Longtime road race director Peter Douglass embraces the adage of “go big or go home,” an approach that helped him create such high-profile running events as the popular Rock ’n’ Roll marathon series.
Five years ago, Douglass, a transplanted Austinite, went big with his unveiling of the Austin 10/20 — a 10-mile race that wound through the Domain in North Austin and included 20 bands along the course. Along with the music, there was a $23,000 prize purse, with both the men’s and women’s overall champions receiving $5,000. Overall, race organizers said, about 9,000 runners competed at the inaugural event.
Come Sunday, though, the Austin 10/20 will go home, ceasing after its sixth and final race.
“We’ve had a good run, really,” Douglass said. “We haven’t made much money, but we’ve had a great piece of Austin culture and made tons of money for charities. There’s a lot of good will that comes out of the race.”
In general, road racing appears to be trending downward across the country. The number of races might be growing slightly, but the number of runners entering them keeps dropping. With upward of 150 road races a year in Austin, the market appears to be oversaturated.
“It’s so challenging to do something in Austin now,” said Raul Najera, owner of RunFar, an Austin-based race timing company. “With the 10/20, the Domain has grown so much that it’s become much harder to stage a race there. There’s no question that the venue became a growing concern with the event.”
Douglass said many factors led to his decision to end the race, which will have about 4,000 entrants this year.
Along with a decline in sponsorships and the need for additional, more expensive permits, Douglass said, race organizers faced “mounting uncertainty each year that we will be granted permission by the many ‘stakeholders’ who have to weigh in before we can move forward with confidence. The Domain used to support us strongly early on, but that situation has changed.
“The Domain basically outgrew us.”
As an assistant association manager for Endeavor Real Estate Group, Donovan Rogers helps oversee event management at the Domain, which opened its first phase in 2007.
“Due to the growth that we’ve had and the opening of more sites, we’ve had to start charging for the events to cover our costs,” Rogers said. “We hold about five or six events a year and now charge for all of those. So the 10/20 lost their sponsorship from the Domain through that (change). That’s really the only support they lost from the Domain. We prep the whole site. We have landscapers go through … there are street closures. We have to basically shut down a little city to have an event.
“We’re sorry to see them go and would welcome them back if we could work out some kind of deal. They were one of our biggest events.”
Douglass owns Turnkey Operations, a traffic control company that provides barricades for road closures, but the savings he gains from not having to pay out of pocket for that service is not enough to continue staging a high-quality event like the 10/20, he said.
“Putting on a race for 4,000 people should not be hard for us; I’ve done events with 20,000 to 30,000 people,” he said. “But it’s getting too hard to do in Austin. You can’t break even with just runners’ entry fees. You need more support than that. We’ve struggled to maintain sponsors. Sponsorships have dwindled each year.
“The level of our production is extensive. It costs us around $20,000 to take care of all the bands, including this year’s headliner, Alpha Rev, at the finish.”
Still, more than $5,000 in prize money will be on the line Sunday, when an elite field — including a strong contingent of Kenyan runners — will compete.
“I’d rather put on a big, exciting event than just another road race,” Douglass said. “I still believe you can make money doing things in a big way. It’s possible we may relocate the race in a city other than Austin, or we may create a different race, but this is it for the Austin 10/20.”