Running for Profit

As most of you know, running is one of the fastest growing sports in the world today.  According to runningusa.org, there were over 40 million runners in the USA in 2012.  Since the year 2000, the amount of Race Finishers has nearly doubled from 8.6 million to 15.5 million in 2012.  It is no wonder that this rise in popularity has spawned an entire Running Industry that is currently booming!  At roughly $91/ pair, the running shoe industry alone generates over 3 billion dollars/year and growing.  That doesn’t include apparel, medical supplies, water belts, compression socks, rolling sticks, energy bars, gps watches, and all the other stuff that runners happily buy, and buy into.  When I began running I thought it was the most inexpensive sport in the world! Hell, all you need are some shoes, and your legs and you’re good to go right? Little did I know about all the stuff I needed and how much the race fees were going to be….

With a rise in runners comes a rise in racing events and these events generate massive amounts of money each year.  With so much green floating around these events, its no wonder there’s a real gold rush happening here.

First, I want to say that not all races are created equal. I have participated in all types of events from a Major World Marathon all the way down to your local 5k and everything in between.  The majority of the money generated from races in the US comes from Charitable organizations like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life (over $407 Million last year) and Susan G. Komen’s Race for the cure (just under $127 million).   These races tend to generate massive amounts of people and seem to have more walkers than runners. Also most of the proceeds, if not all, go directly to these corporations.  With events as large as these, I’m skeptical as to how much of the $$$ actually goes towards research and how much goes to furthering their brand and planning for the next event. This is why I tend to stay away from these type of races.

Also, with the rise in popularity of the sport, I’m seeing more and more traveling race events popping up in our area. These touring events attract huge crowds that mention nothing about charities and usually have a gimmicky theme such as a “Zombie Run”, “Glow Run”, “Color Run” etc. and are out to do one thing, make as much money as they can.  

Earlier this year I participated in the Project Mud 5k event at the Charleston Tea Plantation.  I won a free entry from a local radio station and decided to give it a shot.  The run was actually very fun.  It’s a 5k with a several obstacles along the way and a lot of mud. I ended up winning the event.  Expecting some sort of party/ award ceremony, I was disappointed in finding vendors at the finish trying to sell us everything from beer and food to personal training and gym memberships.  It wasn’t a celebration for all of the time spent training and the hard work we just put ourselves through, it was another attempt to squeeze some more dollars out of our pockets.  The price to run these type of races are fairly expensive.  Starting at $65 months in advance, it gradually increased to $95 the day of the race!

 After the race I had to track down the event organizer and was told that I would receive $100 for finishing first and a free entry to the next Mud run.  This was also told to the first place female.  He gave me his contact info and said he would mail the check.  After sending multiple emails inquiring about the prize, I finally received my check….. FOUR months later.  The female finisher has yet to receive her check and neither of us has received an entry to the next race (which is less than a week away).  The site still hasn’t announced any involvement with a local charity.

From their website: 

Getting Dirty For a Great Cause

“Project Mud believes in giving back to the communities that we invade.  Check back soon as we will be making an official announcement regarding our charitable partner.”

Did I mention the race is 6 days away….

Last year they gave the Make-A-Wish foundation a vendor table to help promote the charity.  It happens to be one of my favorite charities because 100% of the donations go to making a child’s wish come true so I was excited to see them there.  However, I doubt that very little, if any, portion of the entry fees went to support the charity.   That could be very misleading to the runners.  It makes it look like Project Mud is supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation when all they are actually doing is allowing them to set up a table to promote their charity.

Not all races are out to make huge profits however.  There’s a smaller market of local races organized by running clubs, local charities, or by someone raising awareness for a particular cause. These races donate the majority of the entry fees to a particular charity and tend to dominate the local scene here in Charleston. You can pretty much find several of these races any given weekend.  The race fees are usually between $20-30 and that usually includes and after party with food and drinks and an award ceremony.  These are the races I enjoy running for one reason, they’re honest. Unfortunately a lot of these races have very low runner turnouts, which means less money for the charity of choice. So why don’t these local races attract the big crowds that the traveling “for profits” do? Well, there are two reasons that stand out the most;  the smaller races don’t have any gimmicks and they tend to have lower budgets for marketing advertising.  This means they have to be much more creative to reach people.

This experience has made me much more aware of the type of races that are being promoted nowadays. I believe that its important to do a little research in choosing the race you run and ask yourself what you want your entry fee to support. Do you want it to support a local charity, your community, and enjoy a wonderful celebration with good food and friends?  Or would you rather pay more money to get color filled powder balloons thrown at your face while fattening the pockets of an out of town, corporately hired race director?

My hopes are that if more people understand that all races are not “created” equal, then more people would support the honest, local races, versus the heavily marketed “For Profit” traveling races that only continue to grow.  I will certainly be more socially conscious while choosing my future races and I hope you will too.

-Michael

   

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5 responses to “Running for Profit

  • Jimmy Stephens

    Michael,

    Hi my name is Jimmy Stephens and we recently took over Project Mud. The past ownership had basically closed the doors on the business. We were one of the vendors who were owed money by the previous ownership. We worked out a deal where were we would take the company over and keep it going because we did feel they put out a good product.

    When we took over, not all information was given to us on past commitments. We are new local owners who want to honor any of their previous commitments. We did know there would be some damage control and issues like this that we would have to deal with. Needless to say, what we have had to deal with has been overwhelming.

