Are sportives too expensive?

BikeRadar's question of the week

This week's regrettable announcement by ASO regarding the scaling back of their new Paris-Roubaix Challenge has got us thinking about the cost of sportive entry these days, and whether or not we get our money's worth.

At an original entry fee of €75, the race on the cobbles of northern France wasn’t cheap, but the unique challenge of riding a very similar course to the professional race, on closed roads, with a climax at the historic Roubaix Velodrome, was appealing. But complications at the organisers end meant most of these unique selling points have been scrapped for the 2011 edition, and although the entry fee has been knocked down to €40, the fact that it’s now being run on open roads leaves it on a level of any other weekend sportive you'd find locally.

The question of whether or not sportives are too expensive has generated much discussion on the BikeRadar forum. It often comes down to what’s included in the entry package, whether it’s the chance to ride on closed roads, mechanical support, food stops or, in the case of a sportive we entered recently, a complementary post-ride massage. The charity issue is also important, and paying £30 to enter a ride knowing a chunk will boost fundraiser coffers may ease the pain. But paying £30 and getting little in return is what’s attracting the ire of some of our readers, and the huge demand for places means organisers are seemingly able to set whatever price they wish.

Forum member phrea - who kick-started the debate - feels he is getting an increasingly raw deal from organisers in the UK, and will be cutting down on them in 2011 year in favour of better value rides on the continent. “The cynic in me thinks that organisers are cashing in on the increased popularity of cycling because I simply can't see the value,” he said. “You get a banana or two on the way round and perhaps a bit of energy drink but I'd be amazed if most people got more than £5 of food on the day. Is anyone else feeling likewise or am I missing something?”

Apparently not; it’s a sentiment shared by many. “Paying £30 to ride a non-race, on public roads, with a few bananas and drink thrown in is crazy, but if people are happy to pay then they will continue to charge these prices,” said danowat.

Bigpickle agreed, but says there are good value events out there. “Many events are overpriced, offer little in the way of interest (or value) and seem just to be commercial opportunities to cash in on the cycling boom,” he said. “That’s not to tarnish every event with the same brush, as there are some crackers out there that offer great 'value' in different ways, but I certainly wont be paying £25-30 to ride 60/70 miles nowhere very special and fight for a damaged banana at a feed station any more.”

Boleynboy added: “Sportives on the whole have been a positive addition to the UK road scene, but as they have become more popular, less scrupulous organisers have seen a quick and easy buck to be made, and that is why there are some badly delivered, over priced events out there."

However, not everyone agrees. Pigtail is new to road cycling, and expects his first sportives to be worth every penny, because they offer him a chance to test himself. “I don't have a huge amount of disposable income, but we all make choices about how we choose to spend it,” he said. “I've never even been for a cycle ride with other people - all my outings have been solo - so the idea of meeting up with hundreds of other people to really stretch myself very much appeals.”

And nic 77 points out: “Could someone remind me why a sportive should not be run to make a profit? Why should anyone put on an event for free, especially when there are punters willing to pay to take part!” He believes prices vary with the quality of the event, and that anyone not happy should simply stop entering them.

“Many people enjoy going to the theatre - they like to see a good show, and will expect to buy a ticket,” he added. “No one would question the theatre company attempting to make a profit. Of course if the ticket price is too dear there will be empty seats. Then on the night if the show isn't up to standard or not value for money, the audience might boo, and may even choose not to see a play produced by the same theatre company again. Eventually standards will improve or the company will go out of business. Likewise some people prefer to get involved with or go to see amateur dramatics instead. The expectations might be lower and the organisers tend not to be trying to make a profit unless it is for some charitable purpose. As a result the audience are likely to be more sympathetic to any shortcomings in the event.”

Of course, there are hidden costs those unhappy with entry fees may not take into account. Insurance costs (although only around 60 pence per rider each day) and organisational hours can add up, and many events do offer substantial extras such as new bike accessories and ride photography.

Martin Barden, from UK Cycling Events - organisers of the Wiggle Super Series - believes that while some events are overpriced, what they offer – feed stations, electronic timing, sag wagon and a goody bag worth in excess of the actual entry fee – represents, at between £15-25, value for money. He says they are becoming more creative with their events as demand continues to grow and are holding their first night time sportive this year. “People are looking for points of interest in sportive they choose,” he told BikeRadar. “The experience is the key; therefore we have been very innovative about our new events.”

And this is possibly the whole point. The going rate is what people are willing to pay, and as long as events continue to sell out and demand outguns supply, things are sure to stay the way they are.

What do you think? Are sportives too expensive? Have your say in the comments box below.

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