Saturday, September 15, 2012

Racing For Fun And Profit

Today, I volunteered at the Mount Helena Classic, a fine tradition put on by the local running club.  I got a nifty shirt, hung out with a cool friend, and otherwise enjoyed myself.  I was happy to put in my time, seeing as how I’ve done a pile of races, and wanted a chance to help put one of these on.  Plus, I’m a veteran crossing guard, even if race directors won’t give me the proper tool for the job.
The Mount Helena Classic probably breaks even, and might make a bit of money for the local running club.  I was glad to spend my time helping out.  Most races hopefully break even, make some money for the group putting it on and a bit of money for a cool local charity.
At a run that I did, which I will keep confidential, I was talking with one of the members of the board of directors about putting on such an event.  Even with thousands of entries (which were not entirely cheap), him and the rest of the board of directors ended up chipping in a few grand each year to help out the sponsor charity.  He was the kind of guy who had a few grand to chip in, and was glad to raise awareness for what they did.  I just thought it was interesting how $250,000 in entry fees get eaten up by expenses.
The point that I’m making is that I fundamentally view running as a non-profit event.  I pay entry fees, those entry fees get split behind a combination of a charity and running club.  The race directors here in Helena work way too hard, put up with way too much junk, and don’t really make any money off of their events.
Today, I saw an advertisement for a ‘warrior dash’ (name changed to prevent promotion of a blatantly commercial project).  They wanted $60 in early entry fees, along with $20 for money to go to 'hurricane victims.’  They also had a volunteer sign up.
This is where I really start to get annoyed with the whole she-bang.  The Missoula Marathon had 500 volunteers.  Assuming the average volunteer put in four hours, and makes ten bucks an hour, it’s $20,000 in free labor of the cause.  And, I think, everyone can agree that the Missoula Marathon is a worthy cause, as is Run Wild Missoula.
On the other hand, a commercial race would simply pocket that labor as additional profit for the race organizer.  Events like the popular Rock And Roll marathon series (link not given, to avoid promoting commercial crap)  draw thousands of competitors and spectators.  Yet, those events exist only to draw money for some corporation called Competitor, Inc.
And, going back to the theme of this article, I’d be fine if these events simply came out and entirely talked about what they did.  Maybe a commercial racing company has tastier gel, softer asphalt, or better post-race massage.  I’m not sure it would draw me away from hanging out with a cool bunch of Vigilantes.  But, calling anyone working to promote and help a strictly commercial enterprise is pure bullshit.  General Motors doesn’t have volunteers, it has workers, which it pays.  Even in the healthcare section, profits and non-profits compete.  But, at the end of the day, the for-profits have to provide the value paid for by consumers’ wallets, not volunteers hearts.

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