

by Kristen Hislop

Here comes the next running boom! It is absolutely incredible to see so many people out running these days. It is a silver lining to this horrible pandemic. Did you see the guy in France who ran a marathon on his balcony? And while I love seeing people out getting exercise and using the parks in March, it also pains me to see races having to postpone and cancel.

Putting on road races is not an easy moneymaker. If it was, the world would be overrun with race directors. As it is, many work on a race for a few years before burning out. Many organizations start races to raise funds as well as awareness. For these organizations it is critical to carefully watch expenses. I can tell you that the Shenendehowa Track Club puts lot of work into the annual Veterans Day Dash partially as a fundraiser, but also because we feel it is important to support the running community. There are other fundraising activities that would take less bandwidth and potentially bring in more revenue to support programs.

With COVID-19 striking at the start of race season, it is hitting many organizations really hard. Most people look at local races as fundraisers without much understanding of the price side of the equation. I hope to share that with you in this article.

Most people think the costs associated with a race are timing, shirts and awards. Yes, those tend to be big ticket items, but are only part of what goes into event production. Every race needs insurance coverage and city/state permits. Once these are purchased there is no refund. Races will pay sanction/certification fees and event/venue fees. Sometimes space will be donated, but often a city park will charge a fee to use the venue. Then, based on your course, you might need police support and you should have EMS/medical in case of emergencies. You’ll potentially have barricades, tents, porta potties, massage, volunteer and event food, water, and volunteer groups. Yes, these days many races will give a donation to volunteer groups to be able to put on the event. Depending on when you cancel, most of those businesses have already requested a 50% non-refundable deposit - they are businesses after all. By the time most races will cancel, they already have spent your entry fee and sponsor money to host the event.

Today most races put a no refunds policy statement on their registration page and in the waiver, but likely most runners sign up without reading the fine print. If the decision is yours not to race, it is different than a weather event or certainly COVID-19. No one saw that coming for the 2020 season (outside of epidemiologists who have known it was coming). 

Capital Region runners are notorious for signing up late for races! This might mean you pay more to do the race, but also that the race has fronted the money in anticipation of registered runners. A dicey game, and likely one that most will not play in the future.

As we move through this pandemic, you’ll see races offer different options:
Postpone to a later date - this could mean additional costs in marketing, new permits, sanction/certification costs, etc. The Druthers Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon has done this and will likely incur some new costs for the August 29, 2020 event date. I would encourage you to read Josh’s article here to understand the impact on his business. Several options are available to runners entered in this year’s race: August date, April 17, 2021 (next year’s race), 2 entries into the Thacher Park Trail Running Festival or Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon & Squirrelly Six Mile, or a refund. 

Cancel – The NYC Half Marathon did this and is not refunding any money. You could defer your entry to 2021 which will allow you to sign up for the race by paying the 2021 entry and processing fees. Other smaller races are offering different levels of refund.

Virtual - the race will have all the sunk costs plus the cost mailing of shirts and other swag.

Defer - allow people to roll their entry over to the next year. This can be tough with races that have lotteries or qualifying times.

Donate - many races will offer the opportunity to donate your entry to them (as a charity) or to the charities that they support.

On March 19, over 300 race directors joined a call with Running USA to learn about best practices for event cancellation. Of those, 62% had never had to cancel an event before. On this call, 66% had already cancelled a 2020 event. 80% did not have cancellation insurance for their 2020 event. Of course, not all event cancellation policies will cover COVID-19. This is an incredibly large hit to the entire industry.

Please understand that no race wants to be in the position of deciding what to do during this COVID-19 pandemic. We have so many fantastic events in the area that support awesome causes. In many cases these races are the major fundraiser for an organization. In addition, the cancellation of an event impacts all the businesses that support the running industry: timing, tents, porta potties, parks, and the list goes on.

Let’s pull together, support our events and drive the next running boom.

Kristen Hislop Archive

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