More than 15,000 people reveled in last Saturday's inaugural Color Run, a foot race that bills itself as "the happiest 5K on the planet, a unique paint race that celebrates healthiness, happiness, individuality, and giving back to the community."
And while Anchorage's Color Run certainly brought massive amounts of excitement to Anchorage -- racers, volunteers and participants smiling and splattered in bright hues of neon powder, did the race also "give back to the community," as its tagline claims? How's, at most, 3 percent of profits?
Charities offer unpaid 'citizen volunteers' in for-profit race
The Color Run partners with a different charity in every city, and gives an undisclosed portion of the profits to the partner. In return, the partnered charity commits to providing hundreds of volunteers to help man the event.
“We raised donations for over 60 local and national charities in 2012,” the company writes in its “About Us” section.
Anchorage’s charity, the Boys & Girls Club, supplied 250 volunteers who each worked 5-6 hours on race day, and 20 people to run the booths for several hours during each of the four bib pick-up times. The charity will receive a set donation amount based on the number of volunteers it was able to provide for the event.
Boys and Girls Club was hoping for between $5,000 and $10,000, director of marketing and public communications Jennifer Brown said before the race, but was unable to later comment on how much the charity received. Brown said they are “very pleased” with the donation, and were “thrilled to be a part” of the event which offered them great exposure.
The Boys & Girls Club also handed out informational brochures with every bib pickup, and the announcer continually thanked the charity for their help during Saturday’s event. The Boys & Girls Club is happy about the partnership, and can’t wait to do it again.
The money is “just icing on the cake,” Brown said. For the organization, the biggest boon was the exposure that came with participating. And, “many of the staff said it was the most fun they’ve ever had,” Brown said, and that’s good for morale.
With 15,000 participants paying $40-$50 to race in the Color Run -- does the race's contribution of $5,000-$10,000 for 200 volunteers' work measure up?
Pot o' gold at end of rainbow
The Color Run LLC was started in 2012 by Travis Snyder of Salt Lake City. His event brings participants toghether for an untimed run or walk, and along the way everyone gets pelted with colored cornstarch, every kilometer. The run has gone viral, with 50 events held last year, and the promise of more than 100 events in 2013.
It’s been so successful that in February, the Color Run teamed up with IMG Worldwide to expand the race into dozens of countries across Europe and Asia. A copy-cat competitor, Color Me Rad, has even sprung up to cash in on the run’s popularity.
By utilizing social media and word-of-mouth, the Color Run has quickly expanded. "Sure, [the Color Run is] about fitness and living a healthy lifestyle, but it's also about sharing that experience with friends; on-site and digitally through social networks." Snyder said in February.
The Color Run writes that it donated more than $600,000 to charities in 2012. With 50 events last year, that’s an average of about $12,000 given to the partnered charity per event.
In contrast to local charity races, the Alaska 5k Men’s Run had around 500 people show up for their annual race, and with the help of 20 volunteers raised donations of more than $50,000 for the Alaska Prostate Cancer Coalition, said race director John Fisher.
“All the money that we raise stays in the state,” he said.
Fisher didn’t attend the Color Run but heard that it was a success. “We’re envious,” he laughed.
The Alaska Women’s Run had 7,000 participants and granted $252,000 to breast cancer research last year, said volunteer Nance Larsen.
The Color Run is for-profit, but it partners with charities because “we need the help,” Color Run race director Chad Evans said. “We can gather a whole bunch of volunteers, or we could go out and hire the help, but it works out better” to partner with a charity and help out a community organization, he said.
The Color Run does not disclose its costs, profits or any contributions to charity.
“We do not have a blanket charity program. Rather we work with each individual charity to find a solution that truly meets their specific needs. As a result, each of our partnership contracts is unique and confidential.” Spokesperson Jessica Nixon wrote.
Few reports of The Color Run’s charitable contributions exist online, but a local report from Des Moines, Iowa’s 2012 Color Run stated that with 30,000 attendees, the event grossed $1 million, and gave $28,000 to the partnered non-profit, Variety, The Children's Charity.
Variety was happy for the exposure and will work with The Color Run again, but is also working to negotiate more money to their charity in 2013.
“Would I like to see more? Yes, of course I would. Did I talk to them about that? Of course I did,” Sheri McMichael, executive director of Variety said.
But is it a donation, or contracted labor?
Color Run can't compare to charity races
Local sportswear store Skinny Raven also puts on for-profit running events. Manager John Clark says that “for events we put on, there is a distinct difference” between paying volunteers for their help and offering a donation while asking nothing in return.
Clark applauds The Color Run for bringing out huge numbers of people and engaging the community in a unique way.
“I don’t think the Color Run should apologize for coming to Anchorage and investing and providing a really fun experience for a lot of people,” Clark added. “That said, to say they are charity-minded, based on the facts, is not fair.”
Without solid numbers, there has been some confusion as to how much the much goes to charity and how much goes back into company coffers.
Holly Kondas wrote on Skinny Raven’s Facebook thread: “My kids and husband just volunteered and got to throw color. They had a blast! ... All proceeds go to The Boys and Girls Clubs of Alaska!”
Kate Kalkman also questioned how much the charity will receive. “Too often charities are left with little, and the promoter rakes in the big bucks. We ... want to make sure the Boys and Girls Club receives what they deserve.”
Overhead and profits
Registration for the event was between $35-$50 per person. With more than 15,000 registered, the Color Run pulled in at least $525,000, upwards of $750,000 for the race, not including the sales of merchandise at the event.
Still, The Color Run “had to invest quite a bit of money to make this event happen,” Clark said.
Evans didn’t know the specifics of the events’ overhead, but said it was “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Here's a breakdown of what we know:
Color Run negotiated a “trade in-kind,” where the arena allowed the Color Run to use the parking lot free-of-charge, in exchange for exposure of Anchorage and the Sullivan Arena on the Color Run’s website, social media, email distribution and advertising, said Tanya Pont, the arena's director of marketing. If the Color Run returns next year, a different agreement will be negotiated, she said.
Other costs incurred include “photography, parking, paint, production company, race packets, water, staffing fees, freight, insurance, staffing events with security, medics, cleaning crews, etc.” Nixon wrote.
While total costs are unknown, if the event cost hundreds of thousands, and the company made a minimum of $525,000, it walked away with at least $300,000 in profit, and upwards of half a million dollars.
If the company gave the Boys' and Girls' Club $10,000, and made $300,000 in profits, that means the charity walked away with 3.33 percent of profits, while providing more than 250 volunteers to man the event.
Does the money matter?
Anchorage’s Color Run brought out people of all ages and levels of athleticism to participate in Saturday’s race. For many, it was their first 5K run. At Saturday’s event, the feeling of community engagement and getting out to enjoy the sun was the first thing on people’s minds.
“This is amazing,” Tim Lebling of Seward said Saturday, “and great for Anchorage.”
Pont said that the Color Run helped provide “great exposure for the city of Anchorage.” The event also brought many people downtown.
On the Color Run Anchorage’s Facebook page, commenters noted how happy they were with the event.
Greg Lee wrote: “Lived in Alaska all my life and this event was sooooooo AWESOME!”
Tamara Douglas wrote: “Thank you so much Color Run for coming to Anchorage! We had a blast!”
The Boys & Girls Club hopes to work with the Color Run again next year.
Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com