Opinion | The Rising Cost of Enduro Racing
Enduro racing has deservedly become the most popular of all the formats and for the first time ever ‘all mountain’ bikes have a world level competitive race series. Enduro as a term has also exploded and it seems like the entire industry has a rocket up its bum. However upon the opening of registration for the 2015 Enduro World Series (EWS), the collective racing community felt a sucker punch right to the wallet. With the cost of entering all rounds of the EWS not far shy of £800, and national events pushing up in price too, we all thought “what the hell, someone is getting rich here!”
Where do these ever increasing costs come from and what is happening to our hard earned entry fee. It was time to find out so we caught up with Brandon Ontiveros from the Big Mountain Enduro Series who host the Crested Butte EWS round ($305 an entry for the 3 day event), and Neil Dalgleish from Tweedlove (£95 an entry), who host the Tweed Valley EWS in Scotland to hear their input as race organisers.
So first of all why would an event want to host a World Series round, as global events do not come cheap. Neil excitedly explained “it’s massively exciting and also a big honour to be helping to show the world what a great place this is to ride and to live in. We have a fantastic bike community and I’m proud to be doing my bit in welcoming the world to come and ride and visit. Working out the stages and course is the best bit for me – seeing the world’s best riders on our local trails definitely gives you an amazing buzz. When you see how the top riders shred the hard trails it’s just mind-blowing, and then when you see some top riders struggling on some of them you realise just how good some of the local riders are too. We’re so lucky to have so many great tracks in the valley.”
Brandon adds, “Yes it’s truly amazing and we are honored to host a world-cup caliber event right here in our back yard, to not only represent the state of Colorado, but also the mountain biking community and racing here in the US. The mountains and trails around Crested Butte are very unique (obviously some of my favorite) and we can’t wait to show the world what this secret little mountain town is all about, where the biking history runs deep.”
You can certainly not argue about the popularity of the Enduro World Series, with each event selling out in seconds. So fast in fact, that entries have become a total lottery, around the world eager racers sit on computers as tickets go on sale, refresh – available soon, refresh – sold out, Aghhh! Neil was surprised at the popularity “Our EWS race sold out in 30 seconds – it’s incredible! The adrenaline was zipping through my veins when that happened. I’m beyond ecstatic that so many people want to ride in this event, and incredibly proud of what our small team, and all the people who helped so much, made happen with the EWS here in 2014. I think that’s a good part of why it’s sold out so fast for 2015. We tried to make it as good as we could, wherever we could, and it’s great that as a venue we’ve had some recognition for that. We’ll keep trying hard to make it better however we can!”
But as elusive as getting a ticket maybe, the cost of racing is certainly rising. The Crested Butte round is an eye watering $305, what makes this event so much more than other rounds? Brandon explained “Yes I know, it seems like a sticker shock when people see our entry costs, but we can explain what goes into that formula. For an event of this size (three days) we need 30+ paid contractors working for us during the event and four full-time employees. And that is just the start, permits are very expensive & challenging in the US, and shuttles are a huge expense (300+ riders & over 50 media).
Then there is medical support, search & rescue, radio/satellite communication, insurance, legal fees, liquor license, food/catering, equipment rentals, infrastructure and capital equipment needed for the overall event, recycling, marketing, timing systems, charity/non-profit contributions, toilet rentals, course supplies, event vehicles, registration and results services, music/entertainment, number plates/bibs & timing chips, awards/trophies, large pro purse, maps, race booklets, merchandise/apparel, EWS fees and the list goes on. The public rarely sees or knows what goes on behind the scenes, over a year’s worth of planning, a huge staff and many expensive pieces to the puzzle in order to produce a high-quality, professional, world-class event. We’re definitely not getting rich over this stuff and the prior equations rarely allow us to break even on most BME events.”
So it seems it is not just a case of multiplying the race entry fee by the number of racers and presume that someone is making a fortune. Neil adds “the event costs are agreed with EMBA and I’m pretty sure they are all kept in line with each other as far as possible. Last year there was a limit to entry cost, as specified by EMBA, and to be honest I am relieved the cost has gone up this year, though I wish it didn’t have to for all the riders’ sake. The reality is that we lost money running the EWS & TweedLove last year. It’s a crazy situation. The event brings in £1.5m in economic impact for the area, but we actually lose money on it. In 2014, the more ‘grass roots’ TweedLove events like Glentress Seven and King & Queen of the Hill subsidised the EWS, and it should really be the other way around, with the big events helping ‘grass roots’ events. Even with the increased entry fee, it’s going to be tough to break even.”
As an event grows in reputation and impact there are other sources of income that an event can call on for assistance. With the event media going out around the world it becomes a perfect outlet for brands to advertise their products and contribute towards the running of the events. But with many brands switching to supporting athletes rather than events, and so much competition for the same pot of money, it is becoming increasingly difficult for organisers to secure sponsorship.
