A Civil Transfer Policy

Bless your hearts, dear forum readers who’re in a pique over whether it’s “cheating” to race under another’s name and bib.

This binary choice — did or didn’t the perpetrators cheat (Of course the racer did not cheat! But the conspirators certainly did break a rule and a contract agreement) — ignores the larger question. The only analog vaguely approaching ours is the airline industry. Only here does one encounter the specter of paying $300, $600, $800 or $1500 for a good or service to be rendered months, even a year, in advance with questionable prospect of either a refund or the ability to redeem this equity for consideration in the secondary market.

The dirty secret in race production is this: Many race owners assume you aren’t going to show up. It’s part of their business plan. They assume that something like 15 percent of you will fail to appear, and this allows them to oversell their races, just as the airlines oversell the seats on their planes. The difference is this: You usually have some sort of refund or transfer policy if it’s a flight you can’t make.

Further, if you don’t show up for your race you lose everything. Not just the race entry, but the service fee the online registration engine charged you. You even lose the insurance you paid, if you paid for a one-day license. How can that be fair? How is it that you owe for a risk in which you never engaged?

This, too, has in the past been a profit center for certain race directors. In the past race organizers that I know have sent into USAT lists of starters, not entrants, so that the one-day fees of no-shows aren’t paid to USAT. From the RD’s perspective, USAT is not owed the money, since there was no risk to USAT that offsets the one-day fee paid by the athlete. From USAT’s point of view, this is insurance money, and it should be paid for its intended purpose. In any case, how is it the RD’s money? One thing for sure: The athlete doesn’t get that money back or, if he does, I haven't heard of it and it and it must be a rare occasion. In a race of 2000 people, if two-thirds pay one-day fees and 15 percent are no-shows, that’s a $2,400 line item.

There is no reason I can see why registration engines like Active.com can’t employ a transfer program (I have it on good authority that Active is ready and willing to engage in a transfer policy with RDs, should those RDs ask for it). One might take the cynical view that RDs may look at this solely as a cost/benefit calculus and, if so, yes, the benefit points to a continuation of the current system. Why collect 20 percent of an entry fee’s cost to transfer that fee when the RD can simply collect 100 percent? If a course holds 2000 people why sell 2000 entries and collect a $75 transfer fee on 15 percent of the field? Why not just oversell the race by that same percentage, knowing that the person who lost his job, got injured, moved out of the area, or just simply died, is not in a position to use the entry for which he paid, nor is he able to receive any consideration for it?

This is one reason you don’t see any transfer policy that even remotely credits customers in a way that parallels just about any other industry.

What bothers me a little is that we’re still not at a point where our customers are treated with dignity. What bothers me more is to see the customers themselves arguing over whether the practice of this property transfer is “cheating.” Is it against the rules of various organizations? Yes. Is it the right way for people and their money to be treated? Not in my view. The lack of a transfer or refund policy is the sane focus of your ire.

This is not going to change until race organizations and registration engines arrive on the scene that offer customers this flexibility. A blind, first-come first-served, waiting list is the basis for a sane and fair transfer policy that is long past due.

Failing that, there should be a less draconian refund policy. Ironman Arizona — where the high crime took place — sold entries into the 2013 edition for $675 or $1350 (Foundation slot). Its refund policy is that you get $150 back until 60 days prior to the race. Not a $150 penalty. A $150 refund. Within 60 days of the race, nothing back.

In contrast, Challenge Penticton offers a full refund, “for 60 days after the date of registration purchase. After that, it is a full refund less $100 up until 30 days before race day.”

Those who have read Slowtwitch over the years know my view that if there is a hero in this industry it is the race organizer. He puts his skin on the line to deliver a product, at high risk to himself in terms of finance, reputation, and the specter that someone may suffer injury or death at his race. I don’t think race organizers are evil for not offering a transfer policy. Rather, this is just the way it’s been done. It’s a vestige from a time when it would have been an administrative nightmare to transfer race entries. But we’ve outgrown that problem, and now it’s just a case of turning a big ship. We should not bow to inertia. This ship is not that big any longer. We can certainly turn it.

A fellow paid for an entry into an Ironman, then handed this entry to another, who raced in that Ironman. This is the subject of the forum thread alluded to above. According to the timer of that race, “The 2 culprit[s] have been identified and information sent to WTC and USAT. Results will be remove[d] and 1 year ban[s] are coming. Happy Ending.”

Really? Happy ending? Sure, it’s the proper or appropriate ending considering the contract into which the registrant entered. A happy ending would be a civilized transfer policy.