Interesting thoughts from LT11’s Jordan Shipman as he reflects on feedback gleaned from their coverage of 2012 SCS Nationals:
Based on my experience in the industry, it seems to me these companies have demonstrated little to no interest in supporting these professional-scale events. The desire to invest in the future of our sport is marginal at best.
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Lacking Vision. The future of climbing is glitzy pro comps? Duly noted.
The sport is growing as more gyms are opening and more main stream kids are entering the sport. The kids then join teams and compete in juniors. They look up to Puccio, Woods and other top climbers that compete. Competition is the growth of the sport for this reason, just like many other sports have evolved..
Part of the problem is that many companies are run by climbers that were exposed to the sport before gyms came along so there marketing focus is all about outdoor climbing. It is hard to change the mentality of serving the needs of the old school, outdoor, climbing market, when the huge growth market is indoor and competition. Until this changes or climbing companies are purchased by companies like Adidas, the small thinking mentality will continue. The trick is not carving out a small piece of the existing pie, but making the pie bigger, then there are more pieces for everyone.
With social media, face book, twitter, the web, etc…athletes have an unprecedented opportunity to brand and market themselves as well as their sponsors. There are only a few athletes that i am ware of that understand this well enough to potentially take advantage of it. A high profile athlete, that has some main stream sponsorship, media coverage, magazine exposure (non-climbing), interviews well and has charisma, would really help drive the growth and exposure for the sport.
LT11 and the UBS are going in the right direction with video, live broadcast, and competitions. They both need help, assistance, and support from within the industry until a main stream sponsor ceases the opportunity and gets behind the sport. When that happens, and it is when not if, it will benefit every company in the industry. Major sponsors will get behind two things, competition events and star athletes because that is traditionally what has fueled the booming growth in many other sports.
The evolution is coming regardless of old school thinking or the timing, just a matter of when the pieces come together and which companies are smart enough to benefit from it.
So the ‘problem’ is that climbing companies are run by… actual rock climbers? Good one.
The problem as I see it is that guys who want to make a living from climbing have figured out that they need spectators. So the goal must be to transform climbing from a participation sport into a spectator sport. I can’t wait!
The issue here… is indoor climbing rad enough? I find it pretty boring to watch, and the number chasing crowd doesn’t even have a big number to hang on the problem/route until after the comp is over. But you can put Alex Honnold on 60 minutes and just about anyone can recognize the radness there.
I wrote a long comment over on Jordan’s blog. The gist of which is similar to what Mark said. There is a large segment of climbers who have never existed before. They mainly climb in the gym and don’t necessarily climb out side or even want to. To make matters worse for the industry these climbers don’t even know that there is an industry.
They see climbing gear through the lens of REI or EMS and have no exposure to the “big names” in the sport other than super-high profile guys like Chris Sharma and Alex Honnold. I’m sure that most climbers don’t even know when Nationals is.
The industry needs to figure out how to market to this segment of climbers in order to “go big”.
It’s just like the difference between going viral in climbing (Park Life) and hitting mainstream viral (Yosemite HD). These both pale in comparison to going big time viral. Even this silly (though excellent) Treadmill Kittens has 3.5 MILLION hits on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVjzd320gew
Whereas climbing has lots of jargon, a generally slow pace, and few universally charismatic characters, Treadmill Kittens is a minute and 27 seconds of comic gold all can understand and agree on. Moral of the story: the integration of kittens on treadmills into climbing competitions (and the industry as a whole) will be vital to future growth. Instead of chalking and brushing between routes/problems, the competitors could use a variety of sponsor-provided toys to play with the kittens. I can already envision the LT11 highlight reel quickly cutting between Sasha DiGiulian sticking an all-points-off dyno and Daniel Woods using a laser pointer to make a kitten run up Paul Robinson’s leg.
I’m glad you saw the true VISION behind my post! 🙂
Narc, this comment alone merits the creation of a “Comments of the Week” section.
