Dec 06, 2013

Zombie-Themed Race Keeps Texans on Their Toes

By Roy Varney
For Reporting Texas

Participants in a zombie-infested obstacle-course run received bad news in late October: The run near Austin on Dec. 7 had been canceled.  On Nov. 7, the race series, Run For Your Lives LLC of Baltimore, filed for bankruptcy, and it didn’t offer refunds for the canceled race.

Perhaps predictably, the event turned out to be undead after another organizer, Human Movement Management of Louisville, Colo., picked it up and promised to honor tickets already sold.

Jessica Ward, a 25-year-old from Meridian who bought a ticket, received an email from Run For Your Lives announcing the cancellation.  She will be attending the Austin area run, but she said the process has felt “very unprofessional.” She was unable to acquire a refund from Reed Street but will attend the Human Management race this weekend.

“If I wouldn’t have contacted to confirm all the information and investigated more than a normal person, it would have been extremely frustrating,” Ward said.

Organizing obstacle-course racing has become a competitive business involving millions of dollars a year. According to Sports Business Daily, more than 2 million people a year enter the contests. Ticket prices can hit several hundred dollars, according to Obstacle Racers, a website that tracks the business.

The events usually involve mud and ropes and other challenges typical of military boot camps. Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash are two of the biggest race organizers, but there are plenty of others looking for a way to stand out.

Reed Street Productions of Baltimore created Run for Your Lives and set it up as a separate business. Runners faced the novel task of avoiding zombies that could “infect” them, costing them a win. Reed Street staged races across the nation on private land rented for the events. The 2011 inaugural race near Baltimore drew nearly 10,000 runners.

Tickets for the Austin event ranged from $35 to $97, with zombie role-players paying less. Russell Edwards, a Cedar Park ranch owner who had leased his land out for the race, said he expected around 2,000 participants. He added he had contacted Reed Street “five or six times” trying to get the $5,000 he had been promised for months.

“I didn’t see a dime,” Edwards said.

On Oct. 30, registrants for the race received an email from Run For Your Lives saying it was canceling its races. If people wanted refunds, said the email obtained by Reporting Texas, they should contact their banks.

“Basically they were saying, ‘Hey, sorry. We’re canceling and no refund,’” Ward said. “And no reason for why they were canceling. The email was very vague and very unprofessional.”

Ward had paid $45 to be a zombie.

The Better Business Bureau lists 17 complaints against the company for failing to refund fees. In 2012, Reed Street was sued for $5 million by Event Partners LLC. The lawsuit, filed in Massachusetts district court, alleged Reed Street backed out of a three-year contract to hold races at a Massachusetts park.

On Oct. 31, Human Movement Management said in emails that it had acquired the rights to Run for Your Life and that the Dec. 7 show would go on.

All seemed well until Nov. 4, when participants received another email, apparently from Reed Street, saying Human Movement had “illegally acquired” Reed Street’s ticket-holder list and control of its Facebook site.

Jeff Suffolk, president of Human Movement, said in an interview that Reed Street’s allegations were groundless. “They handed everything over to us,” Suffolk said of Reed Street. No Reed Street representative was available to confirm it sent the email.

Human Movement has taken control of the Run for Your Lives Facebook page and has assured followers that races are still on. The Facebook page’s name has been changed to The Zombie Run, and the Run for Your Lives website is down.

Suffolk said his company had acquired a nationwide list from Reed Street of around 15,000 people who would not be receiving refunds for scheduled races.

Multiple phone calls to Reed Street weren’t answered. Two emails to owner Ryan Hogan received no response. David Dowell, who represented the company in a previous lawsuit, declined to comment on the latest lawsuit or the bankruptcy. William Ward, the company’s former vice president, told the Baltimore Sun Reed Street had shut down because of increasing competition and declining attendance.

Suffolk said the Dec. 7 race will be run as scheduled on the Edwards ranch, but he worried that bad publicity will get in the way of the obstacle course race business. He said 60 percent of people running in the events were first-timers and that he doesn’t want people to assume that the industry is “scammy.”

“We have a lot on the line here,” Suffolk said.