Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bib scalping: A suggestion

See my earlier post to get what's going on re: the Houston Marathon.

No doubt, there are folks on the Houston Marathon Committee getting more emails, phone calls, and advice about this than they care to…

I understand capping a race. It happens all the time in several marathons. The logistics and resources necessary to put on a marathon are immense and health and safety issues are critical. One only needs to look at the 2007 Chicago Marathon to realize that there is a limit to how big a race a city can handle.

That said; it seems like there could be a better plan in place to get folks in the marathon who did not register prior to the cap.

The current plan is to help provide an open market for the buying and selling of bibs. In addition to the bib scalping, there’s another downside. Suppose that later in December, lot’s of folks are willing to sell there bibs at face value. And suppose that many runners hook up with these folks and get bibs. Well, that’s just great…but it sure is a hassle for everyone involved.

Here’s my suggestion…

If a registered runner finds out that they won’t be running, they let the marathon folks know asap. At that point, they get either a partial refund OR a guaranteed deferral to next year’s marathon. Bingo, there is now one more person who could sign up for the marathon.

If you’re one of the unlucky folks who missed the cap, you get on an alternate list. If you’re first on the list, you just got the spot from the runner listed above. Simple huh?

What about no-shows and last minute cancellations?
On the day before the marathon (Saturday in the case of Houston), a few of hours before the Expo closes, the marathon folks count up the number of race packets that have not been picked up.
For the sake of argument, let's say it's 500 race packets
Take some percentage of that...spose ~80% or 400 (gotta save some packets for those last minute pickups)
Then, start issuing RESERVED bib numbers to folks on the alternate list.

For folks in town, this should be pretty easy as they can hang out at the Expo. For folks out of town, they would need to know where in the alternate line they were to help them decide if they should come to Houston. If you're number 10 on the alternate list, you are 99% sure you're in (if, as Steve Karpas indicated earlier, ~10% of runners are no-shows).

Bingo, you just got up to 400 runners in the marathon.

Yes, there are logistics and details to printing out alternate bib numbers, keeping track of the alternate list, setting deadlines for refunds, etc.

However, you do eliminate (or minimize) the bib scalping that is making quite a few folks unhappy. You also eliminate the head-ache of either banning, or attempting to ban, someone because they sold their bib number on eBay for $201.

And most importantly, you provide a real service to the runners.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Houston Marathon: Setting bib prices in the 21st Century

You may have heard that registration for the Houston Marathon is closed. Yep, the darn thing capped out at 17,000, about a month ago…and it’s still 11 weeks away!

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I like the fact that it’s a relatively small marathon. But what’s a runner to do if they missed out on a bib number for Houston? Well, the Houston Marathon Committee has set up a forum on the Houston Marathon web site where folks can go to buy and sell bib numbers. The idea is that some folks may have signed up to run but may not run for various reasons. Typical reasons include injury, family plan changes, and/or training program interruptions.

I applaud the fact that the marathon committee has made an attempt to resolve the bib supply and demand issue. Unfortunately, one of the results of the bib forum is to create yet another reason to sell one’s bib number….profit. Yep, there are folks out there buying and selling bib numbers for *more* than the approximately $100 price paid…a lot more.

Capitalism is alive and well in the running community.

However, the latest news on the Houston Marathon web site is that if you attempt to sell your marathon bib for more that $200 (or half-marathon bib for more than $140), you could risk being banned from the 2009 event.

Evidently, the marathon committee has decided that 100% profit on a marathon bib is okay but any more than that is out of line. So, capitalism may be alive and well…but so is Keynesian economics.

I wonder if this has really been thought through. One can only wonder what will happen if/when someone is “caught” selling a bib number for more than $200. Is the “risk of being banned” an idle threat? If banned, will the banee protest? And then what?

It’s gonna be interesting.

Me. Well, I plan on running the Houston Marathon and I have a bib. No, it’s not for sale at any price. Ah, well, it could be if you can cover my 2009 registration and travel costs to Austin ;)