And when the needle swings too far the other way do we get an allowance to scream about selling out? Sponsors expect a certain level of recognition when donating money, both to events and to athletes. The UBC crew and LT11 have always been good about pasting sponsor logos on all the highlight reels and live coverage, and working it into the audio as well.
I’d just hate to see the individual sponsorships end up like they are in NASCAR and MMA where during post-event interviews athletes feel the need to have the logo-ware visible and the better part of the interview is “I want to thank X, Y, Z, Q, D, and the number 8”
I hate to say it, but the most consistent, non-climbing sponsors I’ve seen are ClifBar and Red Bull.
I have a lot of questions from the post: What does “grow” mean exactly? Does it mean the industry making more money? Does it mean more people can make a living as professional climbers or in climbing-related professions (videography, photography, etc)? Does it mean more people having access to climbing indoors? More people climbing outdoors? Does it mean small companies being bought out by bigger companies with bigger marketing budgets to sponsor bigger events?
Coming from a community-building perspective, I think it’s a great that a local climbing competition can get sponsorship for an event that is going to engage people in the act of climbing rather than in the act of watching climbing. That seems like a deep and sustainable investment in climbing because it nurtures new climbers who will go on to eventually buy gear and maybe even get some of the their friends interested enough to buy gear, and keep people climbing.
I think that “growing the sport” includes all of the above and that the examples you give are also interconnected. More large events, grow an interest in the sport, which in turn results in more products being sold. Because of this the companies have a higher profit margin, and consequently can sponsor more athletes, making the life of a professional climber more viable for a larger group of the population.
As for the indoor/outdoor question, I believe that as climbing’s roots are in the outdoors, not fancy gyms, that the bulk of emphasis for sponsorship and media attention will remain there. However I also see that indoor climbing and competitions, are a great way to promote and popularize the sport, and hopefully funnel more people in to the outdoors. I also totally agree with you that grassroots marketing and local community building is probably more effective then holding mega-comps (at least at this point), but climbing is still a young sport and as such is still evolving and the industry (athletes included) are still figuring what the best way to go about “growing the sport is. This mega-comp brand pushing mentality is merely one of the stages in the sports growth, and I firmly believe that we will continue to see changes.
The bulk of sponsorship and media attention will not remain outdoors, it simply can’t. There is limited return and no exposure there, part of why the sport is stuck. Athletes are just simply easier to reach by media and live broadcasts in competition and the younger generation is heading this direction, like many other sports that have evolved. The market is all the new kids entering the sport.
whether plastic or rocks, it’s still just climbing. monkeys and apes do it; we do too.
Monkeys also throw shit at eachother and that You Tube vid prolly got a billion hits. Wait, maybe I’m on to something.
It’s interesting to read Peter Beal’s articles on climbing “selling out,” then read an article like this, and consider that two of the biggest recent pro competitions haven’t been able to muster an online broadcast. Is climbing selling out, or is it broke? Everywhere I turn I hear about the “growth” or “progression” of the sport, and the “indoor revolution” and a new breed of climbers with no aspiration to ever get outside and onto real rock…but the evidence suggests the story is a bit more complicated than that.
BTW, since we’re still kinda talking about the LT11 highlights package…IMO, the best highlights packages for climbers interested in watching climbing – straight-up, lightly-edited climbing movement in all it’s glory, often in split screen – are Udo Neumann’s Bouldering World Cup reports. They’re up on youtube and his username is “therealudini.”
Udo’s videos are great because the show where the climbs were hard for each of the climbers in the comp. From the LT11 video I could see where the cruxes where for each of the women but it appeared that Sasha just crushed the route.
When you looked at Carlo’s video of Sasha climbing the whole route you saw that she actually struggled with the sequence in a few different places.
The highlights do a better job of sensationalizing the winners, while raw video allows the viewer to have their own opinion.
