Competition climbing is becoming more popular. On March 25, the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) announced a three year partnership with the subscription-based streaming platform Discovery. All future IFSC World Cup and World Championship events leading up to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games will be streamed through this platform. The IFSC is facing backlash on their social media.
Updated March 28, 2022 following interview with IFSC:
Non-European livestreamers will not have to purchase a subscription to watch the World Cup Series this year.
In 2017, the IFSC tried to partner with Flosports in a similar three-year subscription-based deal. As reported by UK Climbing, fans across Europe expressed their frustration with the call, forming and signing a petition that attracted 12,500 signatures. The athletes staged a protest at the opening ceremony of the first World Cup event.
The obvious frustration related to the inaccessibility of the World Cup livestream’s associated cost. While that argument remains today, the landscape of competitive climbing has changed since 2017. In our post-Olympic world, Sport Climbing has never been bigger. The number of climbing gyms continues to increase every year, as does the sponsorship opportunities for competition climbers.
Although the IFSC backed out of the Flosports deal in 2017, they may feel less incentivised to back out of a deal with Discovery. Discovery announced in late February that they hit 22 million paid streaming subscribers, with the majority being Discovery Plus customers. According to the IFSC, Discovery Sports reaches 130 million people every month, engaging fans in over 200 markets in over 20 languages. Climbing’s events will be streamed on Discovery Plus at $5.00 a month.
While the IFSC did release a press release, they failed to post about it on social media. This has not stopped many climbers from expressing their frustration in the comment section of Instagram posts made by the IFSC. According to the IFSC Head of Communications Marco Vettoretti, non-European streamers will retain their free access to the World Cup live streams.
Regardless of whether the IFSC moves forward with this deal, subscription-based climbing content is likely the future for upcoming events. If climbing continues to grow, the IFSC will “capitalise” on the opportunities it’s provided to both elevate climbing and bring more money into the sport. The livestream will still be made available for free on the Olympic channel 24-hours after the end of each live round.
If the IFSC retains their partnership with Discovery, it is fair to say that climbing will continue to change. As the sport is, for many professional athletes, financially unsustainable, partnerships such as this could lead to the formation of high-end sponsorship deals that can elevate World Cup athletes that do not win every competition.
Furthermore, this partnership reflects a trend reflecting the increasing visibility of plastic climbing over rock climbing. Picking a starting point for this trend is difficult, but the recent feature length film The Wall: Climb for Gold further reflects the centering of competition in the sport. Unlike many sports, as climbing becomes more popular, the question of sustainability of outdoor climbing areas will have to be addressed as many climbing areas are delicate, already-stressed ecosystems.
Furthermore, if the IFSC is being paid for their athletes’ content, a question regarding the usage of that money is raised. The IFSC is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation, so the money should be incorporated into the organisation to fit with the Federation’s main objectives: “the direction, regulation, promotion, development, and furtherance of climbing competitions around the world.”
Furthermore, the IFSC announced the full updated World Cup schedule for 2022.
- 8-10 April – Meiringen (SUI) – Boulder
- 6-8 May – Seoul (KOR) – Boulder, Speed
- 20-22 May – Salt Lake City (USA) – Boulder
- 27-29 May – Salt Lake City (USA) – Boulder, Speed
- 10-12 June – Brixen (ITA) – Boulder
- 22-25 June – Innsbruck (AUT) – Boulder, Lead
- 30 June-2 July – Villars (SUI) – Lead, Speed
- 8-10 July – Chamonix (FRA) – Lead, Speed
- 22-23 July – Briançon (FRA) – Lead
- 2-3 September – Koper (SLO) – Lead
- 24-26 September – Jakarta (INA) – Lead, Speed
- 30 September-2 October – Wujiang (CHN) – Lead, Speed
- 6-9 October – Chongqing (CHN) – Boulder & Lead
- October – TBD location in Japan – Boulder