Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wittenberg, NYRR and NYC Marathon

There is a long article in today's NY Times on Mary Wittenberg, CEO of the New York Road Runners, which boasts as its marquee event the New York Marathon. All in all it's not entirely flattering. Wittenberg comes across as someone with her heart in the right place who has probably overreached. The NY Marathon is huge -- even in comparison to its already large size 10 years ago, and it is expensive -- 3 times its cost 10 years ago. Putting it in perspective, the $250 entry fee for the NY Marathon exceeds the entry fee for an Ironman 70.3, which is comparably marketed but costs substantially more (on a per athlete basis) to run and almost certainly to insure.

One thing the article doesn't say is that Wittenberg has doubled the size of the NYRR enterprise during a period of dramatic growth of running and marathoning generally. Running is historically cyclical. A person running a business during an build cycle should put in place mechanisms to handle the inevitable decline. I'm intrigued, for example, that major city marathons like Boston and Marine Corps are not prohibitively expensive. Boston may not fill up on the first day of registration, but at $150 or so it will fill up. (Marine Corps costs less than $100, and it does fill up quickly -- 30,000 runners sign up in single-digit hours. Of course, MCM has the massive competitive advantage of limited opportunity cost in engaging labor.) I learned to my amazement that the London Marathon still charges an entry fee of 35 pounds; googling "London Marathon entry" demonstrates that running it is a scarce opportunity indeed. Those races will thrive even as fewer runners seek to race. But can New York maintain 50,000 runners at a cost of $250 per person? My bet is no. I wonder how NYRR will handle the change.

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