Last weekend brought us Hurricane Irene. Thankfully the damage in NYC wasn’t nearly as bad as had been feared, but that doesn’t mean that city residents weren’t hurt by it, plus many others in Irene’s path were impacted far worse than we were. Obviously, the storm’s impact on local races is far less important than the loss of life or property damage that so many people are dealing with; but since we deal with athletes, I don’t think it’s disrespectful to examine the how the storm affected the athletic community.
There was a lot planned for our fair city last week, and most events were cancelled or rescheduled for the sake of safety, and in order to use city resources for more important things. Of the many cancellations, the New York Road Runners’ three races – the Bronx Half Marathon, the Harlem 5k, and The Henry Isola Cross Country – are the ones that got the most attention among the local athletic community. Not for the cancellations themselves since they were mandated by the city, but for NYRR sticking to their policy of not offering refunds, credits or rescheduling. Of course this is their right, as their standard waiver clearly states that they are under no obligation to do otherwise, but many athletes were outraged. Others jumped to NYRR’s defense, pointing out that they were under no obligation to do anything, that they still incurred many costs, and that they would offer the marathon credit which is so important to some of the registrants.
Consider some of the other events and plans that you might have had for last weekend. If you had tickets to a Broadway show, you would have been SOL because all shows were cancelled, but refunds were offered to all ticket holders. If you had tickets to see the Dave Matthews Band at Governors Island, you were no doubt disappointed that the show did not go on. But today you woke to an email stating that the event has been rescheduled for Randall’s Island. No doubt this cost the band a lot of money since there were non-refundable costs for the original date that the band had to assume. If you planned to leave town by plane, your flight was no doubt called off. And your ticket price was refunded because the business did not deliver the product.
And let’s not forget that other races were hurt by the storm. The Frost Valley Triathlon was scheduled for this weekend but due to storm damage the race can’t be held. The race organizers – Catskill Mountain Multisport – are a small operation, and undoubtedly not the multimillion dollar organization capable of easily absorbing a loss like NYRR is. Despite the fact that they too have a waiver which would protect them if they chose not to refund any entry fees, they are offering full refunds, asking only that racers consider donating to the Frost Valley Hurricane Irene Relief Fund.
Let’s look at NYRR’s options.
1 – Reschedule. Keep in mind that even if the races had been held as planned, NYRR would have made a profit. They’re not in the business of losing money, and they took in an estimated $400-500k in entry fees for the three races that were cancelled. Undoubtedly, many of their expenses remained in place even though the race wasn’t held, so reschedulng would take away from their profits or cause them to run in the red. Plus, it’s unlikely that they could get all the necessary permits to hold the race at a later date, so the suggestion to reschedule is probably impractical.
2 – Offer full refunds. This would mean refunding the $400-500k, and losing money for the weekend. As anyone who has seen their tax returns (which are public record) can tell you, they end the year with a multimillion dollar profit, so they can afford to refund the money, but their reluctance to do so is understandable.
3 – Take the money and run. As of now, that is their choice. As noted above, it is their prerogative to do so. Still, the notion of an organization that makes millions of dollars each year making extra profit because of the weather seems unfair.
4 – They could offer a partial credit or refund to those who registered. They could subtract their expenses and refund or credit the remainder. With this scenario they would not lose money due to circumstances beyond their control, but they also wouldn’t get greater than usual profits from them either.
5 – As with #4, they could calculate their profit from the weekend and donate it to a Hurricane Relief Fund. This way they don’t profit from the storm, and those who were truly hurt by it would get some help.
To the NYRR bashers out there, remember that they are not breaking any laws. If you don’t approve of their policy, you shouldn’t patronize them. But you certainly shouldn’t be surprised that a big business has chosen to look out for themselves ahead of their paying customers. To the NYRR apologists, please don’t be naive. They make millions of dollars in profit every year, and were taking payments for Saturday’s race up until the time they announced the cancellation on Friday. They would have made money last weekend, and as of now the storm means they made even more money. I understand that NYRR is in a tricky situation, but hopefully they are considering donating the profits from last weekend to charity. Though it is not their legal obligation, it seems like the decent thing to do, and would presumably satisfy their paying customers.