Thursday, April 16, 2009

In Unsettled Times, TCM Registration Opens;
Grandma's Still 1800 Runners Short of Full

Registration for October's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon opens in the middle of the night tonight -- at a minute after midnight Friday morning, to be exact.

It also opens in the middle of what appears to be an unsettled time for big ticket road racing events in Minnesota.

Factors including the beleaguered economy, high entry fees, frustration over ancillary costs of destination races, and competition from start-up events appear to be stunting registration for June's Grandma's Marathon.

john cena

While Twin Cities Marathon, Inc. officials are confident they will fill their race in near-normal fashion, registration season for the 28th TCM offers more uncertainty than those of the recent past.

Grandma's Numbers Down

As the Duluth News-Tribune reported earlier this week, HERE, Grandma's Marathon is still 1800 runners short of filling the field for its June 20 race. The race. which has reached its capacity for 14-straight years, had filled to its 9500 runner field-size by this time last year.

In the News-Tribune story, Grandma's Marathon executive director Scott Keenan attributed the entrant fall-off to the dismal economy, adding that he thought competition from start-up marathons, including those in Minneapolis and Stillwater, the recently rescinded head-phone ban, and Duluth lodging rates were contributing factors.

The entrant shortfall costs the race dearly -- a 1500 runner short-fall would bring $127,000 fewer dollars into event coffers to support it $2.1 million budget. Grandma's did raise its entry fee to $85 this year, up from $75 last year.

Ryan Lamppa, a running industry researcher for the trade organization Running USA, however, told DtB that the economic downturn does not appear to have impacted major marathon registration beyond Grandma's.

"Across the country, thus far in 2009, road races including marathons have been reaching record levels despite the recession; in short, a record or sold-out field more typical than not," he said.

Lamppa listed a dozen 2009 marathons that posted sold-out or record-sized fields. He noted that the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta registered 45,000 entrants on-line in seven hours, while the Army 10 Miler in Washington, DC sold out in a record six-days.

If reader comments on the News-Tribune story and on the Star-Tribune's own short piece about the topic, HERE, are are indicative of wider sentiment, anger over the cost of lodging in Duluth on Grandma's weekend may have reached a tipping point for some out-of-town Grandma's participants.

Duluth hotels typically jack up rates and require multi-night stays the weekend of Grandma's. In belt-tightened times, enough may be enough for some cash-strapped runners.

Just how many runners may have chosen the Minneapolis Marathon and the Anytime Fitness Stillwater Marathon over Grandma's is unclear. Neither race responded to e-mail inquiries about registration figures.

TCM Remains Confident

Like Grandma's, the Twin Cities Marathon, while filling to capacity in each of the last 22 years, has seen the rate at which it fills slow in recent years. In 2006, TCM closed in 15 days, in 2007 it took 19 days, last year it closed in 33 days.

Twin Cities Marathon officials, who didn't raise the event's $95 entry fee this year, say they've budgeted conservatively for 2009, yet still expect strong numbers. The race caps its marathon field at 11,000 runners.

"Overall, what we're seeing out there is that people are running," TCM executive director Virginia Brophy Achman told DtB. "It's a sign of the times; you've got to get out and go for a run and get some stress relief. I think people are making a choice to invest in themselves, in their health and their wellness."

TCM's apparent advantages over Grandma's in the current climate include having the vast majority of its entrants reside in the Twin Cities metro area, taking lodging costs out of the equation for them. TCM also doesn't face competition from emerging local marathons as does Grandma's.

But, starting at 12:01 tomorrow morning, TCM officials will begin to learn exactly where their race stands in relation to the new economics and current realities that face Minnesota road racing in 2009.

Online registration information for the 2009 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon can be found HERE.


miller said...

A) Road race directors pushed USATF to amend it's rules to ban headphones. This was not something that USATF forced upon road races.

B) Many races chose to ignore the rule, while Grandma's and TCM went to great lengths to enforce it.

C) Both Grandma's and TCM vigorously defended the headphone ban, citing safety concerns.

So it's a little ridiculous for Scott Keenan to cite the USATF rule as one of the contributing factors. Enforcing the rule was an error on his part. Keenan needs to take responsibility if some runners are staying away because of his decision.

Charlie said...

I noted the headphone "factor" because Scott Keenan mentioned it in the DNT story. I didn't explore it in my reporting for the DtB story because I didn't think it was likely much of a factor.

I could, of course, be wrong about that.

If anything, though, I'd think the rescinding of the headphone ban would bring "headphoned" runners back to Grandma's rather than continue to keep them away.

-- Charlie

Eric said...

The ancillary cost issue is keeping at least two runners away from Duluth this year. My wife and I will be heading elsewhere for a June marathon and spending *reasonable* amounts on lodging.

I've never heard anything bad about Grandma's Marathon that didn't have to do with the price gouging that goes on in the hospitality industry. This may be the year that everyone involved learns a lesson the hard way.

bizyah said...

The one issue not raised in the writeup is the reputation for warm weather that the race has gotten over the past few years. Deserved or not, a lot of runners have begun to associate hot, uncomfortable racing with Grandmas. Add that in with the other factors and you have a lot of reasons to skip that race for something else. Which is too bad. All of the staff and volunteers and everyone in town do a fantastic job putting on the race and creating one of the best atmospheres for a race you can imagine. I do hope the race organizers take a hard look at all of the factors within their control for next year's event. Seriously considering a date change might be one of the options necessary to get the event back on track.

Eric said...

Valid point on the weather.

One more quick comment. I think Grandma's reputation as a fast and well-managed (and what the heck, fun) race would have served it well versus the competition from the upstart races. The problem is the ridiculous cost of staying in the Duluth area has opened the door to the other races, and just like with any other business, it's harder to make a customer happy than to keep them happy. Once they go, they're gone.

Last thing, I promise...Miller is spot on about the headphone issue. Grandma's alienated a lot of people with their stance on iPods, etc. Contrast that with the Fargo Marathon, where people were encouraged to bring their music, and the race was marketed as 'headphone-friendly'. That alone has paid huge dividends for Fargo's numbers year over year. And this is a race that has had terrible weather every year it has been run.

Grandma's needs to get back to its roots, and start treating runners like customers, not cattle. It's not Scott's fault that hotel prices are ridiculous, but he and his crew better do something about it soon.