Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Refund?! Refund?! REFUND?!

Okay we are not trying to push the Corvette on you like Dave Stoller's dad in the classic movie "Breaking Away". But there is someone concerning refunds that should concern any racer out there.

Every year, rules are proposed, reviewed, and if accepted, adopted into the USCF rulebook. Some are fixes of muddy definitions - for example, specifying that an official has to be 18 years old versus "not a minor". They occasionally change the Junior age grouping, gear limits (that's on the table this year), and things of that nature.

But sometimes they come up with real doozies.

One of the proposed rule changes for 2007 is the guarantee that racers will get refunds for entry fees if requested. The person paying the refunds is the promoter.

This is how it breaks down:

1. Two weeks prior to the race, a racer can get 90% refund, guaranteed.
2. One week prior, 80% refund, guaranteed.
3. One day prior, 60% refund, guaranteed.
4. Day of race, no refund required by promoter unless promoter does not fulfill their promotion duties (i.e. have a course, officials, things like that).
5. Racers who are disqualified cannot get refunds.

If you're a racer, and most of the USCF members are racers, this sounds like a great idea. You can register for all races and use the following strategy. First, two weeks before the race, if you just don't feel like doing the race, just ask for your money back. Then, with 10 days to go, check for the 10 day outlook. If you want the latest weather hedges, wait till a week to go, and if the weather looks kinda iffy, just ask for your money back.

I mean we all talk about lactic acid and thresholds and stuff, but, rain? Forget it. Finally, if you decide you really don't want to race (maybe the 15 beers Friday night are still with you) then ask for your money back. Now you can be recovered, dry, and safe for next week's race. Oh, pending checking the weather first. And seeing if maybe you hang with the group on Thursday night, because otherwise racing Sunday wouldn't be a good idea. And on and on.

Gee, what a great idea, right?


The reason it's not a great idea is that this policy hurts the promoters, especially the smaller ones with fixed costs that have to be paid out. Promoters need to line up things like portapotties, police, finishline cameras, pay for permits, maybe a few "upgrades" in their online registration site of choice, course marshals, trophies, etc. I would never have become a promoter if this was a rule back when I started. The Series I promote struggled through making, on average, less than $30 a week at the beginning. If you consider all the volunteers, the time spent trying to convince the Town Selectmen that, no, we don't make a lot of noise (that seemed to be of great concern), sweeping the course with brooms, $30 would break down to about, what, like a dime an hour? Not worth it.

If you are a racer, think back a few years and list all the races that you had raced before that no longer exist. For me, I can name a lot, and some are national classics. Tour of Nutley (in 1983, it was the National Crit Championships - and my first race I ever watched). Oyster Bay Crit. The New London Crit. The Cheshire Crit (okay, it was more a circuit race). The different iterations of the Wallingford Crit. Putney RR (I think that's what it was called). The Barkhamstead Road Race. Heck, the Killington Stage Race. Salem Crit. Boston Downtown Crit. Mahwah. Peekskill. West Hartford. Bloomfield. Manchester (Great American Mall Crit). Andy Raymond's Firecracker in Middletown (my first race). The list goes on and on.

These races all disappeared for one reason or another. Money, time, energy, something. Putting on races is not easy. It requires a lot of time and commitment, and it's often done by only a couple people, with a few more people's help. I've been promoting a race series for about 15 or so years, and each year about 20 people actually help put on the race over six or seven weeks of races. This includes the guy that holds up a corner of the tent while we open it up and does nothing else to help for the rest of the series (but let me tell you that help is really appreciated!). A rule requiring refunds just makes the promoter's job harder.

A rule that requires promoters to refund entry fees is so ludicrous I can't even imagine who proposed it.

Perhaps if USA Cycling guarranteed refunds for all the expenses the promoter incurs, then the rule would be reasonable. For example, if a negative weather forecast persuades a lot of racers to ask for a refund and in turn causes the race to be cancelled, the promoter should be able to go to USA Cycling and ask for contingency funds to cover the expenses necessary to cover the promoter's commitments. So a promoter would be able to recoup the money already paid to do things like secure the course, the facilities, and the official stuff (permit fees, etc). I guess all the time, energy, and stress put in by the promoter would be a freebie.

Then next year the promoter can try once more with the race. Of course racers won't sign up since they'll say, "Well, last year the promoter cancelled for no good reason, so I'm not going to bother to register". And then the race will be cancelled again, this time for lack of funds, interest, etc., and the racers will say, "See? I told you this promoter is a loser!". Great. Another race down the tubes.

You know, we don't need doping to kill bike racing. This rule would undermine the foundation of all bike racing in the US - the grassroots promoter that feels that it's their mission to provide races for racers. No more Floyds, no more Danielsons, no more racers saying, "Yep, when I was doing that dinky crit in Nowheretown, USA, I was dreaming one day of racing here at the Tour/Roubaix/Flanders/Worlds/wherever. I can't believe I'm here, it's a dream just to compete against my heros."

You can do something about it though.

If you are a USCF member and you appreciate the various race promoter's efforts to put on a race, contact USA Cycling. You can get a list of the Trustees here. Email them, call them, write them, and tell them that you think refunds should be handled by the promoter, not the USCF.

Do it before this coming weekend, October 28th, because that's when the rules are accepted or rejected.

By the way, in case it wasn't clear before, I promote races. Our race welcomes pre-registrants. And if you email or call, up to the day before the race, and make up a good story, we'll gladly refund 100% of your money. If you want the (cheaper) pre-reg price applied to a later race, we'll do that too. 100% of it. We just don't do refunds after race day (we've been asked and said no).

All it takes is a reasonable promoter and a reasonable racer to work out these things.

You know what?

They're the ones we want to keep anyway.

1 comment:

Aki said...

Ah... it looks like this refund rule didn't make it into the rulebook for 2007 :)