Friday, September 30, 2016

The Sin of Sponsorship

Elite climbers and well-known guides have been sponsored by gear manufacturers for years. The idea behind sponsorship is that a gear manufacturer will choose an individual who is making notable ascents and has good interaction with the public (through magazines, through guiding or through notoriety) to help promote their gear.

However, there is some controversy about this among sponsored climbers. Some ask, should certain individuals be sponsored? Certainly some may be asking this because they want to remain in a small elite crew of individuals. Others may be asking -- perhaps more legitimately -- the question because they don't see some of their peers as qualified.

Until recently, this particular question was left to the privacy of the brew pub...but then a couple of years ago Scott Semple wrote a blog entitled, "Is Sponsorship a Sin?" This question started a very serious conversation in the climbing community, both on his blog and in forums like

Scott wrote specifically that the ability of some climbers to self-promote outweighs their actual climbing abilities. His thesis is that those who are lying or exaggerating about their abilities to secure their sponsorships shouldn't be sponsored.

Following is the heart of his blog:

The more you climb, the less you’re interested in reading the same recycled stories with the same characters smiling from new faces. And the less you can tolerate the self-promotion that comes from white lies and self-serving exaggerations in hopes of becoming (or staying) sponsored. And those indulgences are rampant and widespread.

If sponsorship isn’t backed up by a legitimate accomplishment that is significant to the sport, then being rewarded for something insignificant is sad and undeserved. And it’s immoral, because it creates a facade, and facades are lies.

This happens more often than you might think. Many of the athletes you often see in climbing magazines are phenomenal at self-promotion, but range from average to crap at actually climbing. Ice, mixed and alpine climbing have the worst offenders. (Rock climbing is usually too consistent, popular and objective for lies to last long.) Truth is, many climbers are sponsored for what they say, or how well they’re known, rather than for what they’ve done.

The problem stems from the fact that the “athlete” is the performer, but also the judge and the journalist. A lack of objectivity and a lack of integrity combine to create opportunistic self-promotion masquerading as journalism. The result is that average achievements beget above-average attention.

Scott got so many comments about this particular blog that he presented a slideshow on the topic at the Night of Lies event in Canmore. The 22 minute slideshow was videotaped and is one of the most interesting and intriguing issues that has been presented recently, that will never be covered by the major climbing news outlets.

I tired to link the video to this blog, but it appears that it no longer exists. However, after the slideshow, Scott wrote a second blog about the responses that he received. One of the main comments that he posted was from Dave Karl, a gear rep.

I disagree with the three-test rule. I have IFMGA & AMGA Mountain Guides that I sponsor that are totally worthy. Their personal (non-guided) climbing accomplishments may not be noteworthy among their elite peers, but they don’t bullsh*t either, and they do help sell product. These guides help the entire sport and climbing community by educating the public and introducing new participants to climbing. A good mountain guide can be a great sponsorship investment.

Scott agreed with this comment and indicated that "I agree with Dave that there are folks out there worthy of support that may not be on the cutting edge of climbing. They are typically local, grassroots climbers or industry-folk like guides that are in front of the target market on a daily basis. I have no objections to these athletes being supported, either by sales reps or by brands, on an informal basis."

The outdoor industry is full of sponsored individuals. And it is full of a lot of ego, arrogance and self-promotion. Sponsorship is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's great. It provides us with an insight into who is at the top of the game. But on the other hand, if we can't trust the magazines and the gear manufacturers to screen their athletes, then the value of every sponsored athlete -- whether they deserve it or not -- is diminished.

--Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 'problems' of first-world people amaze me, but that's not while I'm writing. Several links don't work for me: "his blog", "Night of Lies" and "second blog".