Press Box Article

NYC Marathon Ponders License Sales for Permanent Entry in Race

Mason Levinson and Scott Soshnick



Friday, October 31, 2008

First came personal seat licenses. Next may be personal feet licenses in the New York City Marathon.

Organizers of the annual marathon were among those interested in the online auction of PSLs by the New York Jets for the team's new football stadium and may adapt the idea to race entries.

``We watched that with some attention,'' Race Director Mary Wittenberg said in an interview that will air Nov. 1 on Bloomberg's ``On the Ball'' radio program. ``You can see how it could make sense to give someone the opportunity to buy a so- called `seat' in the marathon for life. It's something interesting for us to consider.''

The Jets raised $16 million over nine days ending Oct. 27, auctioning 620 lifetime seat licenses that allow rights holders the opportunity to buy season tickets. They and the New York Giants are selling the licenses, for most seats, to raise capital for their new, $1.6 billion National Football League stadium.

The Jets' waiting list of 10,500 is about one-fifth as long as the number of marathon applicants who were turned down for this year's event, which will be run Nov. 2.

The 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) five-borough race received more than 104,600 applications -- a record -- and fields about 39,000-40,000 runners.

The ``sky-high'' demand has Wittenberg, the president and chief executive officer of the race coordinator, the New York Road Runners, wondering about new ways to raise money so the not-for-profit club can increase awareness of the sport and opportunities to participate in running.

`Maximize Interest'

``We turned away over 55,000 people,'' Wittenberg said. ``We don't have more seats but we find ways to maximize the interest in those seats to benefit the organization and our overall efforts to get people running.''

Wittenberg didn't say how many spots might be auctioned or sold, or how much they might cost.

Currently, the only way for U.S. runners to gain guaranteed race entry -- and not hope for the best in a lottery -- is to either run in nine Road Runners races the prior year; participate in a charity program set up by the club; gain automatic entry as a 15-year race veteran; be denied entry the three previous years; or run a qualifying time as an elite runner.

International runners may also purchase a ``marathon package'' through the Road Runners' travel partner to gain automatic entry.

Race Bib

Ownership of a lifetime race bib would give individuals a piece of New York's athletic tradition, and could also interest businesses seeking incentives for clientele, running clubs, or even families looking to pass down the sport through the generations.

``It's a fantastic idea,'' says Kyle Burks, president of seat-license reseller ``It definitely would generate additional revenue for them and there are consumers who would be very interested in this product. The NYC Marathon would be just filling the demand that already exists.''

Burks said seat licenses, which have been sold to raise stadium capital in all four major U.S. sports, can be applied to almost any attendance-driven event, and also be sold for prime spectator locations at the race. The only other participatory licenses he could think of were seats on the New York Stock Exchange.

``I actually spoke to a church one time that was thinking of doing PSLs,'' he said. ``The first 10 rows, the most elite seats.''

Front Runner

While a New York City Marathon license likely won't bring a runner to the front of the race, it would ensure entry for those who consider running a religion.

With that entry this weekend would be a chance to cover the same ground as Britain's Paula Radcliffe and Kenya's Martin Lel, who won the New York race last year for the second time each. Hendrick Ramaala, the 2004 champion from South Africa, and Paul Tergat, the 2005 winner from Kenya, also will be in the field.

If the Road Runners do opt to sell race licenses, how they are constructed would play a large role in their value.

``It will be interesting, like a taxicab medallion, to see if it's transferable,'' said Tom Byrnes, a 62-year-old semi- retired guidance counselor from Brooklyn, who is a member of the Prospect Park Track Club.

If the Road Runners opted to sell transferable lifetime bibs, it may also create a secondary market for them, raising the price they could garner during an initial sale. Currently, race bibs cannot be transferred to non-registered runners.

Stadium seat licenses have drawn criticism by sports fans who can't afford the cost, and race entry licenses could take spots from those already seeking luck in the lottery.

Byrnes, who has run more than a dozen New York City Marathons, says it would be worth it if the plan raised money to promote the sport.

``If the money goes to the foundation, it's a no-brainer,'' he said. ``It's a way that the Road Runner organization can engender money for that particular cause, and that I would have to back, like motherhood and apple pie.''