    We do have a charitable partner. It is MUSC Children’s hospital. It was posted on our Facebook page as well as shown in the sponsor column on the Project Mud website. We did miss where it was put in the past on the website.

    We are committed to reviving this event and putting on a fun event while supporting a local charity. I do apologize for the previous commitments that were not honored. Even though we were not involved at that point, we will support whatever commitments they made.

    Moving forward, business with Project Mud will be above board and all participant / event commitments will be honored!

    Jimmy Stephens

  • Michael Lucas

    Hi Jimmy,

    Thank you for reaching out and I appreciate your response. I can see how the damage control has been a bit overwhelming and I’m sure the previous owners reneged on numerous promises not including the one made to Kathy and I.

    I’ve heard from some friends in the running community and they tell me good things about you guys and the new ownership. As for damage control goes and because of the previous ownership, I feel there should be a little more transparency with the public in marketing your event here in Charleston and everywhere else for that matter.

    For instance, I see the MUSC Children’s Hospital Logo on your website, but what does that actually mean? How are you involved with them? Are you donating a percentage of the entry fees to the charity? Are you donating a lump sum of money to them at the end of the event or are you simply giving them a table at the finish to promote their cause? I believe your website should clearly state what your event supports and more importantly, how it supports it.

    Also, what type of prizes and awards to you offer to the top finishers and how is it structured? I feel like that should be clearly stated on your website. Hypothetically speaking, if I put in the time to train for your event, pay the entry fee and win, how would I be rewarded for my efforts? Forgive me of my distrust, but I feel that without it being clearly stated in advance, the same thing might happen again.

    It is also my understanding that the first place female never received the $100 that she was promised. Her name is Kathy Giovia. She can be reached at kathizzle@live.com. It is my hope that you will honor that previous commitment along with our two free entries to Saturday’s race.

    I think it’s great that you are trying to revive this event and I had a great time running it and enjoyed the obstacles very much. It’s the shady way in which the event was orchestrated that left a bad taste in my mouth. I hope that you can answer some of my questions and I wish you and your team the best of luck this weekend.

    Michael Lucas

  • Jimmy Stephens

    Michael,

    I do understand your frustration and we will be happy to let you and Kathy run for free as well as honor the award Kathy was promised. We took ownership and we are now responsible for that past commitment.

    First, I will say that we are a for profit company. Just like any other entrepreneur, we are in this to make money to feed our families and pay our mortgage. We choose this path and I will not apologize for putting on events and trying to do it for a living. It is what we do and part of what I have been doing for 27 years. Unfortunately there are a lot of fly by night “event promoters” out there these days that give honest event promoters a bad name. It is very hard these days to figure out what is legitimate and what is not….

    I will say that the previous ownership was very generous to the charities that they partnered with. They did make a very sizable donation to the make a wish foundation. We do intend to do the same. While there are many events these days that do try to promote their events as charities but in all reality, they are not. I do agree that there should be transparency and that an event should not perpetuate the illusion that they are a “charity” event. If the charity is ok with the agreement, it is really no one’s business what the terms of that agreement are but it should not be over exaggerated. We do say in some of our promotional materials that “a portion of all proceeds go to MUSC Children’s Hospital”. We do need to more clearly communicate this fact.

    I do totally agree with you on the awards… Honestly, we have only been in control of the company for about a month and there are many things we have over looked and need to improve; this is one of those things. We do intend to have a retooled, clearly defined awards structure for 2014. Our intention is to have awards at all local events including cash prizes which we will clearly define moving forward.

    I do want to disagree with one of your statements from the firs blog calling this a “gold rush”. While you can generate a substantial amount of revenue, you would be amazed at what it costs to put on an event of this magnetite. It is not like a road race or one of the color runs that do not even offer timing. Even with the massive numbers they had in the spring, they still ran at a substantial loss. That is why they were trying to generate more revenue at the finish area and that is why they had given up on the company.

    You are absolutely correct on several points…

    •You should research any event you are going to participate in

    •There are many event promoters out there trying to strike it rich instead of starting event and letting them grow organically and providing a great experience

    •Events should not promote themselves as a “charity” event if they are not a charity event

    •Information on an event should be clearly communicated on every promotional item and site

    As a new owner of this company, we knew that the first event would be a tough one and we were dealing with many unknowns. We are not guys that are out to strike it rich, we just want to put on quality events, make a living, and have a good time with all the participants. We are excited about this weekend and what we learn and we can apply for 2014.

    Jimmy

    • Michael Lucas

      Jimmy,

      Thank you for for your informative reply. My ultimate goal in posting this blog was to shed a little light on the different types of races out there in hopes that people begin to choose the local, legitimate races over the “fly by night” races and just by having this conversation on a public forum, I feel we’ve accomplished something here.

      My gold rush comment was meant to shed light on the fact that we’re seeing more and more of these “fly by night” events popping of on a broader, national scale, not just local events. And if there are more and more of these similar events popping up across the nation, it only leads me to believe that there is money to be made.

      Please let me clarify that I am not against a person making a living by directing races. I feel that running events have a philanthropical obligation that has been engrained in our sport for many years and if you can support yourself and your family, while supporting a bigger cause in your community, there is no better way to make a living!

      I applaud your honesty and transparency and wish you and your team the best of luck in the future.

      Michael

  • Jimmy Stephens

    Michael,
    I agree. Enjoyed the discussion!
    Jimmy

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