When I first heard that climbing was coming to the Olympics, my first response was that it will be great for our sport. Andrew Bisharat has a different take and brings up a fantastic point:
It’s worth noting that Tommy Caldwell has already appeared on a Wheaties Box, and not for winning an Olympic Gold. How did he get there? For establishing one of the hardest, most visionary big-wall first ascents of our lifetime.
That point really shouted out me more than the rest of Bisharat’s loudly written article. He tends to come across as heavy handed when he gets up on his soap box but this time around I appreciate his supporting evidence as he tells us about his interaction with pro skier Cody Townsend on what he saw in the skiing industry after free skiing made its Olympic debut.
“The stars dreamed of fame and fortune, the companies of awareness and profit. But for the most part neither came. Despite a lot of warranted caution voiced from within, I witnessed companies divert massive chunks of their marketing budgets towards their Olympic athletes and marketing initiatives. Since 2014, the market research has shown zero attributable bump because of these initiatives. Skier days haven’t spiked up, products aren’t being sold any faster and, hell, a few of those top-tier athletes lost their top-tier sponsors within a couple of years of competing on the world’s biggest stage.”
While I’m not quite as pessimistic as he is when it comes to the effect the Olympics will have on climbing, it is worth keeping in mind and using the skiing industry as a sort of warning track on the climbing industry’s race to the 2020 Olympics.