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.
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:
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.
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.
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