Last week NE2C Productions, the group behind the Unified Bouldering Championships, and USA Climbing, the National Governing Body of Competition Climbing in the U.S. announced they were forming a partnership which would make the UBC the “official pro tour for climbing”.
Among the more notable changes this partnership will bring in the near-term is that February’s ABS Nationals will become a part of the 2011 UBC Tour which means America’s national bouldering championships will finally be seen live by more than just the people in the gym at that time. Three other stops are on the schedule for 2011 including an undisclosed stop in June, a stop at the summer Trade Show in Salt Lake City in August and a return to the Nor’easter in September.
What else does this partnership mean? I caught up with NE2C’s Pete Ward to find out a bit more:
What void does this partnership with USAC fill for NE2C with regard to the competitions you put on? What does it allow you to do now that you couldn’t do before?
Well, it does a lot that is in fact critical for the success of a Pro Tour in the long run. USA Climbing is the National Governing Body for climbing as sanctioned by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is therefore the formal voice for our sport (which is kind of a big deal). That we have partnered that formal voice with our events which have a history of sometimes being less than formal, seems to me to be an appropriately honest tone for representing climbing going forward. USA Climbing has stated by a 15 to 0 vote of the Board of Directors that we share a vision for pro climbing that is the future we will build towards together. Apart from that one massive thing, some of the other benefits that are most important to me personally are:
- First, the obvious. Over the past decade and beyond, no one has done more to promote the growth of climbing and to provide the opportunity for young people to participate than USA Climbing has. At the same time USAC has also grown the stake and stature of the US on the international climbing scene, bringing us our first World Cups in years and continuing to work to professionalize the sport as a whole. Meanwhile, Jason and I and the NE2C family have been busy doing our thing, growing and changing what a climbing competition experience can be, and it is my sincere hope that we have had a positive impact on competition in the past five plus years as well.
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So the first thing this partnership does is that it brings together to two most active parties who have been working on behalf of competition climbing.
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Climbing is small and if it is going to grow (and grow in a healthy manner), we will need strong partnerships across the climbing community. Thus the “Unified” in “UBC”.
- Next, it creates a coherent path for climbers to progress from the first moment they walk into a gym up to the highest levels of the sport. Most of the current top professionals in the US came up through USA Climbing and adding an official Pro Tour gives that talent an avenue to continue to develop as professionals. In the future, any kid will be able to walk into any gym in the country that has a climbing team and immediately be on a track to the highest level of the sport. Cool, huh?
- Also, we now get to expand the playing field. USA Climbing is the only US entity that can extend formal invites to the athlete federations in other countries. There’s no reason that the US Pro Tour shouldn’t be the ultimate competition series worldwide and we would like the best in the world to come to test themselves here.
Can we expect to see ABS Nationals streamed live this year along with the other 3 events?
Yea, that’s one of the most exciting things for us about this partnership. Starting at this February’s, NE2C will bring live broadcast to ABS Nationals. I’m psyched because it’s a great way to kick off our partnership, adding to a consistently successful event that is produced by USAC.
The live broadcasts hit their stride last year, but there were some growing pains as well. What are some of the things you felt worked well with last year’s broadcasts, and what areas are you guys looking to improve on? For instance, I know a lot of people’s chief complaint is how the announcing is done.
Thanks for the compliment, and there were definitely moments where you’re being kind to say that we “Hit our stride”, but hey, thanks I’ll take it and on the whole I certainly agree that we were able to get some really good glimpses of what is possible down the line. It’s been a lot of hard work trying to figure out what works best. And yeah, well you hit the nail on the head, right? It’s a great new toy, but how do we continue to improve it? My job is to do my best to filter the comments (positive and negative) and to make decisions that improve the product event by event.
