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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Profit Motives Are Overrated

No really, this is track & field related.

One of the things the country finally seems to have figured out is that publicly-financed single-payer health care is the only sustainable option over the long term. Since the Reagan Revolution some 38 years ago, there has been an almost religious belief among policy-makers that private enterprise and free markets will always do things better than the government. This is not always the case; Nobel laureate Paul Krugman lays out the reasons why it isn't for health care. But any amateur distance runner should already know this.

Professional companies who put on road races on a for-profit basis almost never do as good a job as "amateurs", and never as cheaply. For extremely large and complex operations such as the Boston Marathon this might not hold true, but for run-of-the-mill weekend-warrior races this is rule is nearly absolute.

Example A: the 10-miler I did this afternoon. Certified course, accurate markers every mile, traffic controlled, shoes and gift certificates to all age-group award winners, showers and hot food afterwards. Cost: $10. Profit to organizers: none, so far as I know.

In fact, this is more or less the rule in Toledo. We have a highly organized road runners club that is involved in the operation of nearly every race in the area. $20 is considered expensive for a race, and there are probably only two that significantly exceed that level (our annual marathon, whose logistics make it costly, and the Race For the Cure, explicitly a fund-raising affair). One of the flagship races of the season was put on by a "professional" company one year and the dissatisfaction was such that they were asked not to return. By contrast, you have at least a dozen well-run events to choose from each year that cost $5 or less.

But you'd expect this from Toledo. This is a family-oriented heavily Catholic city, where it's understood that without volunteers small communities cannot function. It doesn't matter whether that community is an extended family helping each other out, a neighborhood blockwatch keeping things safe, the CYO keeping kids busy, or a community of athletes doing things the right way because there is no other way to do them. It's the working-class attitude that makes every Rust Belt city a great place to live despite what the headlines say.

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