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March 19, 2017

Inside the process: costs of putting together a successful race

Organizations often think that putting on a race is an easy way to make some money for their group and benefit some charity. And - for the most part - this is true. For the group to make money, it takes a few members to head up the main organizational committee and do the planning.

For a 5K race, it usually involves the rest of the group showing up early on a weekend for three hours, or maybe four, and volunteering to hand out water, set up mile markers, give directions to the runners on the course and hand out refreshments after the race. Then put a few things away after the race and go back home.

It sounds easy, as long at the organizational committee did a good job of planning all the logistics of the race. The key to making a profit is to generate sponsors for the race. The sponsors hopefully will be enough to cover the costs of the race shirt, advertising, food, traffic control, awards, portable toilets, rental of a facility if needded, extra shirts for volunteers and EMT units standing by.

What most runners fail to see is how much of their entry fee goes to cover the cost of putting on a race, and why sponsors are necessary. Most 5K races charge between $25 and $35 for the entry fee. For this, the runner expects a race shirt and some food after the race; and if they run fast, to get an award.

Let’s look at the cost versus the entry fee, and determine how much of that entry fee will be a profit to the organization.

The first item is the race shirt. A long-sleeved high-tech shirt costs between $10 and $12, depending on how many colors the race logo has and who the supplier is. This can vary quite a bit sometimes. That leaves $15 of the $25 for profit.

Awards run on average about $12 for a nice trophy, and about $5 for a simple medal. Only about 48 of the runners will get an award, so the average cost is shared among all the entries. If you have 85 runners with a $10 award, the cost per runner is $5 to $6. That leaves about $10 for profit.

Traffic control for two officers usually costs $160 per officer, or $320 total. For each runner, that means about $3.75 in additional cost. The profit margin is now down to just over $6.

Post-race food and Gatorade to drink for 85 runners may cost from $50 to $75, depending on if you get bananas, oranges, doughnuts, cookies, granola bars or assorted candy for the runners. Cost is maybe $1 to $2 per runner; and you can buy a juice drink for less than Gatorade to save a little. Profit is now down to $5 at the most.

If your venue has restrooms for the runners, that is a real cost saver, unless you need to rent the facility; and then the cost goes up again. Two portable toilets will cost about $250. Facility cost will vary a lot. Some schools will have you pay for the custodian to open doors and restrooms as a charge. Cost is close to $3 per runner, leaving a profit of $2 per runner for the group.

Figuring in advertising to get the runners to enter your race as a rough estimate is around $.50 per runner (300 push cards, posters, flyers, entry forms, etc.). Profit is now $1.50 per runner. For 85 runners, that means the group will earn around $130 for the morning’s work.

If you have a larger entry base, things look a little better. Maybe it will be a popular race, and you will get 200, or even 500, runners. The problem with that is that, with each increase, there is the need for more shirts, more food, more traffic control, more portable toilets and more advertising. The good part is that the number of awards remains the same, unless you decide to give 5-year age group awards and more overall awards (Masters, Senior Masters, Grand Masters male and female).

To answer the question, “Are sponsors important or necessary?,” the resulting profit margin for putting on a race is very dependent on sponsors. If you are a non-profit group, the sponsor can write the sponsorship off as a tax-exempt contribution and receive some good advertising on the back of the shirt the runners will wear for weeks, and maybe months or even years afterwards.

Putting on a race to raise money for an organization is not just showing up early on a Saturday morning and expecting to make several thousand dollars. Sponsors, lots of planning and some dedicated people in the organization putting in many hours of work are needed to make that profit.

Runners appreciate a good, well-organized race and a nice race shirt for their entry fee; but most do not realize that the entry fee barely covers the cost of putting on a race. It is nice to support the sponsors of the race.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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