Western States Lottery Stats:
369 runners “permitted” by US Forest Service
less 119 “automatic” entries “granted” by WS board of trustees
= 250 slots available
= 2.5% chance of being selected (based on ticket system)
= Genius marketing. But what are the motives?
I’m not bitter. Just a little frustrated. Submitting my application to the Western States lottery, anymore, is getting a bit futile. Outside of the “automatic” selections, which includes a list of categories that would make any politician blush, the remnants are getting kind of skimpy. And the “automatic” list, frankly, seems to be multiplying like cancer cells, gobbling up spaces the average hard working trail runner would otherwise have. What are the “automatic” entries you ask? Here’s the latest menu:
30 spaces for “Race Admin.” Trail crew etc.
24 spaces for “Golden Ticket Races”
20 “sponsor” slots
19 Top Ten Runner Slots
10 “raffle” winners
6 UTWT “elite” foreign athletes
3 “special considerations”
2 runners going for 10th finish
1 “silver legend”
1 entry for Gordy
Again, I’m not bitter. But I’m wondering if the direction this is going is away from the culture of the sport. Ultra running is about hard work, suffering, paying your dues, putting you time in on trail, sacrificing time with family, etc. In this light, does putting your time in mean elbowing your way into an aid station for three years? Does sacrifice mean locking in every “raffle” date in your outlook calendar? Shit, I’m beginning to feel like I should dress up like an Oompa Loompa so I can have the inside track to a “golden ticket.”
What the hell is a “Golden Ticket” race anyway? Well it’s a list of races, sponsored by the Western States “Presenting” sponsor, that provide entry to the top finishers in those races. Not a bad idea, but it gets a bit grey when I look at the motives here – attract more runners to races sponsored by the “presenting sponsor” so said sponsor can reap more marketing juice from their sponsorship of said races in a build up to Western States. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for profit motivated enterprises, but Western States is a non-profit organization entrusted by the Forest Service to administer a fair event per the course's legislative mandate.
Why, then, do sponsors – presumably profit motivated sponsors – control 12% of the entries to Western States? Is it because the event needs capital? From what I can find the race organization does not need money. It’s sitting on $149,209 in cash, after bringing in $382,587 in revenue and spending $425,228 in expenses in 2014 (the latest year I could find on record).
So, what…then…am…I…saying? I’m not saying as much as I’m starting to question the cozy relationship between the board of trustees and sponsors looking to maximize brand. All at the expense of the hard working runner who just wants a chance to “toe the line” at an event that bills itself as “the world’s preeminent 100-mile trail run”.
So I leave you with this. Why do I feel like I need to dress up as an oompa loompa when I know I’m going to be dressed down by a shoe company?
Really, I’m not bitter.