Why Aren’t Running Companies Sponsoring the Color Run?

This is an archived post. Channel Signal’s product review aggregator can help brands make decisions based on user experience. Check us out at www.channelsignal.com.

color run sponsorship

One of the categories that Channel Signal monitors and analyzes is running events. We aggregate online conversations about marathons, obstacle races, road races, etc. and break down the trends in the consumer talk.

Since last December, we’ve documented something interesting: The Color Run, an event no one in the running industry seems to take seriously, buries other running events in sheer volume of consumer conversation. See the chart below.

Online Consumer Mentions:

Color Run116,12253,29931,119
Tough Mudder22,67215,87415,617
Spartan Race20,67111,60510,133
Warrior Dash3,5092,3802,549


Given that level of consumer engagement, you would think that running industry manufacturers and retailers would be sprinting to the bandwagon. You would be wrong. Despite having 90 US events scheduled for 2014 and another 25 coming soon, The Color Run currently has no running industry sponsors.

At the time of this writing, The Color Run website lists the official sponsors as Shout (the cleaning product), Kind (healthy snacks), and Global Citizen (nonprofit trying to end poverty).

When Channel Signal gave a presentation The Running Event in Austin TX, the group of 150 running specialty dealers and industry people groaned when we shared this data. When we’ve shown these numbers to running shoe company execs, the reaction is much the same: these are not our people.

Forget the wisdom of crowds; this attitude is shortsighted.

No, they’re not buying $200 shoes, $60 compression socks and wrist-top computers, but every manufacturer and retailer needs customers like these to buy its entry-level gear. 60% of Color Run participants have not previously run a 5k or longer. That’s gold. So they don’t time themselves, get over it.

These are new customers coming into your sport. Embrace them. Educate them. Sell them stuff. Drop the idea that these newbies will alienate your hardcore customer. These people are having a blast and being a part of that brings you new, happy customers.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.


Previous Comments (post has been updated):
Kristen Zemeitus says:

Completely agree! The running industry is SILLY to not attach their name to this run. These runs are made up of loyal runners and someone who’s never run a race – why wouldn’t they want to broaden their consumer base? It’s really pretentious actually.

May 1, 2014 1:42 PM

Eric Steele says:

The Running Event is very mature (brittle). It’s is more of a prosumer event that couldn’t reinvent itself it’s very survival depended on it. They’re right, it isn’t their story or their audience. I’d say you’re presenting to the wrong people.

Look at how OR has taken on SUP and Yoga. It’s could do the same with this market segment. I’m not sure that would provide clarity to a show that has become hard to chart let alone navigate.

May 1, 2014 2:25 PM

Gordon Wright says:

I think it is a very rare occurrence of two factors. First, it’s a “silly” (my characterization, and not a negative one) event that isn’t seen as a “true” running event — which you stipulate. In addition to detracting from core run audiences via that messaging, the event does not offer any specific production or technological demand that a shoe company can address (see Parkour, mud runs, Crossfit — all new grassroots specialties marginally touching on running as does the color run). The difference? Those events do create a demand for innovation.

Secondly, and this is what makes Color Runs a pink unicorn — is that as you state, they’ve VASTLY popular and got there very quickly. To the point where it is attracting sponsorship from big consumer brand manufacturers (S.C. Johnson) or $150mm venture-backed consumer brands (Kind). This means (or should mean) that the cost of sponsorship is high.

Running shoe companies thus have little incentive — other than sheer numbers — to invest. Running APPAREL companies would have even less interest, since a plain Hanes tee-shirt would seem to be the ideal race shirt.

I suspect eventually one running brand will buy in and reap a nice ROI, but it would have to be a more mass-market brand without a strong apparel line. Does any of that make sense? Just my two cents.

May 1, 2014 3:00 PM

Aaron says:


May 1, 2014 3:05 PM

Carson says:

Great comments, thanks.
My thinking is that while most events demand high performance from the equipment used, as g pointed out, The Color Run offers a rare chance for running manufacturers to market their entry-level products, which account for the majority of their sales. Over half these people have never even run a 5k. They’re the perfect target for your $50 shoes.

May 1, 2014 4:39 PM

Sal Ruibal says:

The Color Run isn’t seen as a serious athletic event by many runners. It is a unique event, for sure and probably a lot of fun if you’re the kind of person who likes messy group mania. That group affinity is what gives them big buzz numbers, but it also keeps sponsors away because the main point of the race — get messy and sort of run with other messy people — hides sponsorship logos and other identifiers. Color Run is the beneficiary of the messiness but not the secondary identification with a running product. Maybe they should pass out tequila shooters every k and sign up Jose Cuervo as a sponsor.

May 2, 2014 7:43 AM

Brian Metzler says:

There are some great observations here. I don’t think there is any pretentiousness here from the running industry. It would be hard to think that an entire industry would create such a collective attitude.

I have said for the past two years that, although most of these participants are not what you would call active runners (and that’s OK), the common denominator is that they buy running shoes and enter an event. The numbers are significant and even if only 5 percent continue on in more traditional running pursuits (such as training for a 10K or half marathon), that’s still a lot of potential runners.

However, there is also the notion that this is a flash-in-the-pan concept and will likely be gone very soon. There are dedicated runners in a lot of aspects: lifelong marathoners, ultrarunners, fitness runners, gym aficionados who run once or twice a week. But is there such a thing as a Color runner? Meaning, are these mostly one-and-done participants? Once you’ve done one Color Run (or Prom Run or Zombie Run or Neon Run), does that become your thing? Do you want to do a Color Run again and again and again because the thrill of getting a white T-shirt covered with colored corn starch is so amazing and life-changing? (Compare that with the intrinsic thrill of training for a half marathon, which, if done right, offers long-term personal satisfaction of conquering a fairly hard goal, combined with tangible changes to your mind, body and spirit.) The real question is how many of these participants are going to stick with running? I’m not saying it’s not potentially a large amount, but it’s definitely a big unknown.

My point is that for a big brand (in the running industry or not) to get behind an event like this, there would have to be some kind of understanding that most of these customers aren’t just a random one-time participant. The bottom line, which I think Gordon pointed to, is that you really have no idea what you’re getting for the investment in such an event.

May 2, 2014 7:58 AM

bagni says:

in colorado…that run would be sponsored by some legal weed retailer!

May 2, 2014 8:24 AM


The Color Run has very few sponsor relationships because they’re business is organized as an LLC. If The Color Run was organized as a nonprofit, they would have a ton of sponsor relationships. Companies typically do not sponsor “for profit running events” such as limited liability corporations.


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