Iditarod finances getting back on track

Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011

ANCHORAGE — The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race’s finances appear to be getting back on track after two years during which the purse in the world’s longest sled dog race shrank and the field got smaller.

Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News
Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News

“We are definitely headed in the right direction,” Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod Trail Committee, said recently.

If projections are realized for the current fiscal year ending June 30, the race could see net revenues of more than $615,000. However, that means the race needs to bring in about one-quarter of its projected revenue, or about $1 million, between now and then.

“We have to sell a lot of hats and T-shirts in the next 30 days,” Hooley said.

At this point in the race, mushers are playing a game of leapfrog.

More than two dozen mushers, including four-time champion Martin Buser and four-time consecutive defending champion Lance Mackey, were resting for 24 hours at the Takotna checkpoint. Race rules require mushers to take one 24-hour rest and two eight-hour rests during the 1,150-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.

Musher Robert Nelson of Kotzebue grabbed the lead Wednesday morning when he chose not to stop in the Takotna checkpoint, which is 419 miles from Anchorage. Buser, who was first into Takotna, is expected to get back on the trail at 8:16 p.m. Alaska time. Mackey will follow about 90 minutes later.

Mushers Trent Herbst, Cym Smith and Kelley Griffin also did not rest their teams in Takotna but also have not yet completed the 24-hour rest requirement.

Buser was asked while resting his team in Takotna whether it was a disadvantage to be in the lead position where his team has to break trail.

“As of late it hasn’t been a disadvantage to be up front, or at least what I call the wave, the front pack,” Buser said in an interview posted on the Iditarod Web site. “You got to be up there to be able to decide, well, do you want to hold back or do you want to use that trail up a little bit.”

The race had budgeted net revenues of $336,089 based on total cash revenues of $3.7 million and total cash expenses of $3.4 million. But Hooley said the financial outlook has improved.

Whether it pulls in $615,000 in net revenues or about half that, the race is digging itself out of a financial hole that began in 2006 when it lost some big sponsors and money when venturing into web-based products such as race video and GPS tracking of the mushers.

In the 2010 fiscal year, the race saw net revenues of $77,649. But that was a big improvement over the previous fiscal year, when it saw a $218,748 gap when cash expenses exceeded cash revenues.

To meet projections and reach net revenues in excess of $615,000, the race will have to sell enough merchandise and raffle tickets, Iditarod Insider Video on Demand and GPS tracker subscriptions, and memberships and various fundraising events, Hooley said.

For example, the race gets about $600,000 from raffle events. It will need to raise about $400,000 from its winter fundraiser, the raffling off of four trucks. The fundraiser has traditionally done well, Hooley said.

Corporate sponsorship is increasing slightly. Donlin Creek gold mining company became a principal Iditarod partner this year, joining Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep, ExxonMobil and GCI communications company as the biggest supporters.

WellPet, maker of Eagle Pack dog foods, became a second-tier sponsor and the official dog food of the Iditarod. It joined companies such as Wells Fargo, PenAir and Fred Meyer.

Sponsorship now accounts for 40 percent of revenues, up 5 percent over the last few years.

Merchandise and raffles, the next biggest sources of revenue, account for 30 percent.

The race’s approximately 35 sponsors, mostly Alaska-based companies, are expected to provide $1.6 million this year in cash support. In-kind sponsorship, such as providing hotel rooms in Anchorage and flight service, is estimated at an additional $950,000.

Race expenses account for 41 percent of all expenses. The next largest expense category at 17 percent is general and administration. Iditarod staff last year took a 10 percent salary cut that remains in place.

Hooley said net revenues realized at the end of the fiscal year can’t be considered cash available to the race because any increase in cash flow will be used to reduce debt.

The purse for the 2011 Iditarod is $528,000 — about what it would have been last year if four-time champion Jeff King, now retired, hadn’t thrown in $50,000 of his own money.

Sixty-two teams began the race Sunday, down from 71 last year. As of Wednesday, six teams had scratched. The most recent was Gerry Willomitzer of Whitehorse, Canada. He scratched in McGrath, about 400 miles from Anchorage.



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