Marathoners Sprint to Races Outside New York as Entrance Fee Reaches $255

Danielle Gall, a member of the New York Road Runners, can’t convince herself to run in the organization’s flagship race. The New York City Marathon has gotten too expensive.

“I just can’t stomach paying that much,” Gall said of the race, which raised the price $60, to $255, for U.S. residents and $63, to $347, for international runners, citing increased costs. “I’m afraid it’s becoming an elitist sport that nobody can afford.”

Gall, a 40-year-old Manhattan physical therapist who has run the race five times, plans to register for the California International Marathon in December. She’s doing that even though her qualifying time of 1 hour, 31 minutes, 2 seconds in last year’s NYC Half Marathon gives her automatic entry into the longer New York event.

More marathoners like Gall might soon revolt against marquee races if prices continue to increase, said Rick Nealis, race director of the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Virginia. He said runners may instead choose his race, with what he says is a cheapest-in-the-U.S. price of $92.

“I’m concerned about the sport,” Nealis, a 58-year-old former Marine, said in a telephone interview. “When are we going to price ourselves to the point where people stop coming?”

Tad Scepaniak, a real estate consultant from Atlanta, entered the lottery for the 2012 New York marathon when it opened on Jan. 2, calling it a “once in a lifetime” race. That doesn’t mean he wants to get picked.

‘Through the Roof’

Last week, Scepaniak, who has run three 26.2-mile races in the past two years, also signed up for the Chicago Marathon, which costs $105 less than New York’s $255 entry fee.

“It’s excessive,” Scepaniak, 37, said of the New York race. “Especially for a race that size, with 45,000 people, it seems excessive for what you get out of it.”

Nealis’s Marine Corps Marathon is the fourth-most attended race in the U.S., with 30,000 runners registering last year. Only New York, Chicago and Boston attract more. It’s also the country’s only marathon with all entry fees below $100, according to Nealis.

“I’m against taking these prices through the roof,” Nealis said.

Richard Finn, a spokesman for the New York Road Runners, said the price increase was necessary to pay for staging costs, including service charges by the city’s police department. In previous years, the city covered those costs.

Television Deal

About a week after the price increase was revealed, the New York Road Runners announced that the Nov. 4 race will be carried on ESPN2, which reaches almost every household with cable or satellite television, and on ABC’s affiliate in the New York area.

Finn said he wasn’t permitted to disclose financial terms of the five-year accord with the Walt Disney Co.-owned networks. He said the pact won’t offset the increased costs of staging the race.

“This isn’t an NFL-type of a deal,” he said, comparing it to the National Football League’s $1.9 billion annual agreement with ESPN. “It’s a big deal in terms of the exposure, but it’s not big when it comes to our bank account.”

As Nealis prepares for a possible influx of new runners to his Marine Corps race when registration opens March 7, marathon directors in Chicago and Philadelphia are also watching the effect of New York’s increase.

‘Happy Beneficiary’

“I was surprised that it was such a high price,” Philadelphia race director Melanie Johnson said. “You’re going to have some people who don’t want to pay that. We are always very happy to be the beneficiary.”

The Philadelphia marathon will be run Nov. 18, two weeks after the New York race.

So far, the price hasn’t kept runners away from New York, one of the five World Marathon Majors along with Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin. New York benefits from being a “bucket list” race, Finn said.

Eleven days after registration opened for the New York race on Jan. 2, 50,000 entries had been submitted for its annual lottery selection system, a total that took 38 days longer to reach a year earlier.

“The demand and the interest and the allure of running New York is as strong, if not maybe stronger than last year,” Finn said. “This price increase doesn’t seem to have turned away people.”

Demand Up

The demand to run marathons is also increasing, according to statistics from Running USA, a Colorado Springs, Colorado- based organization that tracks road-race participation. In 2010, a record 507,000 runners finished 26.2-mile races, up from 303,000 a decade earlier. Participation numbers for 2011 aren’t yet available.

The Chicago Marathon, which raised its 2012 registration cost $5 to $150 for U.S. residents, Feb. 6 sold out of 45,000 slots for the Oct. 7 race in a record six days. It took 31 days in 2011, said race director Carey Pinkowski, 53.

“We’ve been delivering a great value for our participants, but all cities are having challenges with budgets,” said Pinkowski, who is in his 22nd year as the race’s director. “Race directors are feeling the squeeze and that cost has to be passed along to the event.”

Before New York raised its price, the Boston Marathon had upped its registration this year by $20 to $150 a year after the world’s oldest annual marathon sold out in a record eight hours. Unlike most marathons, including New York, general entry runners are required to qualify for Boston, which will be held April 16.

Runners’ willingness to pay higher prices doesn’t make it right to charge more, Nealis said. The average income of runners who enter races and train year-round is $75,000, according to a 2011 Running USA survey.

“It shouldn’t be something we take for granted,” he said. “As a runner, it’s almost like you’re stealing from a family member. It seems like people are filling their coffers. I’ve got to believe that the runners are going to eventually revolt.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Buteau in Atlanta at mbuteau@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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