The cost of competition- free today, gone tomorrow?

Before going into this post I want to say that the best thing about climbing is that it doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. It is a lifestyle sport. For some it is a hobby, for others an adrenaline rush, and for some, a way of life. I think all climbers know that there are much bigger issues in the world (like the ongoing Sirian War and global climate change), but those are issues for a much different type of post. Below are my feelings on a current issue affecting my sport, my hobby, & my way of life. I know that they pale in comparison to many other world issues, but I feel that they should be voiced all the same. 

Most climbers are well-aware of the recent announcement that the IFSC would no longer be freely streaming their climbing competitions. Just before publishing this post today, the IFSC has released an update due to an unprecedented response to an online protest to this decision, receiving over 11,000 signatures in less than 48 hours. Peter Crane, the creator of this petition calls the free streaming of this trail, “progress, but not the solution.” I have to agree. 

Here is the IFSC’s latest press release:

The IFSC is entering into a partnership with FloSports, that would grant this young company live streaming rights.

FloSports formulated an offer to consumers, that is now under review, considering comments and recommendations that were received. FloSports made a first reformulation of their offer, that will guarantee a free of charge view of the upcoming event in Meiringen. In the next days, further talks will occur in order to provide the best possible offer for the next months.
For the free trial of IFSC World Cup Meiringen, please stay tuned for further details. – IFSC, “Meiringen World Cup Free of Charge” 07 Apr 2017 

For many years of my life I competed both nationally and internationally. Only in the last few years did streaming actually become available so I remember what it was like before and after. I have to say that knowing that my friends and family could actually watch and understand the sport from home as I competed in another country brought a whole new element to the sport. 

Since the beginning of live streaming of climbing events, I have relished at the opportunity to watch the people I have trained for the last few years climbing live. In fact, during one of my workshops last year we stopped to watch trainee Adam Ondra win the World Championship. At that very moment I was able to cheer him on as a coach from another country and know my friend’s result before he was even able to untie from the wall. As a coach, the ability to watch my clients’ performances is vital. 

This decision affects me on many different levels. For one, I was a competitor and understand wanting my supporters to be able to freely watch me as well as my sponsored brands wanting their products and name badges to be seen. In addition, I am a coach and have clients in the competitions whose performance is important to me. Moreover, I am also the CEO of PUC series, a brand that produces climbing material and has athlete ambassadors in the climbing circuit. If brands supply material or branding they want that investment to be seen. Finally, but most importantly, like everyone else petitoning I am a fan of climbing and enjoy watching the competitions. This decision that was announced just a couple of days before the inauguration of the 2017 World Cup Competitions affects me on all fronts. 

The fact that a lifestyle sport – like surfing or climbing – would be charged by monthly susbscription like we currently see with FIFA and Formula 1 is absurd. There is not the same type or size of fan base. Climbers are known for being rowdy and unconventional (see Valley Uprising, for example.) I haven’t run the numbers but it seems that Liam Lonsdale has and the whole thing seems a bit outrageous when compared to other paid viewing providers. (Update: Also check out these graphs and numbers run by the Circuit Climbing.) 

Many blame this on the fact that the sport will now be included in the Olympics. I have my doubts. I feel that would be beneficial for the Olympic organizers to have many motivated viewers, people that already understand and love climbing. Otherwise climbing might become the new curling of the Olympics. 

However, the most motivated of climbers are often self-described dirtbags. It isn’t odd for even pro-athletes to spend months living out of their vehicles. (I’ve spent years!) We pay to put new rubber on old shoes so as not to pay the full cost of new ones! These people will not (and many cannot) pay 150€/year or 20€/month to susbscribe to the viewing of specific climbing competitions. 

For those that want to cheat on this issue and share a subscription, while some forums like Netflix (cheaper, by the way) can be used on multiple deceives, FloSports can only be used on one at a time. One might anticipate that gyms then subscribe and host viewing parties but, from what I understand, this seems to be against the FloSport policies. I have polled and the results clearly show that this decision will decrease viewer size despite IFSC’s intentions.


This goes beyond something being free, though. It’s about the growth of a somewhat niche sport being haulted from expansion. I have a business, I know that everything in life can’t be free. It just seems that the issue could have been handled differently. Even the surprised athletes competing this weekend called out the IFSC on this hasty decision by giving them the red card, a sign of a clear violation of protocol like in soccer. 

https://instagram.com/p/BSlvupwDrbQ/

Even athletes not competing at this IFSC trail are enraged. 

https://instagram.com/p/BShNHNChnBy/

Foto taken by one of our athletes competing  in IFSC this weekend: 


If the Olympics can be aired for free and the Super Bowl as well, it seems that a possibility to both provide small breaks for the live-streaming presenters and to provide economic funding would be to advertise in those downtimes while judges are tallying, results are being finalized, holds are being set and brushed, etc. 

Again, I recognize that this is not the world’s most dire issue at this moment, but I personally want the best for this sport and industry and feel that there are other ways to finance streaming that would have better promoted climbing to a broader audience, while still maintaining its current one. Otherwise, the divide between the competition “gym rats” and the outdoor-only climbers will just continue to grow. We want to be able to share the love of our sport with everyone, not just those willing and able to pay the subscription fees.

Finally, PUC series would like to wish the best of luck to ambassador Jernej Kruder who is currently tied in 5th in the IFSC World Cup trial in Meiringen with Jongwon Chon after today’s qualification round. We are sure he will do well in semi-finals and (hopefully) finals tomorrow. 

This is about more than having something free, it’s about whether or not to foster the growth of climbing.