Is it possible that the economic impact of Ypsi’s Color Run is really $1.8 million?

I’m going to try something new this year and forgo my annual rant about the Color Run, which is scheduled to take place in Ypsilanti again this Saturday morning. It still bothers me that they pitch it as a somewhat philanthropic event, while only giving a percent or two of what’s raised to charity, but I’m not going to keep harping on it. From what I can tell, people seem to enjoy themselves while running around town, having people throw colored corn starch in their faces, and, if some percentage of them actually stay downtown and buy breakfast once they’re done running, that’s good for our local businesses, especially as these aren’t people who would likely come to Ypsi otherwise. Speaking of the economic impact of this annual event, though, I’m curious as to what it actually is. According to an article in today’s Ann Arbor News, someone is speculating that, last year, it was on the order of $1.8 million, and I can’t image it’s anywhere near that high… Here’s a clip.


Last year, there were approximately 15,000 runners. So, for the economic impact to be $1.8 million, they would have had to have had spent an average of $120 each in the City. (This assumes, of course, that the Color Run doesn’t draw a great number of spectators, which, from my observation, is a legitimate assumption.) Granted, some of them might have come in the night before, and gotten hotel rooms at the Marriott, which is in the Township, but, even if you count that as being spent in the City, I don’t know how you’d get even remotely close to $1.8 million… unless, of course, you’re counting the registration fees paid by runners, approximately 98% of which leave the City with the organizers. But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe people, while they’re here, covered in neon tinted corn starch, are shopping for antiques at Materials Unlimited, and buying new cars at the downtown Honda dealership.

Again, I’m not suggesting that the Color Run isn’t good for Ypsi. I’ve found myself waiting in line at Beezy’s before, just after a Color Run, and I know that a good number of the people who come for the run spend their money here. I just doubt that it’s anywhere near $120 each. Furthermore, I don’t like it when numbers are thrown around without citation, and I’d love to know how they came to arrive at this number. (The Ann Arbor News doesn’t even share where they got the number from.)

Did a few of the 15,000 people who came through town likely spend $120 each in the City? I’m sure they did. I can’t imagine, however, that every person who ran spent that much last year, or intends to this year.

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  1. K
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    18 local businesses doing $100k more in business than usual om that day?

  2. PrincessTinyMeat
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I share your skepticism or cynicism or whatever. I don’t get this thing. What I’m most troubled/confused by is the event’s lack of meaning or subtext. It’s meaningless.

  3. karen
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    the figure is calculated using a formula used by the convention and visitor’s bureau. ask them if you’re so damn curious.

  4. Tango Uniform
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    The critical thinking expressed in your article is borderline sedition. You have the actual gall to divide 1.8 million dollars by 15,000 participants, and come up with $120 spent , on average, by each of the speculated 15,000 participants ? Why, that’s more serious effort than the bobblehead goofballs at the Ann Arbor News have exerted. Maybe Beezy is selling $120 breakfasts.
    Maybe you could just ask a couple hundred participants how much money they have spent at the color run, to get a more realistic and accurate idea of the real dollars being spent. Although that would be just a statistical sampling, it would be a more legitimate gauge than the marketing hype being spewed and repeated by the local media propagandists. This type of quantitative reasoning might make some people uneasy.
    Is The Color Run a charity or a non-profit organization?
    The Color Run is neither a charity nor a non-profit organization. The Color Run, LLC is a “for profit” event management company and our number one goal is to produce high quality events.

  5. Posted June 21, 2014 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    “Color is made of corn starch and is 100 percent natural.”

    I can think of many things which are “100 percent natural” which can be horribly devastating to human, animal and plant life.

  6. Posted June 21, 2014 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    I dislike the Color Run.

  7. XXX
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    36 of them are buying $50,000 houses today.

  8. XXX
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Vacation homes.

  9. Posted June 21, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Maybe I just have too many friends that are scientists, but when I see a number being thrown around, even if it’s identified as being “estimated,” I expect to see how it was derived. I was doubly irritated by this particular mention as the number wasn’t attributed to anyone. I didn’t know if it came from the organizers of the Color Run, the City, or the Visitors and Convention Bureau.

