QUICK COLUMN: What does the Bridge Run do with all that money?
Every year at this time, like clockwork, I hear the question: “What does the Bridge Run do with all that money?”
I've written about it before, detailing the expenses of year-round staff, all the stuff that runners and walkers get (wanted or not), buses, overtime pay for police and sanitation crews, portable toilets, festivities and so on.
Cooper River Bridge Run Race Director Julian Smith gets the question, too.
“Why don't they do that about food and wine (the Wine + Food Festival), and (Charleston) Fashion Week, and Wildlife (Southeastern Wildlife Expo) and all the other nonprofits that put on events in Charleston?,” Smith asked when I brought up the subject recently.
“We give runners more than any other race in the country.”
Even when I underscored the need for the Bridge Run to be transparent, as with any nonprofit, Smith wasn't comfortable talking about the race's finances.
And about those other festivals, The Post and Courier has reported on budgets of all of them, as well Charleston's premier one, the Spoleto Festival.
My best guess about why people question the Bridge Run is that it's fairly easy to calculate 40,000 participants times $40 ($1.6 million) for an event that seemingly lasts about two or three hours. You know, it's just running, not food, fashion or the arts.
But the Bridge Run is more involved than most people imagine.
First, some perspective. The Bridge Run is the seventh largest race in the country, yet takes place in the 78th largest metropolitan community in America. It holds company with monster races such as the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Bay to Breakers in San Francisco and the New York and Chicago marathons.
Like those races, every Bridge Run is a logistical Everest, even though the lead climbers are experienced. Think last year.
If you've ever worked with a volunteer-only organization, you know volunteers alone can't pull off a race like this. The event requires a paid staff and a year-round operation. And that costs money.
On numerous occasions, I've popped in the Bridge Run office in Mount Pleasant unannounced — weeks and even months before the race — and staffers are logging information on registrations. This crew works. And like any nonprofit, it's a business operation, too.
Another theory of mine about why people question Bridge Run finances is that the race is not first and foremost a charity race, though it has expanded its efforts to help local charities in the last 10 years.
Bridge Run officials acknowledge this, but underscore that the event has a major economic impact on the Charleston area. Local organizations, sometimes with ties to the event, conduct impact studies. Last year's study put the impact at $18.3 million.
Whether you believe that number or not, just ask a hotel or restaurant owner about business on Bridge Run weekend. Most will say they are slammed. Improving the economy floats everybody's boat.
As for charity efforts, the Bridge Run does fund a grant program at The Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, where $32,109 recently provided funds ranging from $200 to $1,500 to 29 local nonprofits in support of healthy initiatives.
Some in 2013 include $1,500 to Chucktown Squash (to fund shoes and racquets for urban youth participants), $1,500 for Meeting Street Academy (to transport youths to donated swimming lessons), and $1,500 to Wando High School (for its special needs program to buy four stationary bikes).
The Bridge Run also donated 172 complimentary race entries to nonprofits this year.
Should it do more? Probably.
Board members note that its Charity Connection program is expected to raise at least $150,000 for its 14 chosen charities this year, which in turn are committed to scrounge up volunteers to help with the race. However, that money comes either directly from participants, sponsor solicitations, or through the sale of $150 “charity bibs” and not from the Bridge Run's budget.
A few weeks ago, Bridge Run board president Larry Schrecker and treasurer John Massey sat down with me and went through the budget. The only thing they weren't forthcoming about was Smith's salary, which according to tax documents filed in 2011, was $80,000.
When I noticed a difference in revenue from 2011-12 (filed with the S.C. Secretary of State) and the projected revenue for 2012-13, Massey explained it was due to a $1 million, five-year cash donation ($200,000 for five years) from Boeing. That entire $1 million had to be reflected in 2011-12, when it was received.
“For FY11-12, as a part of our sponsorship agreement, we were required to maintain $800,000 in reserve and spend only $200,000,” says Massey. “We may withdraw $200,000 per year for each year of our agreement with Boeing. This provides an assurance to Boeing that their sponsorship will properly span five years.”
And as for a projected profit of nearly $200,000 for 2012-13, Massey said, “we budget revenue, but don't always get it.”
Surplus revenue, if there is any, goes under “retained earnings.” The current balance on this asset sits at about $900,000.
“That might seem like a lot, but we have found that it is important to maintain this for two reasons. First, unanticipated, unbudgeted emergencies. If it were necessary, we must be prepared to purchase, on very short notice, any product or service needed on race day. Second, a solid bank balance for our year-round functions.”
Massey adds that most of the Bridge Run's revenue arrives in February and March, but that it has expenses year-round.
Massey and Schrecker, both avid runners, say the Bridge Run is different from many large, for-profit race events in that it keeps most of the money at home in the Lowcountry.
“I'm proud of the Bridge Run's international reputation and the number of participants we attract,” says Massey. “But I'm even more proud of the fact we are home grown, locally sponsored, and nonprofit.”
Bridge Run: Where does the money go?
Entry fees: $1.6 million (73 percent).
Sponsors: $475,000 (22 percent).
Merchandise: $80,000 (4 percent).
Other (clinics, race photos, pasta dinner): $33,200.
Participant services and amenities: $1,447,000 (72 percent).
Salaries: $325,000 (16 percent), including Race Director Julian Smith ($80,000), five assistant race directors (both full-time and seasonal), an office manager, and 12 part-time, seasonal employees.
Bridge Run office/store and storage: $195,000 (10 percent).
Grants: $32,000 (2 percent).
Tote bags, USB event program, comp towels: $250,000.
Pre- and post-race activities: $155,000 (includes rent for Marion Square, entertainment, scaffolding, expo set-up).
Bibs and chip timing: $120,000.
Vendor and contract services: $101,000 (includes $5,000 for one-year contract services for a logistics director for 2013 race).
Prize money: $70,000.
Municipalities: $62,000 (pay for overtime services of police and public service workers in Charleston and Mount Pleasant).
Portable toilets: $40,000.
Fencing: $32,000 (includes renting fencing).
Equipment rental: $25,000.
Sound systems: $25,000.
Awards and trophies: $18,000.
Elite Runner expenses: $18,000 (travel expenses, no appearance fees paid).
Computer service expenses: $10,000.
Equipment purchases: $2,000.
Office expense details
Insurance: $18,000 (includes general liability year-round).
Bank charges: $15,000.
Meetings and retreats: $15,000.
Race sponsorships: $15,000 (includes travel expenses for staff to attend other races to promote the Bridge Run).
Storage rental: $10,000.
Legal fees: $7,500.
Office expense: $7,000.
Licenses and taxes: $6,500.
Insurance for race: $6,000 (through USA Track & Field).
Regime fees: $5,000 (Shelmore Village, Mount Pleasant).
Workers compensation insurance: $1,500.
Dues and publications: $1,000.
Repairs and maintenance: $1,000.
SOURCE: Cooper River Bridge Run treasurer John Massey.