This is certainly the case in the UK, as Neil has found. “Maybe we’ve been unlucky but finding sponsors has been pretty difficult. We’ve got a record-breaking sell-out event with a massive waiting list of riders, but we’ve been struggling to find title sponsors. It’s a difficult situation in this country I think, no matter how hard we try to give sponsors great exposure and value for their money. The athletes are doing a great job in promoting the new ‘enduro’ brands and products, but we’re providing a really important part of the stage they’re doing that on. But it’s pretty disheartening getting the constant knock-backs from bike brands – even getting a reply is hard enough sometimes!”
This new trend of ‘athlete only’ support is dangerous thinking from the brands, for sure it is great to see athletes picking up good deals, and social media ‘big ups’ are great for bike promotion, but for the sport to survive, everyone needs to pull together. Neil adds “we’ve been told plainly on occasion, often the brands want their name on the shirt standing on the podium, not the backdrop that shirt’s standing in front of. Fair enough, but if the events aren’t supported then it’s really hard to have the podiums for the stars to stand on, if you know what I mean! The result is that in this country these events can’t viably happen without a lot of public funding. But if any of the bike brands want to help, we can make it very worth their while.”
With many of the big brands being based in the US, things have been a little easier for Brandon and his team “Yes, it is a challenge, but we feel that we position BME’s marketing and event management properly and professionally enough to align with the major bike brands who have supported us from the get-go; i.e. Yeti Cycles, Shimano, Maxxis, Mavic, FOX, Smith, etc. We have great working partnerships with all of our sponsors, so we’re grateful to have top notch industry support to help us do what we do with BME and the ability to keep evolving with the trends.”
So what about public funding – events like the EWS bring in millions to the local economy, benefitting hotels, restaurants and tourism as a whole. Brandon explains “We are working on some financial assistance now, but it’s never a guarantee and not set in stone yet for the EWS stop. Financial assistance and grants are even more difficult in small mountain towns like Crested Butte, especially when it’s already a busy time of year with tourism traffic during the summer months.”
Neil adds “the situation in the UK is different from how I understand it works in a lot of other countries, where local tourist tax revenue is used to attract and bid for events like the EWS, which bring so many visitors in. We have a central events agency here, which all the events all over the country are all pestering for funding, and maybe it’s hard for the decision-makers there to know what’s going on in our sport. Enduro isn’t really recognised by British Cycling and is new here compared with XC and DH. So though enduro is the hottest property in MTB, and is undoubtedly where the sport is going right now, it’s very hard for us to get that recognised and to attract the funding we need. As a result it’s very much a labour of love just now. But from a business perspective it’s a nightmare.”
There has been some recent criticism leveled at grass roots events due to trail maintenance, and contribution to trail building. Neil explains “The amazing collection of trails here are down to some total stars in the Forestry Commission and other individual trail builders who have been creating things of fear and beauty around here for many years. We’ve paid for what trail work we could afford for various events over the last few years but our pockets are painfully shallow. The Forestry Commission have invested to help make some great EWS stages and the work of some notable artisans has now been noted around the world. They should all be very proud – the impact of their work can’t be underestimated.”
Trail building in the US is traditionally a more organized and social affair reflected in Brandons comments, “It’s not mandatory, but we feel it’s always necessary to kick back to local trail advocacies (both financially & through trail work) where we hold BME events, as well as get involved in as many trail projects as possible. For the EWS round in Crested Butte, we partner with the longest standing mountain bike organization in the world; Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) who are good friends and partners since we headquartered BME in this old mining town 3 years ago.”
And what of volunteers, both events are based in bike mad communities so surely there are a throng of volunteers who are only too happy to muck in? Neil adds “we’re a really small team, so it just couldn’t happen without the support of so many great people who help and get involved. I’m sure everyone’s as proud as I am of what’s happening here. Overall we get amazing support from the community – which have to be the most bike-minded bunch of people in the UK. Cycling’s a bit of a way of life round here. We’re going to need more help than ever this year. If anyone’s coming up to watch and wants a close-up view of the action then we’d be keen to hear from them – there are a lot of great jobs we need help with and it’s a great chance to be part of it all. It’s a total buzz as the whole enduro scene is a very friendly one – happily that goes for the world’s best too. It just feels like we’re all doing the same thing and are part of a great big mountain bike family.”
It’s a little different in the US, mainly down to working in the remote mountains. Brandon explains “it’s pretty massive when you factor in all the moving components to this event, especially including the remoteness of this stop and what we have to do to prepare for it. We do use some volunteers, but it is tough as they are not always familiar with the area or don’t have much experience with event management. We still have anywhere from 5-10 volunteers at the races, but we definitely rely on our core team who have been working on projects for many months leading up to the event, to ensure proper management and overall direction.”
Racing enduro is certainly expensive, but after sitting down with Brandon and Neil, one thing is clear, nobody is in this for the money – but for the love of the sport, and nobody is getting rich. What was startlingly clear is how close to the financial line these events run. The teams behind the Big Mountain Enduro Series and Tweedlove work tirelessly to deliver a stage to showcase the talents of the best international racers, and are using every penny of the entry fees to make the events amazing. It is great to see the sport being driven by such professionals, and there is still no other sport where amateurs can compete against the elite athletes on a level playing field. However, without our support and the support of the industry, it may no longer be financially viable for events to host the EWS. To all the racer’s and brands out there – ENDURO NEEDS YOU!
Words: Trev Worsey