Friday, November 2, 2012

WE RUN IN THE DARK, WE RUN IN THE DARK!: By now, if you care one bit about whether or not the New York City Marathon is on, off, or postponed, you are already well aware of all of the arguments about allocation of resources, optics, and resilience, and I won't reargue those. I just wanted to focus for a moment on the argument that running the Marathon will put $350 million into the local economy.
  1. No it won't.  Maybe in an ordinary year it would put $350 million into the local economy, but, at the risk of stating the obvious, this isn't an ordinary year.  Fewer people are going to show up for the race this year, and they're not going to stay as long, and they're not going to spend as much money.  How much less is hard to say, but the $350 million number is just a fantasy right now. 
  2. And it's not like cancelling the event would mean that the City loses all of that money.  A lot of the money that would have been put into the NYC economy has already been put into the NYC economy.  The post-race recovery bags have already been assembled; the water and Gatorade has been purchased; the signs have been printed.  Yes, it sucks that money has been spent on stuff that may not get used (at least not for its intended purpose).  That is a valid argument.  But that is not the same thing as saying that the choice of whether to run the marathon is a choice between putting $350 million (or whatever really would have been spent) and $0 into the economy.  The marginal cost of canceling is much smaller than that.
  3. I'm dubious, anyway, about the $350 million number.  That's $7,446 per runner at a full 47,000 entrants.  That figure can't be based on what contestants (and their entourages) are actually spending.  So what does it include?  Probably the value of advertising and sponsorships paid to the NYRR club that runs the marathon.  Possibly the value of the advertising those entities get in return.  The value of increased traffic for businesses along the marathon route, which is a dicey proposition now?  The value of overtime paid to city workers providing security and cleanup?  Without a breakdown of the costs, it's hard to figure out which parts of that supposed $350 million are (a) legitimate (b) local (c) funds injected into the economy that (d) wouldn't have been incurred this weekend for different purposes anyway.  
I'm not suggesting that there isn't an argument to be made that the marathon is important for the NYC economy. Like many debates, this one has two sides (though, in candor, that's not the side I'm on). I'm just saying that the $350 million number is misleading, and possibly meaningless, so stop using it.


  1. Marsha5:08 PM

    I'm rather surprised that the city of NY isn't better at the PR side of this. I can only assume that they're going through with this for what they believe are good reasons, yet other than the dubious $350M figure, no one seems to have communicated what they are. Plus the image of three massive generators in Central Park (one of which is only a backup) and the general knowledge of how much food, water, and clothing will be handed out to the runners is a complete PR fail.

    If they wanted to hold the Marathon regardless, there had to be many, many better ways to handle all of this.

  2. Adam B.5:20 PM

    There will be no marathon on Sunday, the Twitterverse now reports. Also on that $350M: those hotels (the ones with power) have been booked by other people. Pittsburgh Steelers have to fly in Sunday AM for their NYG game because there's no place for them to stay in North Jersey.

  3. Marsha5:26 PM

    More than the twitterverse - Reuters is reporting it as well.

  4. isaac_spaceman5:45 PM

    Like saying "okay, 47,000 or fewer people, you're welcome to come run 26.2 miles in New York City. We're just not going to close off streets for you or dedicate police or FDNY EMT or sanitation workers for you. If you can find your own lodging, your own water, and your own power, and your own transportation, we will roll out the welcome mat."

  5. andrewraff5:58 PM

    I suspect that the reasoning behind not canceling until today was that it seemed possible on Tuesday or Wednesday that the region would be better recovered by Sunday, but now that it's obvious that many, many people are still without power, heat or water, and transportation is still largely non-functioning, and not proceeding as quickly as was hoped earlier in the week.

  6. KCosmo7:00 PM

    I think this is right. No one really knew on Tuesday how long the recovery time was going to be.

  7. Joseph Finn7:32 PM

    That $350M, frankly, sounds as dubious as claims by sports teams at how much new facilities would pump into the local economy.

  8. Meghan7:39 PM

    I would just mention that, for destination races like this, it's unlikely that runners come alone. Friends and family would likely come to support their runner of interest.

    All of this is moot anyway, of course. I feel most of all for the people without power, shelter, food, and warmth but I also feel for the runners who have invested time, money, and a lot of miles for the past 3-4 months, preparing for this weekend. Marathon training is no joke in terms of time commitment. Canceling was the only reasonable option, all things considered, but it sucks for them too.

  9. What hasn't been reported as much is that a lot of businesses which normally make money during the marathon (they're along the route) don't have the supplies to make that money this year. A lot of runners already decided to not come already.

    We in NYC don't need resources used so that people don't get hit by cars while they run. We love the marathon, but it's too soon. Whatever comparison they made to 9/11 - it was eight weeks after 9/11, not five days.

    I won't get into all the horrible issues going on in NYC, but it's really bad. A guy who works for me lives in Staten Island and I've been getting hour by hour posts. I have been upset every single night - and I'm a lucky lucky lucky person.

    We'll be okay and people will run another day.

  10. The Pathetic Earthling9:17 AM

    Question for any insurance folks out there: I assume that event cancellation insurance is hard(er?) to collect upon if the organizers call off the event when the city is saying it could go forward. I imagine the NY Marathon folks were in a weird spot, hoping the city would cancel/postpone the damned thing while publicly having to put on a show that they were going forward.

  11. I'm not sure how this works, but there's been the similar issue that many homeowner's insurance policies have different coverage and deductibles based on whether or not the storm that hit was a hurricane, and here, there's some ambiguity on that question. I know both Cuomo and Christie have issued executive orders saying that lower deductible/greater coverage will apply, though I'm not sure that necessarily would hold up if litigated.

  12. Maybe they should have called somebody who lived in New Orleans...