As competitive sporting activities go, sport climbing is one of the toughest around. It demands fitness and mental agility that matches exceptional dexterity, pitted against the clock. Organisers and administrators of the sport have also been bruised and battered, with national associations generally finding themselves at the bottom of the funding totem pole.
But both fans and federations of the sport got a morale boost in June, when the International Olympic Committee unanimously – albeit provisionally – voted to include sport climbing in the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics in June. This shows a clear momentum for the sport, and a clear path forward for both organisers and sponsors after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
In Asia, sport climbing has gained relevance after its debut inclusion in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, and the upcoming 2019 Philippines Southeast Asian Games. The sport has also been included as a medal sport for the 2022 Asian Games in China. But financially, associations like the Singapore Mountaineering Federation have been struggling.
Rasip Isnin, secretary for the federation, told SportBusiness that the sluggish economy in recent years, and competition from other established sports such as badminton, football and swimming, have made cash sponsorship deals difficult.
Rasip says: “Annually, we need around SGD $400,000 (€264,000/$293,000) to run the federation, based on expenditures such as travel costs, equipment and overseas competitions, but we have only managed to garner half of that this year.”
In-kind sponsorships have been easier, he adds, with sport adventure brands like Columbia and NorthFace chipping in with gear, but the market needs to get bigger for sport climbing to really get competitive in Asia. Rasip says: “We really should be having more sponsors from sport brands, youth-related products and insurance companies coming forward, and perhaps we will after the 2020 Olympics.”
The Olympic Bounce
“It’s definitely a plus,” Jérôme Meyer, head of Olympic Coordination at the International Federation of Sport Climbing, says to SportBusiness: “The Olympics offer the best visibility for our sport, and when you cross this with sport climbing being involved for two Games in a row in the region, a new Olympic sport is definitely a marketable asset for our Asian partners.
Meyer adds: “Asia is the growing region for sport climbing. Europe and the Americas are strongly established development poles, but growth has been sluggish in those regions the past few years, compared to Asia, especially considering the marketing and TV rights deals recently, thanks to the rise of top Asian sport climbers from Korea, China, and recently, Japan.
“Revenues have grown over the past few years, with more Asian brands such as Japan Airlines and Earth reaching out for partnerships. In addition, climbing wall manufacturers have seen their sales multiply five-fold in the last few years, and the average investment figures for new climbing centres, which the IFSC is regularly consulted on, has increased ten-fold.”
One company unlocking the potential of sport climbing sponsorship in Asia is global real estate consultancy JLL, which in June partnered with global marketing company Dentsu and its experimental agency MKTG to support six rising sport climbing talents from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan and Singapore. Dentsu owns media and marketing rights to IFSC events in a deal that runs to 2023 and also works with the organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Nicole Worthington, the Asia-Pacific chief marketing officer for JLL, said to SportBusiness: “JLL feels that climbing is a perfect fit for our brand as it’s an exciting urban sport that reflects the vibrancy and dynamism of Asia Pacific’s rapidly growing cities.”
“Beyond financial sponsorship in the next two years, we have also invested considerable resources by providing them with world-class coaching, cutting-edge technology and access to state-of-the-art facilities.”
Most training work for sport climbers takes place indoors, and while it’s not the first mental image of the sport for most, the urban element was a big draw for JLL, as Michael Hemmingway, MKTG’s regional business director for sport & entertainment, explains:
“Outdoor climbing is obviously aesthetically pleasing, but equally we wanted to showcase the athletes in their urban environment, and their talent on the indoor walls in the same spectacular way. Ensuring that content we produced from this sponsorship captured their human story, as well as stayed credible and authentic to the climbing community was crucial.”
What next after Tokyo 2020?
As it stands, the decision to include sport climbing in the 2024 Games is provisional and there are no guarantees until a final verdict is made in December. From now till then, the IOC will continue to monitor the popularity and success of climbing, both during Tokyo 2020 and broadly as a sport internationally, according to Meyer. “The next goal after Tokyo 2020 is to confirm our participation to Paris 2024 and be recognized as a programme sport. This will solidify our initiatives to present the sport to a larger audience and to worldwide partners.
“At the same time the IFSC will work with our community to make sure that all growth from the Olympics will be fully maximized for the development of the sport, and our athletes.”