NYC Torn Over Whether the Marathon Show Should Go On

New York City is torn over whether or not the Marathon should still go on.  Hundreds of thousands of people are without power, homes are flooded, transportation has been a nightmare for many and more than 40 people have died.  Not to mention, general mounting frustration.  But, the show must go on!  Or, should it?  Is it insensitive to still run the race with all of the devastation?

According to Mayor Bloomberg, the city’s number one priority is still the rebuilding of the power systems we rely on every day – power and transportation.  And, much of it is expected to be restored by Sunday.  I’ve heard some people refer to the marathon as a parade – just a procession of people who are coming into the city to fulfill their personal goals of making it through the 26.2 miles to the finish line.  All in the midst of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s destructive impact on New York City.  But is it really that frilly and frivolous?  I don’t think so.

I’d venture to say that many of the people who are running this race aren’t just doing it for themselves, they are running for causes that provide disaster relief, battle diseases, and provide educational opportunities for children long after the recovery.  In 2011, the race generated more than $340 million dollars – over $30 million for nearly 200 charities.

Figure, you’ve got an estimated 40,000 people who will run the race – 20,000 of them international.  In addition to the many causes runners are supporting, the race also means that there are at least, 20,000 people who are going to need businesses and services that New York has to offer.  Hotels to sleep in, food to eat, ways to get around the city and sources of entertainment.  That adds up to a lot of money that the city will generate as a result of moving forward.  Yes, there are costs associated with having the event – including additional police presence.  But, I’m pretty sure NYC businesses need the push – especially after the week we’ve had.  Quite frankly, after a week of no fares for the MTA, businesses without power and customers, people unable to get to work or shop or do any number of the things that New Yorkers do on a daily basis, we need the money pumping through this city.

For the non profit that organizes the event – New York Road Runners Club – they can’t afford to take the blow of not holding the event.  Half of the organizations’ $59.6 million revenue from last fiscal year came from sponsorship and fees from this event.  A cancellation of would mean refunds -$250 per runner and sponsorships – just to name a couple.  And, the reality is that they’ve also incurred a good deal of the expenses already in the form of deposits, marketing, signage, set up, etc…

The NYRR isn’t oblivious to what’s going on in NYC.  They’re being mindful and sensitive to the timing of the event and are supporting the recovery by donating $1 million to relief efforts.  They created the The Race to Recover Fund which will support the relief efforts of organizations including the Mayor’s Fund and the American Red Cross. Also, the Rudin Family Foundations along with ING, the race’s title sponsor, will donate a combined $1.6 million.

“New York Road Runners’ thoughts and prayers go out to all of those impacted by the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy,” said Mary Wittenberg, chief executive officer of NYRR. “On Sunday, as runners cross through the five boroughs we want them to bring with them a sense of hope and resilience. The marathon is not just a race, it’s about helping NYC find its way down the road to recovery.”

This is a crucial time for non profits as they aim to raise funds before the year’s end.  As our attention is being diverted to Sandy relief efforts, many organizations are in danger of losing those much needed funds.  Continuing this race and allowing runners to support those organizations will get some of the year end funds to support programs and initiatives that serve our communities.

If nothing else, New Yorkers are resilient.  We take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.  The overwhelming unifying theme for those who were impacted in a minor or major way is the desire to regain to some semblance of normalcy.  By Sunday, I think the controversy will be no more and people will see the marathon for what it is – a revenue generating event for the city.  It’s a reminder that we can recover from anything thrown at us.  We’re New Yorkers!  And like the runners in the marathon, New York will endure, see the end goal and powering through.

* See my post about Robert Reffkin running his last of 50 marathons for charity in the ING New York City Marathon.

Latoya Henry is the publisher and founder of Haute Giving: The Sexy Side of Philanthropy.
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