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Etape Caledonia - Where Does the Money Go?

Trevor Ward digs into numbers behind sportive where none of the entry fee goes to charity

Entries for one of the UK’s most popular sportives – the Etape Caledonia – opened this week. Regular readers will remember this as being the “'charity' bike ride where no money goes to charity.

We should really give it its full title – the “Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Caledonia” – as the charity has paid £100,000 to be the event’s “official partner”.

But anyone who signed up at the event’s registration page this week would have been unaware of this – and it’s more relevant than you might think.

It means that if you decide to raise funds for Marie Curie through sponsorship, not all of what you donate will go towards cancer care nurses. A percentage of it will go to the organisers IMG, who are better known as one of the world’s richest sports and showbiz talent agencies. Some of your money could be used to help Justin Timberlake re-negotiate his record label contract.

Based on the fact that IMG’s previous charity partner, Macmillan Cancer Support, raised £1.25 million during its three year association with the event, it would be fair to say that roughly £1 in every £12 raised by riders for Marie Curie will be heading in the direction of a chrome and leather corporate office in Los Angeles rather than an underfunded hospice in the UK.

So what exactly does Marie Curie get for its £100,000? Here’s what Emma Pickles at IMG told me:

“Charities involved in partnering events in the Etape Series have collectively raised over £1.5 million for their cause. As charity partner to a successful cycling series, Marie Curie Cancer Care have a platform which engages with over 7,000 participants a year.

“Both IMG and Marie Curie Cancer Care share the same enthusiasm for cycling, enabling people to participate in fantastic events and raise money for our good cause.”

And the charity seems happy enough with the arrangement.  Sponsored riders raised £260,000 at this year’s event.  Spokeswoman Liz Ensor said:

“Marie Curie considers any investment of this kind very carefully and would not choose to invest unless there was a significant return for the charity and the patients and families it cares for, free of charge. 

“Whilst Marie Curie pays to be the official charity partner of the event, this investment delivers a significant six-figure return for the charity as well as raising awareness of its vital services, particularly to new audiences. Closed-road cycling events such as the Etape Caledonia require significant staffing, experience and expertise to successfully organise and manage.”

But if they are effectively paying IMG to “successfully organise and manage” the event, where does all that money from the entry fees go? Five thousand riders paying £63 each adds up to £315,000. None of that entry fee goes to the charity. 

Every penny goes to IMG - though you wouldn’t have known that if you’d signed up this week, as it’s not mentioned during the five-page registration process. 

Instead, you would have been invited to spend up to an additional £67.95 on official merchandise before you completed your registration. Needless to say, none of the proceeds from this merchandise go to the charity either.  (And no, that’s also not mentioned anywhere……)

IMG’s justification for keeping all of the entry fee is the “closed road” status of the event, and all the expensive council red tape, policing and marshaling that this entails. But a closer look at this year’s event, held in May, reveals some interesting facts.

For example, the local council, Perth and Kinross, charged IMG their standard rate of only £500 for the road closure order.

Tayside Police charged them only £2,262.60 for policing the event.

And most marshals were volunteers, being reimbursed “agreed travel expenses” only.

All of which leaves quite a tidy profit for IMG. But as Maria Sharapova – another of their clients – would probably confirm, they are in the business of making money, and very good at it too.

Of course, it’s quite possible none of the above will matter to most sportive riders. The thrill of riding one of the UK’s few “closed road” events will outweigh any concerns over how expensive the entry fee is, or whose pocket it ends up in.

But IMG’s Etape series is expanding. This year, they introduced the Etape Pennines – another 3,000 riders paying £61 each, none of which went to the charity – and next year will see a third event, the Etape Mercia.

(The UK’s only other major closed-road sportive, the Etape Cymru, is organised by Human Race Ltd, whose CEO Nick Rusling is a former manager at IMG)

Some riders are concerned that the sportive calendar is already at bursting point, and that a global giant like IMG is threatening the smaller, independent sportive organisers who may not be able to offer closed roads, but can charge a much smaller entry fee and guarantee that at least some of it will go to a good cause.

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