New York City fuss over policing costs highlights dilemma for “big-city marathons”

Should major, city-marathons in Canada raise their entry fees as cities everywhere download costs; OR cut back on the quality of the ‘marathon experience’ by reducing ‘extras’ like fancy medals and on-course entertainment?

City Staff & Police at STWM2010 in The Beach: vital, enthusiastic partners, but increasingly costly ones

February 12th. Not sure how many of you saw the interesting, major piece in the New York Times on Wednesday about the issue of policing coasts for the New York City Marathon and other road races in Gotham? It was co-authored by Liz Robbins, who wrote the book A Race Like No Other all about the NYC Marathon [see a super 3 minute video with Liz on her book — a truly great lady as well as journo]. The article is well worth a look, as it really highlights a growing issue facing most, “big-city marathons” across North America. While “city marathons”  like New York, Chicago, Houston, LA or Toronto Waterfront have become “the glory in our sport” as IAAF President Lamine Diack said in Athens last Fall, we are all faced with the urban dilemma — the chronic under-funding of cities everywhere. It also underscores how important the “City” is in partnerships with all our races.

According to Wednesday’s article:

By charging a new, separate fee, the [New York] police are trying to offset the rising costs and increasingly burdensome job of shutting down traffic for popular athletic events.

ING NYC Race Director Mary Wittenberg replied that NY Road Runners paid a total of $107,00 for policing  for their 7 races on city streets including the NYC Marathon, and that:

 if the police department’s proposal were adopted, New York would be the only city hosting a major marathon to ask race directors to pay for the full cost of police coverage. Indeed, the Boston and Chicago Marathons do not pay their police separate fees.

Hey Mary, come to Toronto — plus a bunch of other North America cities! Last September we paid $148,000 for our policing costs for Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. And in contrast to Mary’s statement, the chats I have with many other Race Directors, we’re all paying a substantial amount [Montreal is a notable exception where the City provides a substantial grant  of “city services”].

Perhaps more important, like NYC, the amounts keep going up, owing to the chronic shortage of $$ in city coffers everywhere. In 2006 our police bill for STWM was just $58,000; now it’s $148,000! And it’s not just the police — its a wide range of City services. In 2006 we paid $1,300 to the TTC for STWM-related expenses; in 2010 the figure was $29,000! We also paid for hydrants to be capped, expressway ramps to be closed, garbage to be picked up, cones and barricades and traffic signs to be put out.

Don’t get me wrong. This is NOT a rant about City costs, its a ponderous piece on how the chronic underfunding of cities across the continent is leading to the downloading of every cost imaginable onto races, other events and festivals. And the trend is only going to continue.

Cheryl and I are off to San Antonio later today for the annual Running USA Conference. It is THE Conference in North America for the entire running industry. I’m going to ask some questions of all our RD buddies out there and find out a little more precise detail on “city costs” and get back to you next week. Stay tuned!

While the 12 Neighbourhood Cheering & Entertainment sites on the STWM course contribute in a major way to the 'STWM experience' they cost the event between $7,500 and $10,000 each in support costs. Are they important?

For now, however, we can still ask “what does it mean for our events and for all of us — organizers and participants?” At present, our CRS Team are finishing up our 2011 budgeting and we have been, like the City, going through every facet of all our events, line by line. We’ve never done it THIS determinedly, and we’ll continue to do this. We also have a GREAT relationship with the City of Toronto, and they are GREAT partners — including Council and City Staff [Transportation, Economic Development], and Police and TTC. 

The only other option we have to meticulously controlling costs and negotiating with the City to mitigate the increasing fees that are unstopable, is increasing “User fees”, ie. Entry fees. So far, I think STWM and Canadian races have remained comparatively, VERY, affordable. Today, STWM is $85 + 13% HST ($11.05) + $6 online processing fee = $102.05. Ottawa Marathon is $100 [Late fee $125] + $6.50 processing fee. In comparison, Chicago this year is $145 for US residents and $170 for international runners; Los Angeles is similarly $145 (US participants), $170 (International runners); New York is a stunning $196 for US residents and $281 for non-Americans PLUS $11 processing fees!

What do YOU say?

— Should races pay 100% of City costs?

