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