This year’s Turkey Trot offers a fascinating lesson in, of all things, economics.
The 117th annual running event - the longest continuous annual road race in the country - raised its entry fee this year for the first time in quite a while. Yet the organizers could have raised it even higher, and not received many words of complaint. That’s how popular the Trot has become, particularly in recent years.
Let’s start with the basic information about the race. The Turkey Trot will feature 14,000 runners on Thanksgiving morning. That’s another all-time high for the event, which goes from North Buffalo to the Convention Center. In fact, registration will be cut off once the limit is reached, which could have happened by the time you read this.
“We think we can set a record (for earliest closing date for entries),” race director Tom Donnelly said. “It’s been creeping up since we put the cap in place a few years ago. Some people have been closed out, and they are signing up earlier. It’s self-perpetuating.”
This race is a major fundraiser for the Buffalo Niagara YMCA. Those who signed up for the race before Oct. 31 paid $30 each. The price went up to $35 in November.
It’s quite obvious, then, that the demand for the race exceeds the supply of entries. When that happens, the race committee clearly could raise its entry fees and take in more money for the Y while keeping the number of runners close to the capped figure.
“That’s been discussed,” Donnelly said. “I know a guy who can’t understand why we don’t charge $60 for that reason. ... My feeling is, yes, we probably could raise it more.”
But the organizers have chosen not to do that.
“This is the wrap-up road race of the year,” Donnelly said. “It’s a cool event for people who do races all year long. I don’t want to gouge the running community. We want to keep it affordable for everyone. We don’t want to take advantage of anyone.
“It’s like tickets to Garth Brooks concerts. He likes to keep them affordable. I’d prefer to build the capacity (of the Turkey Trot) up and make the event more popular. ... I don’t want people to say, ‘They are taking advantage of us.’ ”
Part of the $5 increase in the entry fee goes toward this year’s premium, which is a short-sleeve technical shirt for the first time ever.
Raising the cap by 1,000 runners this year came after some thought about the logistics of the race. Having some extra participants at the front of the event isn’t much of a problem. The line on Delaware Ave. shortly before 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning for the start just gets a little deeper.
However, after finishing, many runners head for the second floor of the Convention Center, and that can lead to gridlock. Organizers wanted to come up with some way to relief that pressure.
“One we started implementing the bus route back to the YMCA after the race, and having the buses ready to load at 9:30, we’ve had thousands ready to use them. They want to go home and do other things on the holiday,” Donnelly said.
“We also have the family area across the street at the Statler City. ... It’s a smaller venue. It’s quicker, in and out. We’ve had 2,000 to 3,000 people go through there. It takes people away from the convention center.. If they just want some water, they can get it there. It’s an easier place to meet up with people. That again takes some pressure off the Convention Center.”
A certain amount of tinkering is done every year to try to keep the race running smoothly. Extra signs are going up around the finish line to direct them quickly toward postrace events, which might help speed runners through the finishing chute. The 2012 version also will feature a costume contest before the race for the first time; previous runners have worn everything from turkey outfits to hockey jerseys.
Donnelly believes the mammoth event runs as well as it does due to a dedicated group of volunteers who are working on it virtually year-round.
“We have continuity in the committee,” he said. “We have smart, hard-working people. They come up with ideas every year. ... We’ve had enough years together now that everyone throws ideas around, and no one is offended.”
• Veterans Day 5K, One Naval Park Cove in Buffalo, 11 a.m. today, 868-1055.
• Michelle’s Memorial 5K, 28 Main St. in Middleport, 9 a.m. Saturday, 783-2432.
• Maritime March 5K, 170 Ohio St. in Buffalo, 11 a.m. on Saturday, 574-4101.
• YMCA Turkey Trot, Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, 9 a.m. on Nov. 22, 875-0457.
• Amy King 5K, 9 W. Summit St. in Lakewood, 11 a.m. on Nov. 24.