Race Directors have a tough job – there’s no doubt about that. They have to balance putting on a quality event, while still making it work financially. Triathlons are far from cheap events to put on, instead of just one sport – there are three. This means three times the amount of space/area/roads to close, three times the complexity and in many cases – up to three times the insurance costs. So many races ‘scrape by’ from year to year, with Race Directors putting them on without making much, if any money. The vast majority of race directors do it because they love the sport and the community it brings.
This post is not about them.
This post is about the other end of the spectrum. This is about high profile, high numbers of athlete races which do make money…sometimes lots of money. There are really only a handful of races that fall into this category each year in the US and abroad. And for this specific post, I’m actually not talking about Ironman or Ironman 70.3’s. Instead, I’m talking primarily about Olympic distance races.
See, it’s these races that offer the biggest ‘bang’ for the buck. Many of these higher profile events are charging upwards of $200-250 an athlete for the International Distance event. And many of these races have upwards of 4,000-6,000 athletes, combined with major and minor sponsors.
With that, there’s an interesting trend developing amongst some races (but primarily high profile races) of not staffing enough USAT officials for the event. In fact, some upcoming major races are actually only staffing USAT officials for Elite or Elite-like waves. This despite collecting race fees from everyone.
In short: If you’re not racing elite…your race isn’t really being officiated.
Now – one might ask if this is a question of money. After all – aren’t USAT officials paid? Yup, they are. But for an USAT Official at the Oly/Sprint distance the fee is only $85. Meaning, it would take a 43 cent increase in price for every 200 athletes to cover this. Often motorcycles are covered by local motorcycle clubs which do it on a volunteer basis. There can be additional hotel costs for races that have to pull officials from a different area – but largely speaking, major races near urban areas (cities) don’t have this issue.
Next you might ask – what is the recommended USAT ratio of racers to Refs? Well, it varies a bit – but roughly speaking the minimum suggested number of ref’s is 1 per 200 racers. So, an event with 1,000 people would have at least 5 refs out on the course.
Finally you might ask – why not simply charge everyone an extra few bucks and add more refs? Well, that’s a Race Director decision for the most part. In some cases the Race Director’s would say that the course becomes unsafe with the additional motorcycles. Ironically, it’s these same races that are trying to cram 5,000+ people onto a course that’s realistically not fit for 5,000 cyclists trying to compete, let alone an extra 10 or so motorcycles.
But triathlon racing in general is a business, not a charity event. Thus, most of the companies putting on larger races do it to make money. Their two choices are usually either raise the number of racers, or raise the price. Though it seems the popular ones actually utilize both techniques.
The issue here isn’t USAT or USAT officials – they just staff based on race directors requests. Meaning, USAT doesn’t decide how many ref’s to assign to a race. They simply ‘fulfill an order’ from the Race Director.
Now – the real question I have is: Does it bother you?
Does it bother you that you’ve paid your $250, but your race isn’t actually officiated unless you’re in that Elite/Elite-ish wave?
I know it would for me.
So I’m curious: What are your thoughts on it? Should Race Directors ensure that races are adequately staffed with USAT officials – or is a token presence good enough to do the job? And if increasing the staffing to ‘keep it safe’ means decreasing the number of racers on spot-limited events – is that OK? And are you willing to pay an extra 50 cents or a dollar to have a full staffed event?