Competition climbing is going through a growth spurt. There's no doubt about it; more people are engaged with climbing than ever before and in a few years' time it will get mainstream recognition when it is featured as an Olympic sport. This is why the announcement that the International Federation of Sport Climbing is to now put all World Cup events behind a paywall is troubling and undoubtedly wrong. Climbing is about to have its moment in the spotlight. The accessibility of bouldering, in particular, as a sport has led to a boom in those participating globally. For many in urban areas, bouldering gyms have become the new alternative to Soulcycle and Equinox. The IFSC had the opportunity to capitalize on that growth and turn many of those new to the sport into spectators of those who dedicate their lives to it—instead it decided to make a shortsighted move for immediate monetary gain by partnering with Flosports.
The response within the climbing community has rightly been swift and strongly against the move, from those at the grassroots level to those at the top of the sport. The IFSC states that their deal with Flosports will create better quality content to allow it "to reach a broader audience". However, by creating a subscription service the IFSC has immediately created a barrier to entry for consumers. That barrier to entry which will ultimately only damage the sport and limit its growth. Their subscription service needs to be put into context of the digital age: At $20 a month it is more expensive than Major League Baseball's live-streaming offer, or twice the price of a Netflix or HBO Go account—services of which competitive rock climbing is not a peer. It's also important to understand how a paywall could affect money flowing back into the sport. The barrier to entry created by a paywall will limit the reach of any audience for the sport. This in turn will have a serious effect on any global advertising money which could have benefited those competing. The IFSC and Flosports will now be completely reliant on subscriber numbers and revenue, whereas they could have grown the sport openly, building an audience of engaged urban climbers attractive to any advertiser looking to tap into that market—of which there are many.
The IFSC should also carefully consider the world it has just stepped into: A digital sporting world where ripped paywalled live streams abound. This is an under-the counter-ecosystem that even sporting bodies as big as FIFA have been unable to stop. If the core audience is unwilling to pay the high subscription rates, they have will undoubtedly follow the same route—something which neither Flosports or the IFSC will have the infrastructure to stop. This is a situation which will in no way benefit those competing. In the short term, the IFSC will benefit; they will monetize a core audience directly linked to and engaged with competitive climbing. However, in the long run they will stagnate the growth of a sport which has been on an upward curve. Athletes, many of whom still pay with their own money to attend World Cup events, will see little benefit. Ultimately those at the top of the sport have been let down by the body which is charged with growing climbing competitively and supporting them. The only people to benefit from this will be Flosports.