Announcing is obviously a critical place to perform well and if you look at any announcers in any sports, it’s a profession that sparks criticism no matter what. Show me a much loved sports announcer and I’ll show you someone who probably has their own hashtag hate category on deadspin.com. What I will say is that you cannot honestly understand how difficult announcing a live sporting event is until you have tried to do it. It is what it is and regardless of some of the growing pains I’ve actually been very pleased with the progress of our on-screen talent and we’re working hard to improve the model in 2011 (For the record, Jason is here in the office and is over my shoulder vehemently and profanely criticizing his own work. He hears and shares much of the desire for improvement we hear out there and isn’t shy about working to get better.). All that said, the astute observer will notice that no two broadcasts have had the same structure since we started and don’t look for us to be satisfied any time soon either. We are our own worst critics and will continue to tinker with the model until we think it’s done right which, as you point out, is a point we’re not at yet.
If you want to get technical about it, I’d say the biggest technical hurdle you’ll see us trying to address this year is to separate out the in house and broadcast experiences so that the folks at home and in the venue are addressed by different means and different MC’s/Announcers. The challenge as always is money and building a new machine with the resources we have, but I think we’ve shown good progress so far and my expectation is that we will continue to improve in 2011. Honestly, some of the commenter’s on climbingnarc have had really interesting input and we’re out there and listening. Not that anyone will be shy (climbers? Shy? Bwahahaha!), but it’s worth saying that we’re listening and always appreciate an impassioned debate amongst those who care.
The press release states that this partnership creates a “structure upon which the future of climbing maybe [sic] showcased”. Can you talk a bit more about the longterm vision this partnership is working toward?
You bet. We’ve long said, and I have written publicly that competition is the future of the sport. That’s a mouthful of a concept and it means a lot. First, we can all agree that climbing is about progression and when you add that to the natural human tendency to compete, the UBC Pro Tour is the obvious place to find out who is the best at any given time. There are a limited number of natural opportunities to progress the sport remaining out there (where’s the limit? 15c? 16a? V17?) and my best guess is that we’re pretty close to that ceiling. So how do we continue to come up with new ways to test ourselves?
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Competition is that answer.
Also, competition serves a natural purpose in any industry/community. There are three main things I like about it: First, It’s a place for people to see the absolute cutting edge right up close in a way that just isn’t possible anywhere else. Seeing Chris Sharma onsight V11 at a UBC comp from right up close is really cool for all involved, but stalking him around the woods in Spain to get that same glimpse is just creepy. Second, it’s a place for athletes to build their own personality and brand. There are limited places right now for you to make a name for yourself as a top climber, competition will be that stage in climbing the same way it is in every other sport out there. Third. It’s a place for industry to showcase the latest and great innovations in gear and product. We’ve got an industry of super talented and committed climbers making everything from holds and pads, to clothing and technical gear. They all deserve the best possible platform to let people know what they’re up to as well. The UBC Pro Tour gives all three groups a completely unique opportunity to interact with climbing.
When are you putting on your first route climbing comp 😉 ??
No specifics to be announced yet, but NE2C will leverage its assets to benefit USA Climbing whenever and wherever possible and as we all know, USAC is putting on all the best route comps out there. Including a roped World Cup! More detail on that coming soon I’m sure, but it’s something I am PSYCHED about. 2011 is shaping up to be the best year ever for comp climbing and honestly man, we are just a small part of a very large and very motivated community working to represent our sport in the best way possible.
This partnership puts our work alongside the best and the brightest in the climbing community and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to continue to build more exciting events for the future. If you’ve liked anything about our events so far, you should know that we’re more motivated than ever to innovate and to put forward our best effort on behalf of the sport.
The climbing community has, since I can remember, looked for inclusion in the Olympic Games as the best case scenario for competition climbing and the growth of our sport. This partnership is that path and the best chance to date for us to reach that goal. The way it works is that every so often, the IOC evaluates the work of a given sport and determines whether or not it is fit for inclusion in the Olympic Games. The next such evaluation by the IOC is in 2013 for the 2020 Games. In the simplest possible terms, that means we as a sport have two years to put our best foot forward on the National and international stage. With our partnership, UBC Pro Tour and USA Climbing will now be working to build the best possible case for competition climbing. It’s going to be a big push and we’re a small community, but there are loads of talented people and for my money, our sport is amazing and compelling to watch. With this partnership and the help of the folks in our community who support our goals we without a doubt have the best shot to date to get it done.
Thanks to Pete for taking the time to answer a few questions!