Big, But Expensive Day: Vermont 50 Registration

One week has passed since the big day. No, it wasn’t a big race. It was actually a race registration. Despite an explosion of endurance sporting events, there is still more demand than supply for the true epics. Last Wednesday at 7:00 P.M. EDT was the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run registration on Active.com. I loath Active.com. There are several lower cost upstart alternatives and I’m rooting for them. With online registration, you are locked into that service and the exorbitant fees that they charge. Active.com charges more than the rest. It is brutal.

This note from the race director explains the demand:

Many wonder how long it took, so here is the scoop. In the first 12 minutes 654 were in and it took 1 hour 3 minutes to fill 800 Mt Bike spots. As you know I over book knowing the history of this event that 100 – 125 will have conflicts and will not attend. That is how the airlines do it and that is how we have learned to do it.

This is one more example how the Internet changes the game. In the “old days,” you mailed a check with your paper registration form. Today, you queue up (virtually) at the posted time with your fingers limber and ready to work the mouse and keyboard. This is the “race to get into the race.” It’s a total bummer if you were at a Little League game with your son, didn’t have the appropriate smartphone or mobile device, and just plain forgot…like one of my teammates.

So, what about the cost? The race registration fee was $125.00 and the Active.com fee was $11.69, which I consider outrageous. I’ve been doing the VT50 since 1999, when I think the race entry was $50.00. I can live with the inflation on the entry because the majority of the proceeds benefit Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sport, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. Plus, the fee is simply market rate. Note the race directors comments above. I highlight this point with a story. After registering, I phoned a teammate to congratulate him on getting into the race. Imagine that! I asked him how much the entry was. He said, “I don’t know, I was going to register no matter the cost.” So, there you go-market rate.

The online registration fee is what burns me up. Active.com brought in $9352.00 for what? Sure, they have servers that can manage 654 people registering at once, but the cost is highway robbery when a stamp and envelope are less than $1.00. Paperless is great, but not at these prices. The VT50 race committee raised some serious cash in a matter of minutes. They rely on volunteer labor and additional donations (both cash and in-kind) to help round out their revenue. The no shows are pure profit.

The VT50 does have an allure. So do many other races. The ultramarathon trail running community has seen an explosion in demand for its marquis events. Western States Endurance Run, Hardrock Hundred, and Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc have all gone to qualifiers AND lotteries. I won’t delve too deeply into the triathlon scene, where race registration is a science. Ironman brand races fill up 364 days in advance. The float on the fees that the World Triathlon Corporation collects is insane. Talk about positive cash flow. I thought Dell Computer was good when they collected their money before paying suppliers for consigned inventory. Imagine revenue recognition a year before the race and well before any real expenses associated with the race were incurred. Hopefully they have a good banker because with interest races in the cellar, the game isn’t as lucrative as it probably once was. Cash is indeed king. Many arguments have ensued as a result of race registration policies. I don’t see that ending any time soon. If you are a capitalist, or even a not-for-profit capitalist, there is room for more epic events at a venue near you. I’ll be lining up in late September for the VT50 and I’ll probably forget what I paid, at least for a moment.

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