Marathon Pricing and What You Get For the Money

Posted by Stuart Morrison on

Marathons are expensive. Okay, not all of them, but more often than not they are a bit pricey. Whether it's a big city marathon with thousands of other runners, or a low key local race with a two or three hundred participants, you can almost guarantee that race entry won't be cheap.

BMF Bournemouth Marathon

Recent research shows that prices vary quite dramatically. The lowest price (for unaffiliated runners) that we could find was £15, offered by the Midsummer Malvern Marathon. At the other end of the range prices reach as high as £71, for the Jersey Marathon. The vast majority, however, were in the £30 to £50 price range.

Chia Charge Flapjack - Salted Caramel
Chia Charge Flapjack - Salted Caramel - £1.80

So, why do marathons cost much? Why are some marathons more expensive compared to others? And do we think we're getting charged a fair price?

Expenses :
Let's put ourselves in the position of the race organisers. What are their expenses? 

A. Race team
Race Director - figurehead for the event, responsible for the 'vision' of the race.
General / Events Manager - assists RD and coordinates with external (non-marketing?) partners.

Larger events may also have a marketing team.
Marketing Manager - promotes the races and recruits sponsors.
Marketing Executive - assists marketing manager.

Predicted expense varies from £0 (all volunteers) to tens of thousands per year (paid professionals).

B. UKA Race Licence (England) :
0 - 50 runners = £10;
3,001 - 4,000 = £1,500
15,001 - 20,000 runners = £7,000;
35,001 - 40,000 runners = £15,000

Licencing is different outside of England and for off-road races, but will typically involve a fee paid to the relevant athletics body / land owners / local government.

C. Security :
Meeting health and safety obligations can vary. Again, the size of the event is a big influencing factor. For larger events employing Police or Private security will cost sever thousand pounds. In contrast, smaller events may be able to employ volunteers for the cost of gratitude and tea and cake.

D. Event Crew : 
The race team may employ an events crew. Often incorporating security, this team of event professionals (for larger races) will lay out the route, erect fencing, provide a toilets, look after bags, and help ensure the start and finish lines are properly administered. Obviously, this isn't cheap. Typically smaller races will require much less, particularly running clubs and the like, some of who will have much of the required equipment (start / finish line tech., etc) already.

E. Other necessities :
There are numerous other requirements, which can add a surprising amount to costs. These include  venue hire (start and finish areas), race numbers, banners, distance markers, water provision, postal expenses, marketing, goody bags, etc, etc.

Coming up with a total for this is near impossible. We're sure we've missed a few expenses on the above list, but it's clear that organising a marathon is an expensive business. Sponsorship will no doubt help keep prices lower than otherwise, but there are definitely a lot of expenses to cover.

Prague Run

To answer our questions :
1. Why do marathons cost so much?
As we expected, the length of the race seems to be a significant factor. The need for more signage coupled with the increased need for security and event management along the route are, unsurprisingly, a major causes of increase expense.

2. Why does price vary so much?
Our findings noted that lower priced events are typically organised by locally-based groups, such as running clubs. Examples of this can be seem in a recent post, 10 of the cheapest marathons. Some evidence / experience points to these organisations having the benefit of a ready supply of volunteers.

The more expensive races tended to be in large cities. Big city events, including the Brighton Marathon (£69), EMF Edinburgh Marathon (£62) and Manchester Marathon (£65) were all among the most expensive. However, there were some exceptions. The most pricey race we could find was the Jersey Marathon, at £71. In contrast the London Marathon, arguably the primary marathon event for the UK was notably less expensive, at £39.

Presumably, sponsorship is a factor affecting price. The London Marathon will no doubt attract many advertisers looking to promote their goods to a wide audience. We can only assume that this allows them to charge a healthy price for the pleasure. Conversely, a race like the that in Jersey, having a more local reach, may not be able to charge advertisers the same rates.

3. Do we think that we're getting charged a fair price?
To answer this, we ran a Twitter poll asking predominantly runners "What would you consider a fair price to pay for your next marathon?". Given four options, the 43 runners who responded, answered as below :

Up to £30  32.6%
Up to £50  60.5%
Up to £70
Up to £100

It would appear that most are willing to pay up to at least £50. Alongside the fact that most marathons we looked at were priced in the £30 - £50 range it would be fair to assume that most runners feel that they are not being ripped off.

However, at prices above £70 it seems a race might struggle to appeal to the same audience.

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Fitletic Mini Sport Pouch - £16.00

A few exceptions : 
As the you'll probably have noticed the Brighton, Manchester and Edinburgh races mentioned above are all significantly more pricey than the £30 - £50 range, but don't seem to struggle to attract applicants. We can't fully explain this. However, we'll offer a guess that their status may be an overwhelming factor, inspiring a greater desire to spend a bit more. Or maybe many of us simply sign up early, when prices are lower, to save a few pounds.