Still a rip-off, the Color Run returns to Ypsi

In preparation for this weekend’s big Color Run that will be wreaking havoc in Ypsi, I thought that I’d repost what I’d written about the event last year, just as the “charity” event was wrapping up.

Let me start out by saying that I like that the Color Run took place in Ypsi this morning. Anything, in my opinion, that brings upwards of 15,000 people into the city, to spend their money, is a good thing, even if they do shut down a lot of streets, and leave tons of trash in their wake. It was incredibly cool to see Beezy’s, the Ugly Mug, and Sidetrack packed this morning, and a throng of people around the Growing Hope bicycle blender, waiting to buy smoothies from young Ypsilanti entrepreneurs. With all that said, though, I find the whole thing kind of weird… I just don’t get why anyone would spend $50 to have people throw shit in their faces as they jog… But, I guess, as religion plays less and less a part in the daily life of Americans, folks are hungry for (purchased) experiences that allow them to feel as though they’re part of something bigger than themselves… And, I suppose, this is probably better than goading bulls as they stampede through narrow alleyways, or any number of other things.

When I first heard that Ypsi would be one of 30 U.S. cities to host a 5K Color Run, and that some of the proceeds would be going to local non-profits, I sent off a note to the organization, asking just how much money our non-profits were likely to get. They told me, “The charities and their requirements, needs, partnerships, fundraising, disclosure limitations and agreements vary with each venue,” and suggested that I contact the charities directly. (The local charities that partnered with the Color Run were Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, SOS Community Services, Michigan ElvisFest, Ypsilanti Area Jaycees, Downtown Association of Ypsilanti, Growing Hope and Food Gatherers.) While I’ve yet to reach out to any of them directly, I did hear from an anonymous source that the total contribution was in the ballpark of $13,000, with those charities that turned out the most volunteers this morning, getting larger shares.

So, here’s the math as I figure it… The last official count that I heard was that 17,500 had registered for today’s run. According to their site, registration, depending on how big of a team you to have, runs from $45 to $55. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll be conservative, and assume $45. 17,500 people, paying $45 a piece, would yield a whopping $787,500. Assuming my source was right, and our local charities received $13,000, that means they received considerably less than 2% of the total take. And, for that $13,000, the corporate entity behind the Color Run not only got a lot of free publicity, but they also got a great deal of free labor… Not a bad business model, huh?

But, like I said, our local business people had a great day, and the neon corn starch-covered people that I came in contact with were all nice. Still, something seems odd about it… Maybe I’m just jealous that it didn’t occur to me to commoditize an Indian religious ritual.

I’ll give them credit, though. They’ve done a bang up job of marketing this thing.

[note to self: Now, I just need to find a way to Americanize this festival in Lebanon and bring it to the midwest with a pop soundtrack.]

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I think that this might also mark the end of legitimate rave culture. (It occurred to me this morning, as I was watching neon covered midwestern folks jogging into the park, where techno music was being blasted, that this is what rave culture looks like when it’s marketed to the suburban masses.)

To my knowledge, not much has changed since I first posted this a year ago, at least relative to how the money is shared with those non-profits that assist with the marketing of these events, and provide the free labor which makes them possible. There have, however, been changes on other fronts. Most notably, a competitor, seeing what a cash cow the Color Run is, has decided to get into the act. And, in fact, this group, called Color Me Rad, will be hosting a run of their own in Detroit on the very day the Color Run will be in Ypsi… Oh, and others have begun to join me in pointing out that this whole thing is a scam. Hopefully, over time, this will build, and the organizers will be forced to give more than 2% of their proceeds to the communities they shut down and trash… Of course, everyone seems to know how terrible of an organization the Susan G. Komen Foundations is, and yet they continue to keep right on going. The sad reality, I think, is that people just don’t give a shit. They like wearing pink ribbons, running through clouds of neon cornstarch, and feeling as though, by doing so, they’re making a difference.

Just to be clear, though, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t host this event. It’s good for business, and it brings a ton of people to Ypsi. I just wish that our non-profits shared a bit more in the obscene wealth that’s being created on our turf.

[note: Those who are interested in going deeper on this are encouraged to read through the 100+ comments which were left when this post first ran.]