    Like I said, I don’t care about the Color Run. I’ve come to accept that it’s good for the business owners in the City, even if it is the blatant commercial appropriation of an Indian cultural event that’s positioned as a boon to local non-profits when the actual benefit is negligible. If just 5% of the 15,000 participants buy a drink and a plate of eggs, that’s cool with me. What I had a question about is the assumption that people coming for the Color Run would spend $120 each in town. I wanted to know how people had come up with that number. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask… Was it based on interviews last year, or is it, as Karen suggests, just a commonly accepted formula used in economic development circles? Regardless, I’d like to know. And, if it’s the latter, I’d suggest that a formula used for pipe fitters coming into the City for a conference from out of state should probably be different than a formula used to estimate the economic impact of group driving in for an early morning event who will likely be leaving by noon. Again, this isn’t to diminish the fact that this is a positive event for Ypsi business owners. It clearly is. It just bothers me when I see numbers like this thrown around and not questioned.

  10. Posted June 21, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Does the city get some kind of fee for all of this from the Color Run people? I would imagine it does– and if it doesn’t, then the city of Ypsilanti is even dumber than I thought– and I would guess that’s probably part of it. I am also guessing that Color Run Inc. is paying for some of the overtime/extra time for police or whatever other security they have at this, plus I am assuming they have to pay some locals to throw powder at people, though maybe that’s part of the fake volunteering.

    All I’m suggesting here is while I too suspect this $1.8 million is just a wild-assed guess, the economic impact on Ypsi certainly reaches beyond people spending $120 for breakfast.

  11. Posted June 21, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Whenever I see statistics quoted like this, I flash back to every mathematics instructor I’ve ever had and their collective chorus of “Show your work.”

  12. Fine with the Run
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Mark, I know you do not like the numbers but it really is a fun event. All I see is smiling people having a good time with their friends and family. This run is good for Ypsi. As a business owner, it boosted business for 3 solid days because of the packet pickup etc. We also anticipate return customers from this event. Great positive exposure for Ypsi. We should all try to ride the wave because this event will eventually be diluted by all the copy cat events that are taking place.

  13. Grumpy
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    The 100% natural corn starch being spread all over the city and going into yards and the water supply is made with genetically modified corn and likely contains glyphosate.

  14. bee
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Short blip here:
    Mayyyybe the color run brings this $$ to town between gas, lodging and a breakfast at beezy’s or a beer at corner… But the bummer with events like this is that my net boost is nil- I have to view it as an ambassador type event. I lose all my regulars who don’t want to deal with town being sectioned off, but the color runners are a happy lot of people so that’s nice. I hope that some of them will leave with some Ypsi charm and come back someday.

    I suspect the bulk of the $ calculated is lodging related. And that’s great. I think the ‘race’ is meaningless (insert inspired rant here) but it’s a pretty harmless way for people to have fun I guess.

  15. anony
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I swear that math test is getting harder! (just kidding).

    I was going to post saying how I am torn about this (same as my comment on the Vu post) but upon consideration – I think its good for our city government/staff(some OT to make up for cuts+ event fees) just not so great for residents and businesses. And its something for the Visitors and Convention folks to do – when we the last convention that actually came to the City?

    So, well, whatever, I can stay away from downtown for a day. Have at it and enjoy.

  16. Jennifer
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Just FYI, Ypsi Co-op folks said that the farmer’s market today will in in Depot Town from 1-5.

    The recycling center in Depot Town is closed today.

  17. XXX
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I felt like interviewing the color runners that I saw, asking them how they spent their $120 in Ypsi. It would have been especially fun for the significant number who were kids running with their folks.

  18. Grumpy
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I wonder why it is that Mark is not up in arms when Growing Hope does this same thing with unexplained black-box-formula economic impact figures:

    “Total 2013 sales at our Ypsilanti Farmers Markets was a combined $278,976,
    with a total economic impact on the Ypsilanti area of $1,746,299!”

  19. Joe
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Do restaurant workers have to spend extra time cleaning after the race? Like, do the runners leave colorful starch smudges on the tables and chairs? Just wondering.

