Raleigh’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon left fundraising to runners

ccampbell@newsobserver.comApril 17, 2014 

  • Runner’s funeral held Thursday

    A funeral for one of the two men who died during Sunday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon was held Thursday in Rocky Mount.

    Derrick Lee Myers, 35, a director of information technology for Etix in Raleigh, collapsed near the finish line of the half marathon.

    The second man who died during the race has not been publicly identified. He was 31 and collapsed a few miles short of the finish line. The state medical examiner’s office does not release names in cases in which it conducts autopsies, and Raleigh police did not investigate or issue reports on the incidents.

    Saying the runner’s family wanted privacy, race organizers did not release his name.

    Though the deaths are statistically uncommon, races in the Rock ’n’ Roll series have been marred by such tragedies at least 12 times since 2005, including the two in Raleigh on Sunday.

— Sunday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon has raised more than $250,000 for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, but that total didn’t come from the race organizers’ profits.

In a fundraising model that breaks with the tradition of most local road races, Rock ’n’ Roll runners gathered donations themselves as part of “Team V.” No proceeds from registration fees – which cost up to $150 per runner – went to The V Foundation, which was billed as the event’s official charity.

Some local race organizers think Rock ’n’ Roll’s branding could mislead runners who are accustomed to events where part of their registration fee goes to charity.

“To me, that’s misrepresentation,” said Paula O’Neal, a retired Raleigh police officer who operates RunRaleigh Races.

Most other area races – including the City of Oaks and Tobacco Road marathons – give tens of thousands of dollars annually to local charities using the registration fees they collect.

But Stephanie Silverman, a spokeswoman for The V Foundation, said her organization was happy to partner with Rock ’n’ Roll.

“The exposure is unbelievable,” she said. “Everywhere you saw that Rock ’n’ Roll logo, you saw ours. The signage and awareness is something we’re so grateful for.”

While the for-profit, California-based Competitor Group that operates Rock ’n’ Roll won’t write a check to the nonprofit, it did waive race fees for the 500 runners (out of 12,500 registered) who raised money as part of “Team V.”

To join Team V, runners had to commit to raising at least $500 for the charity. If they fell short, their credit cards would get charged for the remaining amount. The minimum fundraising total for Team V will increase to $750 for next year’s marathon.

Silverman said the minimum is set because the nonprofit provides “a lot of team benefits,” including personalized coaching, a pre-race pasta dinner and a “VIP swag bag.”

Rock ‘n’ Roll spokesman Dan Cruz said that many other high-profile races around the country use the same model.

“The program has been wildly successful with charity partners utilizing the brand and platform to raise more than $300 million for a variety of causes over the history of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series,” he said in an email. “The entry fees that are paid by each participant are what go to cover the costs associated with staging the race.”

‘Give the rest away’

The two other marathons that go through Wake County are nonprofit events. Tobacco Road, which raised $100,000 in its most recent marathon event on the American Tobacco Trail, gives money to several charity groups.

Likewise, the City of Oaks Marathon donates about $50,000 to local charities each year, event chairman Jim Micheels, said.

“We pretty much drain the account down to a few thousand dollars and give the rest away,” he said.

O’Neal, of RunRaleigh, already was upset with Rock ’n’ Roll. Her group’s half marathon was bumped from its usual April weekend when Rock ’n’ Roll came to town.

Last year, the RunRaleigh event donated $48,000 to several local nonprofits, including the SPCA of Wake County and the Raleigh Police Memorial Foundation.

The city’s approval for Rock ’n’ Roll forced O’Neal to move her event to October this year. She expects to draw fewer runners and raise less money. “We have taken a significant loss for our charities due to our displacement,” she said.

She has renamed the race to show her displeasure: Rock’N Rebellion 13.1, with a logo that features a red fist.

Rock ’n’ Roll has a five-year contract for Raleigh marathons, and its partnership with The V Foundation will continue for at least two more years, Silverman said.

Raleigh police are already reviewing traffic and logistical issues from Sunday with an eye toward next year’s race, Major Stacy Deans said.

“We’re going to sit down with the Rock ’n’ Roll organizers and debrief everything in an effort to make it better next year,” he said.

Some of the worst traffic backups Sunday affected race participants and spectators heading downtown at 6 a.m, Deans said. “I would imagine they would try to set up some satellite parking next year with shuttles running downtown,” he added.

Officers directing traffic also saw big delays at designated crossing points along the race course, which at times saw few breaks in the runners. “They had to turn around to drivers and say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t get you safely across right now,’” Deans said.

Local race organizers say they’re worried that complaints about Rock ’n’ Roll traffic could make it harder for their road closures to get city approval. Raleigh has already restricted the number of road races, forcing local charity runs to compete with national for-profit event organizers for coveted weekend dates.

“I think all of us are holding our breath wondering what the repercussions will be on the next one of us that goes before the City Council with a race course,” said Butch Robertson, owner of NC Races.

Robertson added that some of Raleigh’s smallest charities could be the big losers if their races get pushed out. “You can do an event for a small organization, and they can turn the corner on their yearly budget,” he said.

He also urges runners to understand how a race’s fundraising model works before they sign up. “You need to read the fine print,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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