— Should Canada’s major marathons like STWM and Ottawa raise their entry fees to internationally competitive levels and offer more of a BIG BANG show/experience rather than cut costs by cutting back on “extras” like fancy medals, on-course entertainement, guest speakers, Marathon Flame or similar features?

More on this when I get back from San Antonio… stay tuned…


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4 Responses to New York City fuss over policing costs highlights dilemma for “big-city marathons”

  1. jono says:

    Hey Alan – I’m curious who mandates the number of police required by the race, and why they need to be actual police officers? So many of them are just standing against some barrier or what not, really not performing anything I would see as a “police” function. If contruction crews can direct traffic in the summer, can’t similar folks be employed for that function at races?

    • abrookes says:

      Good comments/questions, Jono.
      I just returned from Running USA Conference — apologies for slow response.
      To answer your question, we work very closely and have a good relationship with the Toronto Police Traffic & Events team, to develop a professional “Traffic Management Plan” that is required by the City in order to obtain a permit. Safety and legal liability are important issues in permitting for the City.
      Ultimately, the Police determine the # of officers, but we DO have a say. The challenge in Toronto is the system that has grown up, with ALL policing of festivals and events being done by police offers (as you note) who also have ot be paid time-and-a-half. In Vancouver and Chicago, for example they use “TMAs” — Traffic Management Assistants who are paid a lot less than police officers. For STWM we have about 200 officers and paid $148,000 in 2010. In comparison, Dallas had 300 regular police officers — but they paid just under $100,000 for their event in December. The reason there, is they only pay “regular time”, not time and a half.
      There are many variations out there. Hopefully we can adopt some new approaches in Toronto, which help not only our festivals and events — but also re-deploy highly-trained police officers to do their primary jobs of community policing, rather than racking up huge hours directing the odd car in and out of condo parking garges on race routes, or guarding entrances/exits to Buskerfest site, &c.
      Folks at the City ARE working on it. I’ll keep you all posted.

  2. Mark says:

    In the 35 years of running and racing in various running events, I have seen my share of variations on the same theme, along with an escalation of the costs and “extras” for the events themselves. What seems to be changing the most is a shift away from hosting a running event for running enthusiasts that raises some cash for a worthy cause, into something more akin to a Hollywood gala event. How much of it is really necessary to attract participants to a running event? Cities have the right to download costs on our running events and not have the residents or business owners affected by road closures bear any of the burden.

    How about looking closer at managing the impact and costs associated with the event, while providing options for the “extras” that allow the participants to pay for what they want. You could reduce costs by hiring off duty police officers, negotiating a fixed rate with them that is reasonable for both parties and have a mix of police and TMAs to implement your TMP. Perhaps you can rethinking the race route so that it uses more of the City’s parklands rather than streets in a manner that reduces much of the costs of the TMP, plus minimizes the impact on City traffic altogether. I love running down the Don Valley system, the Martin Goodman Trail, in The Beach and in High Park – How about showcasing to the world the greener side of Toronto.

    Regarding the other race costs, unless I am one of the top 3 crossing the finish line or the same in my age-gender group, I don’t need a medal. I also have a basement full of unworn race T-shirts. If I wanted these mementos I would pay extra for them, so facilitate these options upon sign-up. The live bands I find are just a noisy distraction rather than a motivator, so please drop them altogether, like most runners I have a portable iPod device if I want to listen to music while running. One last thing – If you want this to be an international event, start charging the same price for both local and international participants rather than charging a higher fee for international participants. Aren’t they already paying more just traveling here for the event and spending more money while visiting our City? Perhaps if you could demonstrate a positive impact to the City in terms of revenues generated by international participants, and provide a route with minimal disturbance to the City’s streets, they and their constituents would be happy to share in some of the clean-up, hydrant capping and/or TMP costs.

  3. Brenda Hunter says:

    I’ve participated in 3 marathons, including Toronto. While the entertainment is fun and certainly contributes to the atmosphere, I think it would be preferable to keep the entry price as affordable as possible by limiting the extras. What I appreciate the most during such a challenging event is being in the midst of a huge group of fellow runners. Fewer runners would mean less peer support and fewer people to share the experience with. Thanks for bringing up this topic!

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