  20. josh
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    I was at beezys and ace this morning. as Bee said, they lose all the regulars. It was dead at 930. I asked and I was Ace’s only customer of the morning.

    Long term, it’s nice that 15k people now have good impression f Ypsi.

  21. Posted June 21, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Anything that gets people off their asses and running is a good thing. Anything that gets thousands of new people to come to Ypsi and spend some time is a good thing. I’m not disputing either of those things. I’m just questioning the dollar amount that has been attached to this event.

  22. Taco Farts
    Posted June 22, 2014 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    You’re all missing the point of this run, which is for white people to have shiat thrown at them in order to alleviate some of their white people guilt. After they feel so relieved, their ability to spend money on useless crap while people are starving and without medical care is recharged, thus rejuvenating the economy throughout the year, not just on the day of the run. Big picture, people. Big picture.

  23. Jcp2
    Posted June 22, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    TF, you are conflating race and class. The color run demographic is the same as those that run for fitness. It would be the same for the local marathon.

  24. Dean Beresford
    Posted June 22, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I’m a former area resident (still holding on to property back home) and former chair of the Ypsi CVB. The key distinction is economic impact… not simply how much did the participants spend. The value in an event like this is when we can take dollars that are earned somewhere else and bring them ‘here’. They get recycled over and over into a multiplier effect which creates the economic impact mentioned. I don’t recall the formula employed by the CVB but when we can sell additional room nights in our hotels, meals in our restaurants or spending in our stores; it results in additional wages, etc. A portion of those wages are in turn used for additional spending and on and on. In this kind of analysis, an out of town guest has a higher multiplier and an overnight guest is the most valuable.

    I can’t speak to the environmental impact, or other issues mentioned but I have found this kind economic impact analysis to be common and well founded.

  25. Ben
    Posted June 22, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    The Color Run is annoying at best. It seems mostly like normie people from outside the city who wouldn’t really engage in Ypsi in any other way. It disrupts traffic for people who live here. It is run by a for profit company, who’s main goal is making money. And the most annoying thing is the cultural appropriation combined with fake, depoliticised enthusiasm. Running and fitness are good so I guess it’s fine. It’s just annoying as heck, especially if only a tiny bit is contributed to charities.

  26. Lynne
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Dean Beresford is right. Whatever formula is used to come up with that figure, it almost certainly includes a multiplier effect. That is when you not only count the increased marginal spending by the participants themselves but you also count the spending of workers who may have worked extra for the event. Then you also get to count the spending that results from any additional hours worked to meet the needs of the first group of workers who are spending more and so on. It doesn’t take long to get to figures like $1.8 million and although I am sure whomever came up with the formula did so in a way that puts the marginal economic impact in the best possible light, it isn’t exactly unfair to count multiplier effects either. A multiplier effect is real and does help economists determine the actual economic impact of various events as opposed to only counting the direct impact.

    With that said, I dont mind the color run although I don’t personally participate. I would feel better about it if it were for charity though.

  27. Steve Pickard
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    General Observations about Color run.

    I wish it was more of a “party” for non-participants. I seriously thought there would be a beer tent and general alcoholism taking place in the streets all day the day of the event and was disappointed to see that aside from a generally full Tiki Bar and patio scene in Depottown at Aubress and Sidetrack, the place cleared out completely by about noon. This would be a prime event for “add on” events to piggyback off of…a street party, art fair, vendors, whatever. There wasn’t much of that. The “Color Run Corporation” ™ or whatever they call their for-profit group, helicoptered in like an occupying army, did their business, and then helicoptered out, leaving, presumably, some color blood stains, some grins, and some posters in Depottown windows that hung around through Sunday afternoon.

    I live on Maple Street and I sorta wished I figured out a way to charge for parking…because that way I’d have gleaned some economic impact.

    All that aside, I’m still in favor of the event because it made things fun and relatively exciting on what would usually be a sleepy Saturday morning in Depottown. I’m in favor of that, as usually there is not that much going on at that time of a day down here.

  28. CBG
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    I just saw an ad for another one of these things. They’re proliferating like crazy. It’s called the Color Vibe, and I think it’s going to be in Ann Arbor.

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