Monday, July 30, 2012

Local Crits

(edited to correct prize purses for Brad Lewis and Derby Days)

It seems like there's a time each year in Washington for a rant concerning prize money inequality between men and women / prize money-to-registration fee ratios.  This year, the rant came right at the end of June, which made sense because a) The Joe Homes threw some chum in the water with a  Facebook post, and b) it was the weekend of Tacoma Twilight, the only local crit of the year to offer zero prize money for any women's field.

First off:  Ivy, if you want lots of minutes per dollar, I think RAAM has a great ratio.

One issue with discussions like these is that they often bring out opinions based on impressions and anecdotal evidence rather than an actual examination of the trends that are being criticized.  So because I only contribute to a discussion if I am completely right about everything ever (which happens surprisingly frequently), I decided to look at some stats from WA crits to see what is going on.  After all, I didn't complete my college education in vain. I completed it in Walla Walla.

All the info here came from results sheets, registration websites, race fliers, and emails with local promoters.

Stats. Ready, go! Let's start with a simple one: total prize purse, men and women combined.

Okay, so I see an outlier. Derby days paid out $8575  across all categories. Next best was Joe Matava at $1831.  They achieved this by paying out 50% of registrations for all women's races, including $425 for the women's Cat 4.

Alright. Objections.  No fair! It doesn't take # of racers into account! Joe Holmes probably packed a ferry with every racer on the entire Island of Kitsap to race and pad his wallet with reg $. Nope. White Bread wasn't even there.  Here's average prize money per entrant.

Okay, that's impressive. $28.84 to second place Tacoma's $6.73.  But Derby Days is probably one of the more expensive crits, so they can pay out more for the same % of registration income, right? Wrong again. Here is prize purse to total registration income.

Pretty much the same as the last graph.  Stop and think about this one for a minute. Derby Days paid out $1.02 for every dollar that it brought in through registration. North Bend was a distant second at 27 cents on the dollar, which they achieved by paying out 50% of reg in all paying categories.  Volunteer Park's purse was middle of the pack, but they brought in so much money from their big fields that they wound up last by this measure at 10 cents on the dollar.

Now, no self-respecting promoter is going to shell out without getting his beak wet first, so where did all of Derby Days' money come from? Joe Holmes gave some answers about that a few years ago.  Go get sponsors.  There is obviously more to the prize purse equation than how much money a race brings in through registration.  There are costs of permits, porta-pots, coppers, officials, insurance, etc., and Joe admits that he saves money by combining Derby Days with an existing street festival, something that not every race has the option to do (why don't we have a naked Fremont solstice crit, btw? Oh, because we would need ink numbers. Plus we would have to see Stangeland topless. Nevermind.).  But even taking that into account,  it should be clear that promoters could do a lot more in terms of making their races more affordable to justify the low prize purse, or increasing their prize purse to justify the entry fee.

Okay, now for the contentious stuff: man vs. woman.  Here's the trend that is the source for most of the complaints from the ladies:

When I look at this, I think, a) Joe Holmes is trying to compensate for something by having the longest bar, and b) women are getting the short end of the stick.  Apparently, having a small women's prize purse is enough to keep the complaints at bay, but it becomes too much to bear when Tacoma  tells women that the joy of racing should be enough for them. I mean the joy of racing and a $20 gift certificate to Pirelli's Pizza.  And an envelope. You can reuse that.  Again, I'm skeptical of whether Joe Matava actually paid out as strong as they did at the women's race.  I'm still waiting to hear from the promoter, but if anyone knows either way, they should let me know. (update: Joe Matava promoters confirmed they paid out 50% to all women's categories)

So you don't need that chart to know that men's purses are almost without exception substantially bigger than women's. But you do need the following chart to show you how much money there is per entrant, male and female, at the races.

