Event management says $750 entry fee necessary “to maintain integrity of competition and safety.”
Jump off a ferry into choppy, chilly, (shark-infested?) waters. Bike over the legendary hills of San Francisco. Run up the infamous Sand Ladder. There are many reasons why the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon is known as one of the most iconic races in multisport. Thousands of triathletes enter the lottery each year in hopes of securing a coveted entry spot; some try for more than a decade before finally getting the opportunity to race in the San Francisco Bay.
Going forward, the experience will come at a cost—750 dollars, to be exact. Race organizer IMG Worldwide quietly revealed the new entry fee for the June 2016 event, a 67 percent markup from the 2015 event (which cost $450).
“Escape from Alcatraz has experienced tremendous demand in recent years, and with that a growing need to maintain the integrity of competition and safety of all involved in this unique and challenging event,” Escape from Alcatraz representative DeeDee Taft tells Triathlete. “The 2016 participation fee was raised to support the event’s evolution and provide the best possible competitive environment.”
When fans on social media asked for a breakdown of competitive and safety needs being addressed by the increased funds, Escape from Alcatraz did not comment. Race management tells Triathlete the increased funds go to safety in the San Francisco bay and through the half-dozen jurisdictions the race traverses. Organizers also want to continue to serve good food at the finish and provide a race bag and experience that athletes will remember.
The lack of transparency from race management directly to its consumers has left some triathletes in a state of disenchantment.
“Maybe costs have gone up a little, but I have a hard time believing they’ve gone up that much year over year. Sure, I think it’s fine for Escape to charge more than other races of comparable distance,” says Liz Abbett, co-President of the San Francisco Triathlon Club. “The event costs per participant are likely greater than for other races, since a boat is required to take racers into the Bay for the start. Permitting is likely relatively expensive since the race is largely on National Park land, and everything in San Francisco is more expensive. There is also a prize purse for pro triathletes. Most races of comparable distance do not have a pro field, so that is an additional cost.”
“There are price adjustments to keep up with inflation and understandable factors, and then there’s price adjustments that look and feel like price gouging,” says Sam Gager, president of the Golden Gate Triathlon Club in San Francisco. “The reality is that for what is functionally an Olympic distance race, $750 is just too high a price. If it were an iron-distance race, it’s a different story. At that distance people expect that type of pricing. Do they like it? No. But those are much longer days and bigger events.”
Gager says athletes from Golden Gate, San Francisco’s largest triathlon club, typically show up in droves to race and volunteer at what they consider to be their “hometown event.” In 2016, however, he expects support from local triathlon clubs to be nonexistent. Several triathlon clubs in the area have either formally withdrawn their longstanding volunteer support from the event or are in discussions as a team to do so.
“We’ll be voting with our feet and denying them our money and our labor. Races run and profit on the blood, sweat and tears of volunteers and racers. Once you have shown you are going to taken advantage of the local clubs and organizations which have a long history of supporting you, do they think we are going to continue to actively support them with our dollars and our labor? Not likely. Despite what everyone may say about San Francisco and the tech boom, this is still San Francisco and we do care about this kind of stuff.”
Though many athletes have declined their lottery spot in the 2016 event as a form of protest, many more are willing to step into their place—and pay the price.
“Escape from Alcatraz continues to be a bucket list experience for athletes from around the world, and we’ve had thousands of responses for this year’s race,” says Taft.
IMG is banking on athletes like Pamela Stone-McCoy of Kennesaw, Ga., who insist the $750 price tag is worth it to check off a longstanding bucket-list experience:
“I have been wanting to do this race for probably 15 or 20 years. I don’t know how many times I have done the lottery, but probably have entered at least 10 years. In past years I’ve had to go to their website so many times, only to not see my name, so when I got the email that I won a lottery spot, I was in disbelief. I read the email twice to make sure it was true, and pretty much started jumping up and down I was so excited.”
For Stone-McCoy, who admitted to “a little bit of sticker shock” when registering for the race, the fee is simply part of the cost of destination racing. “I’ll pay the fee because I have waited so long to do this race that it’s hard to let $750 stop me. Whether the fee was $50 or $450 or $750, I am going to have to pay airfare and hotel regardless. It doesn’t matter if I race in Tahiti or do an Ironman, those expenses come with any race.”