July 14, 2013

Maine fun-run promoters race to cash in on fitness craze

The arrival of the for-profit events in Maine has some runners concerned about the future of traditional charity races.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

Participants are doused in orange-tinted cornstarch during The Color Run in South Portland earlier this month. It is one of several in Maine this year being put on by for-profit companies, reflecting a national trend. Some worry that the fun runs will compete for participants with traditional local road races.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

The Color Run made its Maine debut in South Portland on July 7.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

While the business model used by companies like The Color Run provides charitable contributions and encourages people to exercise, some worry the runs will compete with nonprofit charity events that have been the standard in Maine and publicly disclose their finances.

"I love that Maine has started participating in these types of events, though I'm quite concerned about the local race scene," said Chandra Leister, president of the Maine Track Club. "When for-profit, out-of-state races come in, they're shiny and new and different. Some of the local races that have been around for a long time that have a good following might see dips in their numbers."

Events like The Color Run and Color Me Rad -- with entry fees as high as $50 -- are far more expensive than other races in Maine. Traditional race fees in Maine tend to average $15 to $25 for 5Ks and up to $40 for 10K races, Leister said.

"I wish (runners) would participate in a local 5K, but I understand that's not enough of a draw," Leister said. "I'm concerned for the future of racing in Maine. I'm thrilled more people are being active, but I want everyone to support local races."

Although The Color Run is marketed in part as supporting local charities, its organizers do not say how much of the money taken in goes to the partner charity, leaving it instead to the charity to make that disclosure. The main beneficiary was the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital, which invited the fun-run organization to Maine and received $38,000 from the event, according to hospital officials.

"We wanted to bring the event to Maine because it's a fun fundraiser and it's something no one has done here before," said Deirdre Cavanaugh, development director for the children's hospital, who volunteered at the event. "We'd love to do it again next year. It was a really fun day."

THE RISE OF FUN RUNS

Inspired in part by the colorful Hindu Holi festival, Travis Snyder launched The Color Run in January 2012. In the first year, 600,000 people participated in 50 events across the country.

This year, The Color Run is expected to expand to include 120 events in the U.S. and more than 40 events in 30 other countries. More than 1 million people are likely to take part, said Jessica Nixon, a spokeswoman for the Utah-based company.

"It's growing really fast and I think one of the main reasons is anyone can do it," said Nixon. Also, she said, "people like to take photos, then post them on social media. That's where it has caught on virally."

There are now at least two dozen other paint runs across the country that follow The Color Run's model.

During each event, The Color Run chooses a charity partner and works out an agreement on the amount of the donation. Those arrangements vary city to city and are designed to fit the unique needs of the charity, Nixon said.

In 2012, The Color Run donated $600,000 to about 60 charities, said Alec Fowler, who served as race director of The Color Run in South Portland. 

The Color Run does not disclose how much money it makes from the events it puts on. The 5,000 participants of The Color Run in Maine paid registration fees ranging from $30 to $50, which means the company likely took in $150,000 to $250,000 from registration fees alone. Based on those numbers, The Color Run contributed 15 percent to 25 percent of the registration fee money to the hospital.

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