Triathletes have traditionally been a fairly well-to-do crowd, if you believe the statistics on income levels and the amount they spend on equipment.
The average triathlete makes north of $125,000 a year, spends more than $2,000 on a bike and almost $400 on footwear and other training equipment each year, according to 2009 data from USA Triathlon, the most recent available. Income and spending levels have certainly risen in the six years since that data was released.
While the initial outlay for swimming, biking and running can be expensive, some claim it's only the up-front costs that make it a sport that some feel is only for the wealthy. Entry fees, however, tell a different story, especially in Austin.
Austin now boasts some of the highest triathlon entry fees of any major city in the nation. The CapTex Triathlon is the second-highest behind only the New York City Triathlon in the Lifetime Tri Series that includes such destination races as the South Beach Triathlon and Chicago Triathlon.
Doreen Redenius, who in early September was among the points leaders of the Texas Tri Series, said she doesn’t think the $750 she paid to enter the series—the Rookie Triathlon, CapTex, Lake Pflugerville Tri, the Couples Triathon, Jack's Generic Triathlon, TriRock Austin and the Kerrville Triathlon—is actually that expensive, considering she’d spend that on one Ironman race put on by World Triathlon Corp. And with hundreds of people flocking to the Live Music Capital of the World daily, there's no shortage of people wanting to race.
“It’s supply-and-demand,” said Redenius, 33, who moved to Austin in March from Memphis. “People seem to be willing to pay the price. It’s like real estate—it’s gotten so out of hand, but people just accept it.”
Although racers may be willing to pay high fees to enter an event in the city, choices going forward will be limited. Austin city officials last year implemented a two-year moratorium on all new street events in the downtown area after about 100 events—everything from run races to triathlons to live-music festivals—were put on in or near downtown in the prior 12 months.
News station KXAN documented in a special report that in the 2011 fiscal year the city issued 108 permits for special events. That rose to 136 in 2012 and 155 in 2013. Such an increase in the number of events has become untenable thanks to the large amount of construction going on downtown. After the two-year moratorium is up, the city will review the policy and decide whether to increase the number of events it will allow.
Lifetime Tri said in an email that the cost of their races is based on many factors, including the cost of obtaining permits, insurance, closing roads, hiring off-duty police officers and, of course, the numerous port-a-potties for which event coordinators must pay.
The company wouldn’t say how much it spends putting on CapTex. Nor would it say why it costs racers more to enter the triathlon than the Chicago Triathlon, where Lakeshore Drive, the city’s major north-south thoroughfare that runs along Lake Michigan, is mostly closed for the better part of a day.
“The majority of entry fees go toward fixed costs,” the company said in an e-mail. “The cost of these can vary widely depending on the size, location and type of event held. In addition to these, there are many other expenses events incur, the majority of which are reinvestments in the event to make it the best possible for the participants.”
The City of Austin has on its website a list of fees for special events. Companies that want to put on these events must pay a $250 application fee, have safety inspections done to the tune of $38 per hour per day, a “sound” fee of $33 a day, road closure permitting fees of $200 per block per day, a $1,500 traffic plan levy, and a host of other fees that can add up to thousands of dollars.
Event organizers also must have insurance, a large part of the cost of putting on an event.
All of the fees paid by race organizers are then passed on to racers. So much so, in fact, that many people who used to enjoy inexpensive race fees in downtown are now seeking cheaper races in surrounding towns including Pflugerville and San Marcos. As those races begin to fill, however, it's possible organizers will raise their fees, excluding those who aren't willing to pay more than $100 for a sprint triathlon.
“Triathlon is becoming a sport that a lot of people can’t afford,” Redenius said.
Still, race organizers have one way of taking the sting out of paying high entry fees, she said.
"If a race has good schwag, then it's worth it."