Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Boston Marathon Registration Fiasco: Blame it on Social Media

First off, I got in the Boston Marathon and am darn happy about it. Their website crashed and sputtered. I cursed a lot. But, I got through Monday morning and though I didn't know it at the time, my problems with registering were pretty minuscule compared to what others went through.

Seven or so hours later, the race was filled. Compare this to last year when it took two months and people flipped out about that. And I compare that to four or five years ago when I can remember a friend registering for Boston after qualifying for it two months prior and with no worries. Ah, the salad days.

So... what gives?

I asked around about that and the common answer in one form or another was this: The hype. Mass hysteria and panic that it was going to fill up served as a positive feedback mechanism for the inevitable mad rush to get in before the cap was reached. I bought in, and so did others. The result: Bam! Record setting fill-up time.

The field limit is still the same. The qualifying standards are still the same. I'd venture to guess the number of those that did BQ this past year really wasn't significantly more compared to recent years either. But the drum beating that the race was going to fill up quick was not the same. How much did the race director play in that? Hard to say for sure, but there is now a huge mess for him to clean up and a lot of unhappy people to deal with.

What helped accelerate it? Simple. Social media. Enter Facebook and Twitter, where information is dispersed quickly and efficiently, primarily from peers that we trust and pay more attention to than other information outlets. In my opinion, there is no way this level hype would have been possible without it. Send out tweets or status updates that it'll fill up fast, and people will flock in droves. Your friends and family will pass along the word, adding in their own concerns along the way.

Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed to see the Mt. Desert Island Marathon going this route. The race filled up this year over the summer, which was faster than ever. And I love this race to death, but this morning they were sending out tweets and status updates threatening that the race would be filling up very soon like Boston did:

"The 2011 Boston Marathon sold out in a few hours on Monday and we're right behind them. Don't wait or you'll miss our 1)th [sic] edition, it's gonna be epic! WE PROMISE!"

Okay, now that is just flat out beating the drum. No doubt this race will now fill up very soon as a result, but is it ethical to start a fire in your own crowded theater? This rushes people into the decision making process for the sake of filling up your own race quicker and the hype was happening even before the registration for MDI opened, so it makes me wonder.

Going back to Boston, as a result of the quick fill-up and people not getting in as a result, an ugliness has ensued. Check the Boston Marathon's Facebook page and you'll see. People are looking for scapegoats, and one target has been charity runners. Some are very harshly saying Boston should do away with that group to allow more slots for BQ'ers, but when you consider the charity runners numbers, it's stupid to blame them. I've heard 1350 spots are given to charity runners... not a big impact. And c'mon, it's charity for crying out loud. Where's your heart?!

People who got in the Boston Marathon because they are affiliated with a business that sponsors the event in some way? Well, a bit more of a fair target there, but hey, if a business or organization sponsors in some way, they deserve a few slots.

If you must blame someone, blame the hype machine. Blame social media. Blame Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and everything else. That's what really caused it.


Someone has to drive it. I hope more race directors will use more caution in the future for everyone's sake. There are better ways to bring people to your races. Intentional or not, I think Boston might have learned this lesson the hard way.


Blaine Moore said...

There are 5000-6000 charity spots, I think, but it's still only about a fifth of the field.

Frankly, I have no problem with charity runners or businesses that are given entries. I think that the BAA can invite whoever they want to run their race.

middle.professor said...

I'd blame Triffit. After he facebooked your BQ, everyone rushed to register.


I think Boston could learn a thing or two from london.
if you have a qualifying time you get an automatic entry and have about 4 months to enter from the day they open entries [Late April].
None qualifyers have to enter online and they don't find out if they are in until the ballot in Oct
Glad to see you got in Boston:]
London QT see here: menhttp://www.virginlondonmarathon.com/marathon-centre/enter-virgin-london-marathon/good-for-age-entries/
i think Boston could have problems if you had a whole stream of runners crossing the line together in 4 or 5 hours!
It makes sense to give automatic places to runners with qualifying times, maybe they should have two races, one for qualifyers and one for charity runners!


P's. I might upset a few people BUT a marathon is a running event not a walk and as such it would make sense that all entries have at least a 1/2 marathon qualifying time, maybe 2 hours 30 mins!That way at least they are able to prove that the can run!

Jamie said...

Rick, didn't know London did that with the auto-entry. That's a great potential solution, it'll be interesting to see what changes Boston makes (they're hinting heavily that things could be different).

Blaine Moore said...

New York City has a guaranteed entry qualifying time as well (about 15 minutes faster than Boston's QT if I recall correctly) that lets you bypass the lottery.

The problem for us with the London Marathon's Qualifying Times is that it's only good for UK citizens. Folks from over the pond need to go into the international ballot.

EJReagan said...

You're right on the money with your assessment. As I read in another blog it was a "self fulfilling prophecy". I had to defer this year due to injury so fortunatley I didn't have to go through the anxiety of signing up. By the way, 2010 was the last year runners were allowed defer their entry. It's too bad that they ended that courtesy considering it's a race that requires a qualifying time.

Jim Dunn said...

So in 9hrs, Visa made $55,000 ($110 * 2% * 25,000runners)

BAA gets to put $2.6M in the bank to collect interest ($105 * 25,000).

As I have ranted before...

It would be better to require applicants to snail-mail in a request for an application, application is snail-mailed back, applicant then fills it out, writes check and snail-mail it back. First 25,000 (or whatever) applications received, win.

This would help the economy... Take the $55k that is going to visa (FOR NOTHING!) and employ someone to do the snail-mailing (or, ha, get the BAA staff to do WORK!).

Trail Monster Running said...

I think that part of the reason this is happening has to do with race directors wanting to bring in money from registered runners, but not really caring who shows up. When a race fills up this quickly, this long before the race date there is going to be a higher number of DNS than there would be if registration occurred at a more natural rate. As a race director (albeit in a league far, far away from the Boston Marathon) I can understand that you want the hassle of dealing with registration over as quickly as possible. I'm sure that to some extent the hype was generated by the BAA. Now they don't have to deal with registration over the next few months, which is good for them, and probably means bigger profits.