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After the successful running of the inaugural Ironman New York City (IMNYC) this past weekend, a few folks have asked what my thoughts are on some of the changes planned for next years event (at least those that were announced).
Of course, no sooner did I start contemplating a post about the changes, did World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) decide to simply put the whole thing on hold. The race that is, not my contemplating. So I’ll talk about putting it on hold in a second, but for now – let’s talk about the two big-ticket items: The $1,200 entry fee, and the race being only 15.5 hours instead of 17 hours.
First I will say note that I’m not going to dive into how this past years race was operated, as ultimately – I wasn’t there. Like any race, you’ll hear mixed things (especially for a first-time race) – but it sounds like on the whole, it met most peoples expectations (and I’m sure didn’t meet, or exceeded others) – though logistics were tough. And really, if you had signed up for IM NYC this past year, you probably had to have a certain level of expectations given the course location – from logistics to scenery to weather.
The $1,2000 entry fee:
Perhaps the biggest expected yet unexpected news was that the race would be $1,200 instead of the usual $650US registration fee – about $550 more (note that Ironman NYC for 2012 was actually more than usually at $995 last year). There was no doubt going into this year that the fee would likely have to be raised to cover the event costs of putting on an Ironman race that ended in New York City. Things simply cost more in NYC. There’s big-ticket things that cost more (such as space at locations, hiring of police officers, etc…) – but there’s also a ton of little items that really add up (host hotel costs for staffers, vehicle parking in the city for race vehicles, etc…). Ultimately it’s unrealistic to expect that a race run in rural Canada (i.e. Ironman Canada) would be the same price as one run in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
From everything I’ve read – it sounds like WTC likely took a loss for this past year on this particular race (of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t make a massive profit elsewhere). And while I know it’s easy to wish a race were cheaper, it’s not realistic to expect any race company to take a loss year after year – whether it’s one of the bigger names in sport (WTC), or your local 60-person 5K every November on a dirt path around a rainy park. No one likes losing money.
Now I’ve heard lots of examples in thinking where the extra $550 isn’t too bad if you lived in NYC (or the immediate surrounding area). And that’s true – you would potentially save on hotel costs, and the other nickel and dime costs that an out of town athlete would face. Those costs for an Ironman are normally fairly high. Many US Ironman locations tend to be in smaller towns where the costs of hotels during race weeks can easily be $300US+ a night with a minimum of 4 nights (sometimes 5 or 7 nights). Then you add in food and a rental car – and you’re well far in excess of the $550 fee.
But are there enough local triathletes in the immediate NYC area to fill that bucket each year for this particular course? Well, we’ll get to that in a second.
One area that I don’t agree with WTC on though is raising the rates for the volunteers without prior notice. Typically in an Ironman race, athletes can volunteer the day of the race and then receive guaranteed entry into the event the following year (paid at regular rates of course). This year, those athletes did their volunteering on race day– and then were told that the rate would be $1,200 instead of the normal rates. That’s poor. Ultimately, let’s not forget that WTC is a for-profit entity (not a charity) – so volunteers are doing it for the love of sport. Pulling a fast one is just not cool.
90 Minutes Shorter:
For a city that never sleeps, NYC turned out to be rather fussy this year with late-night sounds. This year around 10PM the race organizers were told they would no longer be able to amplify sounds or use a microphone. This led to finishers coming in after 10PM (but before the midnight cutoff) not having the famous “John Doe, YOU are an Ironman” echoed across the finish area. Though, the announcer did apparently do an amazing job once after his microphone was taken from him, in still welcoming the finishers as best he could. I’ve been trying to find a video on YouTube showing it, but my quest has gone unfulfilled.
The reason for the 10PM cutoff is noise ordinances in NYC that would require event planners to get permits to hold events beyond that timeframe that emit significant sound (as this would). What’s not clear is why the permit wasn’t obtained – or potentially, if it was denied.
In either case, going forward to next year, they announced that the official finish would be at 10PM (as opposed to midnight), and the start at 6:30AM (as opposed to 7AM). This would be a shift from other North American Ironman races which have always had a 17-hour cutoff. It’s not well known, but some European races do have cutoffs other than 17 hours as well.
While I don’t think this in and of itself would deter a significant portion of the population from signing up, it is a bummer nonetheless. Perhaps some of my best memories of any Ironman event come from the midnight finishers. You may remember this video I shot from Ironman Florida a couple years ago:
As with virtually all Ironman events, registration opened the morning after, enabling folks to sign-up. But, unlike virtually all Ironman events (at least in North America) – it didn’t sell out immediatly. In fact, from what the rumor mill says – far from it. No sooner than Monday morning was this sent out from WTC
“We were also told to improve the logistics for our athlete’s and supporters. Producing an event in a large urban market is complex and challenging. The combination of the ferries, transition in Palisades State Park, an inability to have amplified sound in Riverside Park after 10 p.m. and the difficulty for our spectators to watch much of the race all combined to create an athlete and spectator experience that we need to improve .
Addressing the logistical complexity requires us to reconfigure a number of elements in our race. Given the changes we believe are necessary for the 2013 event, we need to do more work to assess whether it is viable at a price point that our athletes find reasonable. Part of our commitment to the IRONMAN experience is the relationship between registration price and the value to athletes. The pricing for the 2013 race is a reflection of the operational and logistical challenges of doing business in metropolitan New York and New Jersey. Simply put, to make this event a delight for our athletes, volunteers and spectators, the race is not viable at a lower price point.
It has always been our policy at IRONMAN races in North America to open registration for the following year’s race the day after the event so that athletes and volunteers can gain guaranteed entry before general registration opens. We followed that policy yesterday for the 2013 Aquadraat Sports IRONMAN U.S. Championship. In retrospect, it was a mistake. We should have taken the time to listen to our athletes, partners and municipalities before we opened registration .
By suspending registration, we are taking the time to do that now. We need to work with all of our partners over the next several weeks to ensure that this event can be conducted in the way that our athletes expect and deserve.”
So what happened? Well, as Dan Empfield pointed out – they were on the fence about next year even prior to event day – they just went ahead with registration anyway on Sunday morning.
I suspect that once feedback starting coming in about the race (primarily the venue logistics aspect), and the new costs, it ended up being a one-two punch with respect to sign-ups for next year. With the amazing scenery of the Lake Placid Ironman not too far away, it becomes a tough sell.
As I hinted at earlier, I don’t believe there’s actually a market for that particular race layout/course at that price point, at that time of year. I think if you start changing just one of those variables – you’d have a very different outcome. The time of year isn’t ideal for most (hot and humid August), and vast chunks of the course weren’t really planned to be super-scenic. The addition of the higher registration costs and higher hotel costs certainly wouldn’t have helped the scenario.
I suspect that local NYC folks likely boosted numbers this first year, being the inaugural. But I’d be willing to bet that local NYC athlete numbers would drop-off significantly going into next year. Surely if they sold-out on race day, we probably wouldn’t be seeing the ‘suspension’ of the race.
Ultimately, I think there is a market for an Ironman NYC race – but just not given the variables currently at play. I think the race would be much more successful in early May or mid-September, and with a different course layout. Of course, both are hard to do in the confines of putting on a race in NYC. This race was years in the works, and it took a lot to get it to that point. Moving it beyond that point may take years again.
So I’d be curious – for those of you looking at an Ironman event next year (and were considering a North American Ironman) – what would persuade you to either sign-up, or not-signup for Ironman NYC, should it be offered again?
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