Here’s why I avoid the Color Run - OPINION
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • August 16, 2013 @ 11:05am
There’s a 5K run that will temporarily cover downtown Buffalo in vibrant colors tomorrow morning, but underneath the cascade of fluorescent starch and pack of suddenly tie-dyed t-shirts is what I’d consider a scam, one that’s been unearthed by more and more media outlets.
You can still register by picking up a race packet at Fleet Feet Sports, 2290 Delaware Ave., Buffalo before 6 p.m. Friday or arrive early from 7 to 9 a.m. tomorrow to Canalside’s Prime Street.
Participants that wish to register today or tomorrow must pay $55 plus $5 in parking. (Cash is necessary on-site, while credit is accepted at Fleet Feet).
For better or for worse, we’re conditioned to trust that spending decent sums of money to run outside—and receive perks like avalanches of color and hordes of smiling faces exercising together during “the happiest 5K on the planet”—substantially benefits a local charity organization, just like the Corporate Challenge, Komen Race for a Cure (a Facebook commenter debates the inclusion of the Komen Race for a Cure, citing this Huffington Post article), Ride for Roswell and Tour de Cure all do.
Bear in mind: if I want to run outside—heck, even around Buffalo’s burgeoning waterfront for 3.1 miles—I can do it for free. Since runners are released in waves between 9 and 9:40 a.m., the Color Run takes away the allure of directly competing against others—which may be a deterrent for some but a welcomed relief for others.
I have no problem with the Color Run being a for-profit company, a fact that it doesn’t try to hide on its website. The organization is now hyping its support of the Global Poverty Project, and here’s how the Color Run intends to help via a press release through Sunshine Sachs:
“Through the partnership [between the Color Run and Global Poverty Project], Color Runners can register on GPP’s Global Citizen platform where they earn points for taking online actions and use those points for a chance to win tickets to concerts in the area, including the 2013 Global Citizen Festival headlined by Stevie Wonder, Kings of Leon, Alicia Keys and John Mayer in Central Park, NYC.”
At least according to the release, then, Global Poverty Project earns major national exposure and, in return, provides the opportunity for the Color Run participants to win concert tickets—including one major concert that raised $1.3 billion to support “anti-poverty initiatives.” There’s nothing to indicate that GPP directly benefits financially from the Color Run.
In the Color Run Buffalo race packet, attention is drawn to Fleet Feet Sports’ “Shoes on Students” initiative, which raises money—primarily through the Fleet Feet 15K run—to put running shoes on the feet of underprivileged local high school students.
I’ve placed a call to Fleet Feet owner Dan Loncto to determine to what extent the Color Run is benefiting “Shoes on Students,” and I’m awaiting a response. There’s nothing to indicate that “Shoes on Students” benefits financially from the race other than a small block of press.
You can Google other media outcries against these color-themed races—here’s one from the Alaska Dispatch about the Color Run, and one from our neighbors at the Syracuse Post-Standard about Color Me Rad.
From Craig Medred of Alaska Dispatch in June 2013:
Estimated gross receipts from entry fees equal $525,000, minimum.
Anchorage costs—$34,000 rental for the Delaney Park Strip, $14,916 in fees for off-duty Anchorage police officers to police, and $8,000 for portable toilet rentals—equal $56,916.
Anchorage charitable contributions equal $10,000, maximum.
So let’s see, $525,000 minus $66,916 equals $458,084.
Oh wait, there was all that colored Indian Holi festival powder The Color Run imports in bulk to spray on people, plus a few T-shirts. Let’s say it costs $100,000 to pull that all together and ship to Anchorage along with The Color Run organizers. So, $458,084 minus $100,000 equals $358,084.
Browsing the comments below Medred’s article, the author is eviscerated and painted as an old guy who yells at innocent children playing on his lawn. Many of the Color Run participants respond that they’re more than happy spending a $40 to $60—even though it’s clear a rather minute portion benefits charity—for a party-like atmosphere when exercising with friends.
Here’s a comment from Medred’s piece by Anchorage’s Andrew Cunningham:
Yes [the Color Run] made money. The provided service that people wanted were willing to pay for. Just like any other business. In the process they got people outside for exercise and fun. Sounds like a good thing to me! Don’t worry, they’ll have to pay taxes!
Aware of the previous backlash against The Color Run, I inquired about a phone interview with the Buffalo race representatives from the national company, and instead I received an email with generic quotes from the Global Poverty Project and Color Me Run via Sunshine Sachs. There was no opportunity to tailor the article to Buffalo, to highlight how the race was going to support Fleet Feet and so on. Great transparency.
For me, it’s mini exposes like Alaska’s and Syracuse’s that reinforce the need for runners to double-check just what their money benefits—and for what reasons they’re racing.
You may resonate with the Color Run’s appeal of flashy colors, innovative flying starch and charitable veneer, and it’s fine if you do. There are for-profit companies that boast a solid product, and patrons feel like they got their money’s worth.
At least in Buffalo, we’re not accustomed to races benefiting something other than charity—you know, like cancer research and heart disease—and I’d rather spend my money on a smaller event with a transparent, selfless mission.
(Header photo and first photo are property of The Color Run’s Facebook page, and the original images can be found here).