One of the scourges of modern life is the computer algorithm that allows variable pricing according to demand. We have long since become used to airlines doing this, and now hotel web sites and B&B sites do the same. We have been told that supermarkets and shops will soon be using digital displays to price their items so that they can alter the prices throughout the day depending on peak demand times and/or an item’s popularity, thereby divorcing the price of the goods from their cost of production. Suppliers will simply charge whatever they think they can get away with. To paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, who said quite some time ago, “The whole reason the computer was invented was so that we could make sure that no two people on any given flight would pay the same price for their ticket.” We could update that now to include just about everything we purchase. But race fees? As more and more organisers turn to online entry forms, technology is making it possible for them to use the same algorithms to price their race fees. This means that races that are in high demand will automatically become more expensive and that someone entering today may not be paying the same price as someone who entered yesterday or who enters tomorrow.
Those who study airline website behaviours will know that flights and hotels are cheapest when booked and paid in full far in advance with no possibility of a refund. But they will also know that leaving it to the last minute can also get them a lower price. One organiser we spoke to said that he will offering a lower price to those who pay a non-refundable fee up front, while the fee that can be refunded up until a set time before the event will cost more, and even more costly will be the fee that is refundable up to the day before. With temperamental racing cars, this will be a gamble. Other variables will be introduced, with another well-known organiser telling us that placement in the paddock will become a separately priced add-on. First choice will go to those who pay a premium. Paddock bikes and even bicycles will also soon mean an extra charge and there will be fast track signing on and scrutineering available to those who pay an extra fee. One organiser even said he would be adding 30% to all prices paid after 1 April! It’s bad enough having to make these decisions all the time when booking hotels, airline and ferry tickets for the race meetings, but messing with our race fees is just going to add another stress.
Having spoken about this to all the major European organisers, and some American ones too, two things emerged: The first is that this will not mean that overall race fees become less expensive. Adds-ons will be just that, costs added on to the normal race fees – so you are advised to book your races now at known prices and conditions before all this comes into force; and secondly, while there seem to be plenty of sticks around, there don’t seem to be many carrots. We will be campaigning for “race miles”. If we are to have all the cost and hassle of a system built for airlines, then also give us some of the benefits. We need a Frequent Racer programme with which we can collect points towards free or upgraded race fees. We will soon have to pay extra if we want an awning in the paddock
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