This chart takes into account the fact that even though there is generally less money available to women's fields, there are also generally fewer women showing up. Among races that actually paid out to women, all but Ballard and Derby Days actually saw more money per female racer than per male racer.  This illustrates the chicken-and-egg situation: women won't show up if there's lousy money, and promoters are less likely to obtain prize money if they expect low turnout. Vicious cycle! For an individual female racer, it is hard to strike a balance between wanting to hold promoters accountable  and wanting to give them a reason to pay out.  Support a race with a bad purse and you're enabling a trend you oppose; boycott it and you give them a reason to further cut prizes.  Because the group of female racers who might show up on a given race day is a much harder force to organize than the small number of people responsible for gathering prize money for a race, the onus to provide prize money falls primarily on the promoter. "If you build it, they will come" kind of thing. In exchange, women need to be ready to reward responsive promoters with their patronage.

But if you build it, will they come? This chart represents riders per $100 of prize fee. You would expect it to be pretty flat, since races with less prize money would get fewer entrants.

There is no correlation between prize purse and number of racers. Volunteer park gets 36 racers for $100 in prizes, while Derby Days gets 3.  There are a lot of variables at play here. Derby Days was the same day as Boise Twilight and Tour of White Rock, so in spite of its large prize list, it didn't have a big draw.  Bellingham had masters medals up for grabs so it got a lot of racers for an average prize purse. Volunteer Park is like a 2 minute ride from most people in the city.  It had the 3rd smallest purse, but the largest turnout of any crit on the calendar by more than 100 racers.

Here's one take that I think misses the mark:

Yeah, if you don't like it, you can leave! 

A couple of false assumptions here. First, there are a limited number of promoters in the state.  It's not like there are tons of disgruntled promoters who couldn't find a time slot on the calendar and are waiting for someone to make a mistake so they can snatch a spot.  Second, promoters can be lazy and still not be priced out of the market.  The previous chart shows that race attendance is inelastic with respect to prize money. People will still show up, albeit begrudgingly, even if a race has a bad prize purse.  This isn't the first year that Brad Lewis hasn't had a women's purse, yet women continue to come and race.  The economic transaction argument relies on perfect competition and elastic race attendance, neither of which is the case.  Third, telling someone to take a hike if they don't like the way things are is a really shitty way of avoiding problems with the status quo, and is especially easy to do when you're not the one who has it rough.  For perspective, very few, if any racers in the state are going to live and die based on prize money at local crits.  In fact, the situation isn't even burdensome enough that racers are leaving the sport in droves.  But is that really the standard we should use to decide whether or not there is room for improvement in our current system?

The takeaway for me from all this is that promoters can decide whether they want to provide development for the sport by doing the leg work to make racing less financially burdensome for racers, or whether they want to provide a consumer good that transfers more of the cost of racing onto the racers.  Making money off of a race and slacking on finding sponsors is obviously winning with some of the promoters in the area, and the market currently allows them to do that without fear of repercussion.  Luckily for anyone who doesn't like the way things are, the racing community is small, and we don't all have to be price-takers.  #occupyboatstreet

Monday, March 5, 2012

Heading South

My legs hurt because I raced my bike for four days! Here are a few pics from the last week before I go work some more on my stark tan lines.

"My advice would be to ransack the shit out of that shit." That was the last advice I received before Joe and I left Sacramento for the first time on the way down to Merced to race Merco. In another demonstration of the flexibility of our language, "shit" here refers to the pantry of our host house, while "shit" refers to all the food in that pantry.

I was sad to leave our host house, filled as my bedroom was with Bionicles. Luckily for me, our hosts in Merced were enthusiasts of decorative figurines, too! In the reading room, they had a number of totems:

And I couldn't forget their impressive collection of mirthfully-laughing-mothers-of-large-litters-of-children:

And lastly, my favorite of their miniatures. Guess which is the real thing:

(Nissan 350z: PRO!)

(Nissan 350z model--with spoiler! Double PRO!)

But enough about decorative figurines (for now). We didn't come for the decorative figurines; we came to RACE! With a team car and everything! Unfortunately, some teams have bigger budgets than us. For instance, Rabobank didn't just bring a team car, they brought a team building!

(I'ma need to make a withdrawal.)

(Their team car was slightly less [more?] intimidating.)

