It might come as a surprise to many natural bodybuilders that the federation(s) in which they compete are really “businesses” and not the benevolent altruistic cash-cow organizations they might perceive them to be. All federations have similar revenues and expenses and must conduct themselves like businesses or they will, very simply, not be in “business” anymore to provide competitive opportunities for the athletes.
It is customary for contestants to complain about the costs associated with their participation because it is not cheap when considering entry fees, drug-testing fees, transportation, tanning, trainer fees, contest apparel, food prep, supplements, time off from work, and more. However, many contestants do not understand or appreciate the equally legitimate cost of doing business for their federations.
Following is a summary of some of the expenses incurred by natural federations and/or their respective contest promoters:
- Contest Venue – every contest requires a venue in the form of a theater, hotel convention space, arena, or other such space varying in expense depending on size and quality. Venues can sometimes cost several thousand dollars.
- Liability Insurance – accidents and damage happen, and venue operators generally require contest promoters to show evidence of liability coverage listing the venue as an additional – if not exclusive – insured. Insurance costs money.
- Trophies/Awards – this is a no-brainer, of course, as contestants are vying for placement in different categories of competition and expect to be rewarded accordingly with trophies, medals, swords, plaques, rings, jackets, belts – even cars!
- Cash Prizes – cash prizes for professional place winners can range up to five figures for major contests.
- Drug Testing – the foundation for any natural contest is – or should be – the drug testing, and drug testing is not inexpensive. The cost of the “pseudo polygraph” is usually passed on to contestants as a separate fee (usually $40-45), but other forms of testing – most commonly urine – are usually included in the entry fees. However, while all contestants will pay an entry fee and all contestants will provide a urine sample, all contestants are NOT typically tested.
- Contest Administration Fees – promoters must often incur the expense of paying for judges, expeditors, masters of ceremony, ticket-sellers, ticket-takers, security, cleanup, etc. which can include transportation, lodging, meals, parking, post-contest get-together, etc.
- Marketing – posters, flyers, mailers, advertising, contest program, etc.
Of course, the difference between the athletes and the federations is that federations can offset some or all of their expenses with contest-related revenues – an option that is not similarly available to athletes (unless they are fully-sponsored or unless they place “in the money” as professionals).
Following are some of the ways that federations and/or their contest promoters can generate sport-related revenues:
- Donations – most, if not all, natural organizations are corporations in one form or another or limited liability companies (LLC) for legal protection. Some may also be classified as non-profit or not-for-profit. There is not a big difference between the two, for the most part, but some natural organizations may be able to accept charitable contributions and some may not depending on their status. Non-profit does not necessarily mean “charitable.”
- Sanction Fees – most, but not all, natural organizations charge “sanction fees” to contest promoters for conducting contests under the auspices of the particular natural organization.
- Entry Fees – contest promoters collect entry fees from athletes competing in their events. In most cases, these entry fees include the cost of certain drug testing – usually urine testing. So-called “polygraph” testing is charged separately. The balance of these entry fees is usually applied to the overall contest expenses.
- Spectator Fees – contest promoters charge a fee to spectators to view the event which may be in the form of a single fee for both prejudging and the final show or separate fees for each respectively.
- Drug-Testing Fees – contest promoters that employ the abbreviated pseudo “polygraph” in addition to the customary urine test, charge an additional – and separate – fee for this test which offsets this cost in its entirety. However, while the polygraph fee is sometimes paid directly to the examiner by contestants prior to the contest and may not pass through the hands of the contest promoters, it is sometimes paid to the contest promoter who collects an override on each test before paying the examiner. Some federations that include the cost of urine testing from contestants in their entry fees may not test at all or test randomly (which can mean whenever they want – or never – even if it is spread out over more than one contest) and just pocket the money. Most federations do not urine test all contestants anyway – even though they typically take a urine sample from everyone – but, rather, they test the class winners and a certain number of place winners, so everyone essentially contributes to the cost even if the majority is not tested. The cost of each urine test is approximately $200 at the highest standard which would be cost-prohibitive if everyone were tested but, in reality, what would be gained by testing those who did not place anyway? Still, contestants who have been told that their urine samples will be tested, regardless of whether or not they place, should always be provided the written results from the testing lab of their test results upon request. After all, they have paid for those results.
- Sponsorship Fees – sponsors will sometimes pay fees to the promoter to sponsor or be identified with drug testing, trophies, etc.
- Advertising Fees – promoters often charge advertising fees for display ads in the contest program, display tables, or media ads.
The bottom line is that natural bodybuilding federations are, indeed, businesses whether we want to call them that or not a whether they want to identify themselves as such or not. Their existence depends on balancing income and expenses just like any other business. If income exceeds expenses, they make a profit, and profit is not a dirty word. If expenses exceed revenues, they lose money. So, if federations do not operate as businesses with a profit motive in mind, they will eventually fail to stay “in business,” which has led to the demise of many natural federations in the past regardless of how well-meaning their intentions. Even those owners/leaders with the deep pockets will eventually reach the point where they will not – or cannot – continue to personally fund a losing federation, and the federation must stand on its own two feet or meet its demise.
Federations must also, at all times, be transparent with regard to the fees that they are charging to ensure their members that funding is being spent as they have committed and not surreptitiously accrued to their own personal profit under the guise of something else. It is the responsibility of the athletes to hold their feet to the fire, or they deserve to be burned.