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  1. MrMikesHardCoreSot
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Be Happy
    Be Healthy
    Be You
    Be a color runner

    ” But, I guess, as religion plays less and less a part in the daily life of Americans, folks are hungry for (purchased) experiences that allow them to feel as though they’re part of something bigger than themselves…”

    Mark’s quote pretty much sums up the depravity of a virtual existence offered up by a corporate based society that is defined by consumerism.

  2. anony
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    at some point last year I did some math based on the 13K in donations -v-volunteer hours and it turned out that the “donations” were far less than even minimum wage when it came to volunteer hours for the local folks. It still some balls to say ” for charity” when its so not he case. I guess “for my pocketbook” doesn’t sell as well.

    On the good side of this is that City Staff get some OT for the set and clean up detail. I think that is really good.

  3. Burt Reynolds
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    I suppose the math does not add up, however the Ypsi exposure is worth it. Some things are just better enjoyed and left alone.

  4. Sarah
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I prefer my running experiences to be less chaotic-and-messy parties and more quiet solo communion with nature, which is why I’ll never participate in one of these. But have at it, thousands of Ypsi Color Runners. Just remember to go support your local Corner Brewery afterward.

  5. Edward
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    It’ll be cold and rainy. I wonder if people will enjoy it as much when it’s wads of neon mud that are being thrown into their faces.

  6. Meta
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    From the very witty Color Me Rad FAQ:

    Q: Does this benefit charity?

    A: You think we’re just going to keep all your money? A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit a local charity in the community. Check out each race location to see whom. That’s right—we just used “whom.”

    Nice deflection of the issue, don’t you think?

    Read more:

  7. facebook stalker
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    From someone on Facebook this morning:

    “I love it…Color Run…AATA has no clue about it…no setup for bussing people into town…No plan for deviation of their routes for during the race…they want info from me and needed to transfer me to the right person…I hold for 4 minutes and she comes back to tell me about the website/phone number for input that I should call and then starts talking about the person she wants to put me in touch with…I’m sorry, I do not have time for all this red tape or explanation, I only wanted to know if you had anything set up or route deviations so I could plan for 10 people…how we were going to get from my house to depot town…this is 10’s of thousands of people…trying to get to the same spot at 8am…Oh boy this is going to be fun!”

  8. Robert
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I think you’ve summed it up pretty well, Mark. How did this event get approved in Ypsi? Who pays for the clean-up?

  9. anonymo
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    it got approved by the convention and visitors bureau and the dda.

  10. anonymous
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Also worth noting: The Farmer’s Market will be at Ypsilanti High School this Saturday, May 11, instead of Depot Town, due to the Color Run.

  11. anonymous
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I suspect they pay the City for street cleaning, the overtime of employees, etc., Robert.

  12. Elliott
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Mark’s right about it being good for business, though, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. I’d prefer if they were honest about how little goes to charity, but, regardless, I think this is a good thing for those who own businesses in the city.

  13. Rebecca Dunkle
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I think what Sarah says is right —

    ‘I prefer my running experiences to be less chaotic-and-messy parties and more quiet solo communion with nature, which is why I’ll never participate in one of these. But have at it, thousands of Ypsi Color Runners. Just remember to go support your local Corner Brewery afterward.”

    this isn’t for “serious” runners, although I think any reasonable fun run or whatever that gets a few people thinking about exercising is always o.k. in my mind. But is is “fun” and “happy’ for people, and does bring a lot of people in to town to our restaurants and businesses, which I think is a great thing.

  14. Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s substantially being marketed as a charity event, and I think they would do just as well for themselves if it wasn’t marketed as a charity event at all.

  15. Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Also, it would be awesome if you could add threaded comments to your blog so that we can reply directly to other comments.

  16. double anonymous
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Are we allowed to throw anything that we want at these people or does it have to be neon powder?

  17. Elf
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    At least these guys don’t present themselves as non-profit. The following, from Channel 7 last night, is about West Bloomfield’s Foundation for American Veterans.

    “The charity serves disabled and homeless vets, and donors have been generous: giving almost $6.8 million to spend last year. Almost $3.7 million to fundraisers, another $1.6 million to bill collectors and more than $300,000 paid out to salaries. It left less than a million dollars—only 15 percent—to help those it was raised for.”

