The Rock ’n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon’s second run is coming up April 12, and with a lot less fanfare.
Sponsor WRAL has run promotional ads and radio ads have touted it as an award-winning race (SportsTravel magazine named it “Best New Sporting Event”). But the hype and registration levels have leveled off this time around.
After last year’s race attracted well over 10,200 runners (8,619 half-marathon finishers and 1,625 marathon finishers, in addition to many more relay runners), numbers are down. Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said that, as of early this week, 7,850 had registered and they were “tracking toward 8,000-plus.”
“We actually feel great about 8,000 plus,” Dupree said in an email. “We expected a large number in the inaugural year in a new market, and then we expected to take a step back in year two. That’s exactly what happened.”
Dan Cruz, the public relations director for the for-profit Competitor Group Inc. that runs the race, agreed with Dupree that the numbers dip was expected. He said he expected the total number of runners to be between 8,000 and 9,000, with online registration closing Sunday.
“No question that’s down from our last year, however it’s always difficult to replicate the excitement of an inaugural event,” Cruz said in an email. “It still will be one of the largest running events in North Carolina.”
A drop in numbers for the second year of a marathon is far from a given. That was far from the case for Wake County’s two other marathons that also have half-marathons. Both — the Tobacco Road Marathon and the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon — are locally run, non-profit and donate proceeds to charity.
Tobacco Road’s numbers actually went up 21 percent from its first running in 2010 to 2011 and City of Oaks was up about 1 percent from its inaugural year in 2007 to its second year. There may be numerous factors that explain RnR’s drop and the second-year success at TRM, but those are the numbers.
Could it be that interest goes up or down once people learn what these races are all about?
Were two Living Social deals in the past few weeks offering discounted registration for RnR Raleigh races sent out to boost sagging numbers? Cruz says no.
“The Living Social deals are interesting and more or less a test of a larger partnership they’ve approached us with,” Cruz said of one of the discounts. “We’re in discussions for a larger partnership with them across the series.”
In addition to the Living Social deals, though, runners could go to the race’s website late last month and register for the half-marathon for $50 and the marathon for $55. There were also big discounts on entries offered at its Tobacco Road Marathon expo booth last month.
All of those discounts in the last month have to be frustrating for runners who paid $100 last November only to seemingly be undercut with these deals. I run lots of marathons and have learned that registering early almost always is rewarded financially and that the fees will only go up as race day gets closer. This would be an exception.
“In no way are we penalizing participants who commit early to participate, and we do offer different promotions for our events throughout the year,” Cruz said.
The San Diego-based CGI is in the second year of a 3-year contract with the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau, which provided a scenic route other races aren’t allowed to use. There is a mutual option for 2017 and 2018.
“When we signed our agreement with CGI a couple of years ago, the number we targeted was 7,500. That’s a really good-sized race for Raleigh,” Dupree said. “Last year’s race ended up well north of that due to the inaugural year, but now we are settled in at 8,000 and this can serve as our foundation and our baseline for future growth.”
Dupree says that 40 percent of this year’s registered runners are local, 30 percent are in-state people from out-of-town and 30 percent are out-of-state runners.
One big 2014 controversy won’t be repeated since this year’s races aren’t on Palm Sunday. Hopefully, we’ll also be spared tragedy after two half-marathoners died on a rather hot day a year ago.
Officials say that modifications make the course not as hilly. What hasn’t changed is the financial model, which is quite a contrast to the models of Tobacco Road and the City of Oaks.
TRM donated $110,000 to charities after its sixth annual race last month, and has donated more than $500,000 over the life of the marathon. TRM is run by an all-volunteer board of directors who give back to the community. City of Oaks also donates proceeds to charity.
CGI didn’t donate a penny of its race profits to any charity last year, and Cruz confirmed that the fundraising model hasn’t changed.
Its full official name — Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon & ½ presented by WRAL benefitting The V Foundation for Cancer Research — might suggest that it donates money to the V Foundation. But all of the funds going to the V Foundation come from money raised by runners in return for free race entry.
It will be interesting to see how many runners turn out for Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh, and if numbers plateau, continue to go down or tick back up in 2016.
It’s an individual decision for every runner about where they want their registration money going after race expenses are covered — a company in San Diego or local charities.