28/07/2016 - 12:49

Charity runs get more competitive

28/07/2016 - 12:49


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The City to Surf has become an iconic WA event over the past 42 years but its status as the state’s largest charity run is under threat from a relatively new event that employs a very different business model.

Charity runs get more competitive
GROWTH: The City to Surf for Activ started in 1975 and peaked in 2013.

The City to Surf has become an iconic WA event over the past 42 years but its status as the state’s largest charity run is under threat from a relatively new event that employs a very different business model.

The City to Surf for Activ, which kicked off 42 years ago, has long been promoted as Western Australia's biggest community sporting event.

Participation peaked in 2013, when 50,652 people registered – including 2,531 in four regional events.

However, its size has fallen sharply over the past two years, with registrations dropping to 35,622 in 2015 (see graphic). 

Over the same period, a competing event set up by HBF has continued to expand.

Starting from scratch in 2010, HBF Run for a Reason attracted 33,744 participants this year, suggesting it’s at least on a par with the Perth leg of City to Surf.

Perhaps more significantly, the HBF event now raises more for charity – even after adjusting for the very different way the two events are run.

Participants in the HBF event raise about $1.3 million per year for 150 nominated charities.

The largest beneficiaries are HBF’s five ‘feature’ charities, including the Cancer Council WA and Lifeline WA, which provide volunteers to help run the event.

Activ Foundation, which launched City to Surf in 1975 and has owned the event ever since, doesn’t always release comparable data.

But it has disclosed that in 2013 and 2014, the amount raised by participants for nominated charities averaged a modest $640,000; i.e. about half the amount raised by HBF runners even though City to Surf was much larger.

The financial comparison gets even more interesting when we look at registration money.

HBF gets an estimated $1.3 million per year from registration fees, and keeps it all to defray the cost of what it says is a loss-making event.

In contrast, City to Surf generates a surplus every year, which Activ uses to help fund disability programs.

The event raised a total of $1.19 million for charities last year, with an estimated half of that being the event surplus that goes to Activ.

Activ and HBF both appear somewhat perplexed by the very different financial performance of each other’s event.

Activ chief executive Danielle Newport observed the HBF event has a sizable marketing campaign utilising mass media channels, which are typically quite expensive.

She also noted that Activ has successful long term partnerships with sponsors, led by Chevron, that contribute to the continuing viability of the City to Surf series.

Ms Newport said the number of registrations for City to Surf had been affected by the particularly competitive market, with a number of new events and a significant decrease in disposable income as a result of the economic downturn.

The competition includes the WA Today Swan River Run, which attracts about 3,800 runners each year, the Mother’s Day Classic, which attracted 3,410 participants in WA this year, and for-profit events such as The Color Run (see more below).

HBF health events and sponsorship manager Alex Weir believes Run for a Reason can lay claim to being the best charity run in Perth.

“Our focus is not on making a profit, it’s all about having a quality event for the participants,” Mr Weir said.

He said the principal goal was to encourage Western Australians to be physically active, while also giving an opportunity to raise money for charity.

The promotion and marketing of the event also serves HBF’s commercial goals by promoting its brand. 

Prior to launching its own event in 2010, HBF had been naming rights sponsor of City to Surf for two years.

“We didn’t have control, so that limited what we could do,” Mr Weir said.

“We felt there was too much emphasis on elite runners.

“We thought we could do it better and I think we have done that.

“We’ve never lost sight of the fact we want it to be a community event, not an elite event.”

Ms Newport said City to Surf was an important part of WA culture and she was confident it would stand the test of time.

Activ is marshalling support from the disability sector to try and lift the 2016 events in Perth and regional areas.

“The event is not only a celebration of our organisation’s purpose but the disability sector as a whole and we are really focusing on this in the lead up to the 2016 events,” she said.

“We have made a conscious effort to engage with our partners in the sector, encouraging them to join us in raising funds for their organisations to also support people living with disability.”

Ms Newport said Activ used to organise the City to Surf event itself but decided some years ago to engage Corporate Sports Australia.

“We came to the decision that in order for the event to grow, we needed to outsource the event logistics to an external organisation with an expertise in event management,” she said.

“This decision allowed us to focus more on promoting Activ and driving the event’s fundraising messages.

“Since we made this decision we have seen the event grow in both numbers and participation, peaking at the 2013 event, which saw over 50,000 participants.

“As an organisation we are still heavily involved in the event, with the promotion of fundraising for Activ our key focus.”


The WA Today Swan River Run is part of Fairfax Media’s national series of city runs, including Sydney’s City2Surf, which is Australia’s largest charity run with up to 85,000 participants.

The Swan River Run was held for the third time this year, and raised approximately $50,000 for charity via the Westpac Foundation.

The Mother’s Day Classic, which raises funds for breast cancer research, has swung widely in size since it was launched in WA in 2012.

WA hosted eight Mother’s Day Classics this year, attracting 3,410 participants in aggregate.

Nationally this event has raised $27 million since 1998, including $3.1 million in 2015.

The for-profit events have included The Color Run and Tough Mudder, which was held in Perth in 2014 but cancelled in 2015, with no sign of a return.

The level of competition is indicated by some of the smaller events.

Fun Run Pink, which is sponsored by Ramsay Health Care and raises money for breast cancer, attracted only 228 people last year.

The Jog for Jugs beach run, which also raises money for breast cancer, is looking for a WA sponsor so the event can continue in 2016.


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