  18. facebook stalker
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    From Facebbok:

    “I learned this afternoon, they expect volunteers to work for 6 hours and they pay the charity $40 for that six hours of work per volunteer.”

    That’s below minimum wage.

  19. jcp2
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    I know. I coached a hockey team for seven months and all I got was a $15 gift card at the end of the season. That’s about $0.20 an hour, not counting travel. The injustice of it all!

  20. Robert Davis
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    jcp2, did the hockey team bolt town with over 1/2 a million in cash and pretty much, saying, “SUCKERS!!!???”

  21. Graham
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post. I’ve long suspected that this was the case with a lot of these runs. While they might not present themselves as charities to the runners, they definitely do when they go looking for volunteers. That’s how you get free labor: say you’re a non-profit trying to good, powered by the community. It’s a shame (sham too).

    Well I gotta forward this to some folks!

  22. Edward
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    The color runners this year looked decidedly less happy than last year. A difference of a few dozen degrees, it would seem, changes everything.

  23. Gigi
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Most of the Color Runnerz I ran with the morning were blonde and chubby.

  24. Mr D
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    It was a very positive event, again. I volunteered again this year and my charity was very happy for the money and exposure on social media (they get thousands of hits) and at the race, etc. There is no perfect event. You don’t have all the facts, again, this year.

  25. Robert Davis
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Give us the Facts Mr. D.

    How much did The owners of the Color Run walkaway with after leaving Ypsilanti, and after paying the charity, and all expenses?

    I’d guess, 1/2 a million?

  26. Robert Davis
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    How about splitting half with the City of Ypsilanti?

    Watch the Color Run scream bloody murder.

    Good Luck.

  27. Rick Cronn
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    After the good taste of neon colored corn starch has left your mouth, what’s left?

  28. Gigi
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I swear I saw crews hosing the streets down with heavily chlorinated water. Right above the Huron River. Not sure I’ll run it again next year if thats the case.

  29. Posted May 12, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    To add another level of weirdness, I heard from someone today that prisoners were out this afternoon, picking up trash from the Color Run.

  30. yiran
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Permalink


  31. Sara
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Looks like it was a lot of fun. I wish I could have ran in it. I think it’s overall good for the city. They ran past my house and everyone seemed to be pretty happy even though it eas pretty chilly out. It looks like they are adding a race in Toledo, Windsor, and Lansing so it can’t be all that bad.

  32. Posted May 13, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Why does having this money maker, billed disingenuously as a charity event, in Toledo and Lansing indicate that it “can’t be all that bad”?

    I don’t understand the logic here.

  33. Posted May 13, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    I like this idea: more of a bad thing actually makes said bad thing a good thing.

  34. Robert Davis
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Correct Peter,

    And they get tons of Volunteers to help these scam artists make DUMP TRUCK loads of money. I don’t get it.
    They should split 1/2 with the cities, for starters, or toss $100,000 at the town in cash.

    Just my 2 cents.

  35. Jean Henry
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Use of volunteer labor for a for-profit venture (absent academic credit or the equivalent) is illegal under labor laws. I have no problem with Color Run being for-profit, but they should pay their event staff and clean up staff.

  36. Posted May 15, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Lots of things are illegal under labor laws but happen all the time anyway. Look at how businesses abuse the unpaid intern laws.

  37. MCTrashpedal
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    all I heard was friends who couldn’t get out of town, hating.

  38. Katie McManners
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Thanks for writing about these corporate franchise color-type runs. I am inclined to believe they exploit the communities they go into. Color Me Rad is scheduled in Little Rock on the same day as the Go! Mile, a locally produced event where 100% of proceeds (not the piddly 2% or whatever CMR is donating to charity). I wish a big media outlet like Runners World would do an expose, but OOPS they are probably making a lot in advertising so it wouldn’t behoove them to shoot the mouth that feeds them. I’m not a fan. Not a fan at all.

  39. Robert Davis
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Katie, yes, on your points. The Color Run Pirate owners come in pretty much pillage ALL the City services, streets, volunteers, etc, for their for profit endeavor and make out with BAGS of CASH.
    I would like to see the owners of the Color Run go buy a field somewhere and put on their own event without the cities, they scam. See how that goes for them?

    Just my 2 cents.

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