Mark – Please explain how “the sport is stuck”. Last I checked, every aspect of climbing is growing. I think you’re fighting something that doesn’t exist.
While we’re at it, it’s been what, 10 years since the future of climbing was coming in the form of indoor comps and large sponsors, yet we’re still having this discussion. How many of you posting here have spent 5 or more years mainly focused on climbing indoors and in comps? What makes you think others in the future will want this more than a day working their project at a crag?
Comps and indoor climbing are not the future for the same reason they aren’t the present.
This documentary (about surfing) is worth watching in my opinion.
Bustin’ Down the Door tells the story of how an outsider lifestyle evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry.
Just want to say I appreciate everyone taking the time to comment, give feedback and express their opinion. I’ve been busy the past few days and haven’t had a chance to keep up with the discussion. I’m glad people are talking about this 🙂
Well in my experience in this industry (I’ve been climbing since 1980 and a participant in the “industry” since about 1990 and have been in a number of comps) competitions have never been a very important aspect of the American climbing scene. I don’t think that supporting large events has ever really held much financial promise for climbing companies, nor has any individual event or series made a significant impact on the sport. (With the possible exception of the first Snowbird event)The one place I think competitions matter is at the youth level where kids around the country are being introduced to climbing as a competitive sport and making the effort to compete at the local, regional and national levels. At the college level, competitions are gaining in importance but that is a very gress roots thing which is fine. There is probably more money to be made in spoonsoring grass roots climbing events than there is in national level events.
The climbing community has, over the past 30+ years, shown that we don’t care that much about comps. Thats not good or bad, it just is. So not supporting comps seems like a wise financial decision on the part of climbing companies.
But I want to very gently call out Jordan Shipman, in that if he feels comps are important and deserve attention / sponsorship he is in a position to create the dramatic narrative content around comps that will draw viewers in and get them excited about comps. If the eyeball are there the sponsors will be too, and its the media that gets the attention of the eyeballs.
Its my sense that we doing something a little odd in climbing, in that we expect corporations to provide leadership for the sport. Does that happen in other sports? I don’t think so, but maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, I don’t think that providing vision or leadership is a corporations job. Their job is to make gear. it OUR job to live out our visions of what this sport is and should be and to communicate that visions to others.
I agree, to an extent. Competitive climbing cannot develop into a “mainstream” sport without a strong viewership, which gives companies incentive to invest in marketing at competitions. Once it is determined that a company will see a return in its investment of associating their product with competitive climbing (or competitive climbers), then they are more likely to 1) invest more money into the sport, and 2) draw other investor’s attention to do the same
Simply put: money follows entertainment. A sport doesn’t become exciting because corporations invest money into comps—the sport has to capture viewer’s excitement on its own. If this isn’t achievable, then the money will not come. Companies can’t piss away money and survive.
Is competitive climbing entertaining to watch? This is the most important question that determines the future of the sport. For those who did not participate in the sport, snowboarding was highly entertaining to watch long before it became “mainstream”. Certainly comps are exciting for those who are entrenched in the sport. But beyond that? Do non-climbers get excited about the sport by watching others climb? Possibly, but in my experience the psych comes from actually trying the sport, not from watching others do it.
Our pressing question has to be assessed within the framework of capitalism. First, a sizeable amount of people have to be exposed to competitive climbing before they can decide if they want to watch it again. If climbing is entertaining for the masses to watch, then there will be a high demand to watch it. And when a demand exists… Well, you know the rest.
Leadership is necessary to accomplish this level of exposure, and this leadership (in the states, anyways) has to come from USA climbing. Period. While LT11 (and other media groups) are vital to making comps visually appealing to watch, it is USA Climbing’s responsibility to expose the general population to our sport. The fact that USA climbing only has 2 full-time staff to accomplish this, plus all of the other administrative duties required to run comps across a country, shows their severe limitation at accomplishing this necessary goal.