It was a tough weekend, and we had some bad luck with Cody breaking his elbow in the crit (heal up you fast mafa!). The 8:00 start wound up being just the way Joe described it, but it was good to stretch the legs at something bigger than a local TT ahead of team camp and Sandy Mass in two weeks. Here is some photographic evidence that I raced my bike.

(I'm winning! I'm winning!)

Now I'm back in Sacramento for a few days until a Sprinter van rolls into town, bundles me into the back and delivers my arse from temptation, I mean to Agoura Hills.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Well, global audience, all those months of hitting refresh on my blog have finally paid off. I've shed the binding ties (tying binds?) of full-time employment, and since all I have to do for the next several months is travel around racing my bike and do errands for Joe Holmes, I have more time for what's really important.

So I'll start with the shortest of reduxes. After the Skagit circuit race, I decided that wearing anything other than a long-sleeve skinsuit was for total squares because A) no race in the NW is long enough to require you to have anything in your pockets, and B) they make you feel like an eel! So I raced Gig Harbor in one, and got to wonder why Stanko was pulling back every break. Then I got to race Carnation in one, and follow Ian through the picture-skew farm land with its whitewashed fences.

I had been pondering an east coast trip to race GMSR and Chris Thater, but after much consideration of my national resources, and realizing that the RR at GMSR might require me to break my skinsuit streak, I decided to save my pennies so that I could buy some silver bullets for my TT bike instead. Well lucky me because Chris Thater got hurricaned out! And Gabe got to win the KOM shirt at GMSR, which I probably would have won instead if I had gone. You're welcome, Gabe!

So then came the fall and winter. Short summary: hiking, bike touring (with pan-yays), body paint, a love-hate relationship with coffee, and a lot of riding in the Snoqualmie Valley. Maybe I'll go into some of those topics another time. For now I want to talk about emerging from the groggy vitamin D deficiency of winter.

Avid readers will remember that last year kicked off with Cherry Pie road race, and even more controversially, the Jack Frost TT in Vancouver, WA. Well this year I decided to skip the road race and go straight for the controversy. Now. Last year's controversy was a two-part controversy. Part I was when I Tokyo drifted my way to a 30-second penalty and nearly went bowling for Cat 3 Women in the oncoming lane. Part II was Tom's reaction to my post. More drama than an episode of Downtown Abbey.

Well this year was a little less controversial, continuing the theme that, as I become more #committed as a bike racer, my life becomes less and less interesting. So as a non-OBRALAND member, I had to come check in for the TT at 8:00am, even though my start time wasn't until 12:42:30*. So I did, got the OK from the officials that the start times were final, and headed back to my friend's place for breakfast. Then I came back to warm up and race, and what should I find? Well if you looked at the asterisk from two sentences ago, you'd know. I pleaded with the officials, placing a soft towel on the ground so that I could get on my knees to beg without scuffing my leg warmers, and they finally gave me a new time.

(When I warm up, I picture people cheering my name.
In this case, they were shouting "Gibson! You are missing your start!)

So I went and raced, being sure to duck the whole to avoid the booby traps (this was Oregon, so it was technically an adventure race and not a bike race).

So now the off-season is over, hopefully along with my bloff-season.

Now I'm in Merced getting ready for the Merco stage race. There's some serious racers here, but whenever I get scared, Joe Holmes placates me with one of his countless stock phrases. The one that comes to mind is the one I'll leave you with**: "Just remember, all those guys put their shorts on one leg at a time."

*That's right, I expect my readers to refer to foot notes! The officials, some point after telling me that the times were final, moved them all 6 minutes earlier. For all you non-math majors and WWU students, that means my new start time was 12:36:30!!

**Other gems from the trip have included, but have not been limited to:
  • "8:00 start on Sunday? Really? That is--and I mean this in every non-PC way--that is f-----g retarded."
  • "The thing you gotta know about me is, [insert whatever Joe feels like doing at that moment]."
  • "I'm all about getting outside to ride if at all possible." (as he leaves to go ride)
  • "I'm all about cutting your losses." (as he comes back 10 minutes later, drenched)
  • "Oh look, a Prius, ruining everything."