NO LONGER FREE TO WATCH IFSC
Earlier today the IFSC released news that they have signed a deal with a broadcast company for the upcoming World Cup season.
This deal with FloSport means that anyone wanting to watch Lead, Speed or indeed Bouldering, will have to pay up to $20/£18/€19 per month for the privelege.
Clearly the people that came up with this idea haven't met many climbers, certainly not ones that I know anyway, most of whom resent paying for a brew at the climbing wall.
In light of the announcement, I took to the keyboard and have collated some immediate thoughts. You will find a mix of information, opinions & statistics about how I have interpreted the deal so far. Please consider this to be an open forum for debate on the issue ... make sure you utilise the comments box at the bottom.
Are the IFSC turning on their fan base by signing this deal?
As I see it, the fans are the people affected in the biggest way by this deal, certainly in the immediate sense. In the official press release, the IFSC says:
"[the deal] will allow the IFSC to reach a broader audience"
Technically they might be right. As of June 2016, FloSport TV had over 100,000 paying subscribers, which considering they have never had climbing as a sport is a safe bet to say that is 100,000 brand new sets of eyes to put climbing in front of. That said, the majority of sports are very different and fairly niche, including Cheer Leading, Marching & Rodeo.
A cause for concern is the statement from Marco Scolaris, IFSC President:
“... We’ll offer climbing fans a deeper level of event and climbing coverage. FloSports’ interest in climbing will also allow the IFSC to invest more in high quality production at IFSC events to bring the beauty and excitement of sport climbing to its fans.”
I have to disagree. My understanding is that the idea is to provide more in depth content, like additional episodes with behind the scenes footage, interviews, tips, reviews. All of which are great, none of which are why I watch competitions.
For me, the beauty and excitement of competition climbing is all about 'the moment'. I tune in to the live events to see spectacular moments, with tension that has built up over two days, or even longer. This cannot be recreated by a highlight reel or additional footage – which will be available for free.
In other words, if I want to experience those moments, then I need to think about parting with my hard earned cash. Don't panic too much though, signing up to FloSport will enable you to watch FloRodeo & FloCheer too. Nice one.
If you have little or no idea about the situation with mainstream sports broadcasting then I thought it might be useful to show where this new FloSport deal puts climbing broadcasts relative to other services. I have done a quick break down of some comparative "subscription TV" services.
NB: All currency conversions are using Google in real time rates, therefore they are approximate
So to start us off, FloClimbing will be charging $20 / £16.04 per month to watch the IFSC World Cups, a whopping total of $240 / £192 per year. Alternatively you can select their generously discounted annual plan ... a steal at $150 / £120. Of course, this will be billed in dollars so unless you have a USD account then you'll incur extra charges with your bank. Pricey.
Let's look to basketball. The 8th most participated sport in the world , the biggest and most famous league is the NBA. A fan can watch 8 games per month for £6.99, or £34.99 annually – a pass to watch ALL games (and there are over 1200 games per season) would cost £75 annually. All costs are billed in GBP too, so no additional banking charges. Bargain.
OK, so less mainstream, let's take a look at UFC. UFC has rocketed in popularity over the past ten years, with fighters now becoming household names in the same way as boxers used to be. Fans of UFC can buy FightPass, a monthly subscription service for £5.99 ... which gives them access to pretty much all of the fights. All costs are billed in GBP.
Netflix, charges £7.50 per month. Granted it is a different prospect in that it isn't a sporting broadcast service and it doesn't offer live options. The similarities lie in the fact that you may buy a subscription to watch one particular programme, and then you have access to a whole load of other offerings as part of the package. A lot of IFSC fans will be watching replays as opposed to the live broadcasts due to timezone differences and by signing up can also watch FloMarching & FloVoice. Sign me up.
I did some quick sums.
I think it is safe to assume that the majority of competition climbing spectators will choose to watch bouldering as a first option. Certainly the bouldering world cup finals. Pretty much every Bouldering World Cup Final last year amassed >100,000 views YouTube. This is then followed by Lead, lead finals in general have <100,000 views on YouTube and then Speed which is generally less than 10,00 views for a final.
Based on the assumption that the majority of viewers will only watch the bouldering events, the math looks like this:
6 rounds are held over a 5 month period (Apr-Aug) which equates to $100/£80.19 of subscription fees, divided by each competition = $16.66 / £13.36 per competition. Ouch. That's expensive. Especially when you consider you the relative cost of watching any NBA game for £4.99 as a one off fee.
I know there are hardcore World Cup climbing fan that would like to watch ALL of the competitions, I know this because I am one. Then the breakdown is as follows:
15 World Cup events (each with a mix of Lead, Speed & Bouldering, some with only one discipline), are held over an 8 month period (Apr-Nov). Subscription for this period equates to $160 – or you could choose to subscribe year round and get the $150 / £120 plan ... which makes financial sense. So let's say $150 divided by 15 events = $10 / £8 per event. Again, pricey in comparison to something like UFC.
Feel free to extrapolate the data for Speed and Lead and leave the info in the comments below.
The majority of athletes in the World Cups rely on sponsors to help them. The appeal of the athletes to sponsors is the fact that they will reach a broad audience during competition live streams. The new cost of watching the competition will undoubtedly reduce the numbers of climbers watching the competition – I deliberately say climbers because as discussed, we are reluctant to spend the money – but there is the buffer of FloSport subscribers that could help to make up the numbers.
One advantage of this new deal for the athletes could be the additional content. The IFSC has always been weak with social media coverage of the competitions. Last year saw a marked improvement, but it was still a long way off what I would consider to be strategic and successful leveraging of the content from the events. FloSport on the other hand have been extremely successful in getting a lot of eyes on their content. Through paid advertising and packaged media they were hitting over 20 million views per month on Facebook. What it will mean is that athletes will have to be at the top of the game (I would imagine top 10) to be covered in any significance, OR do something spectacular like a face plant or stick a move nobody else does etc.
I will see if I can get statements from some of the athletes over the next few days. If they are willing to speak up I will post a second part to this article.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT ...
- Historically, IFSC Streams have been notoriously flakey. Last year, 2016, there were broadcast/buffering issues at almost all of the bouldering events; the Munich round, broadcast from the Olympic stadium, was pulled midway due to technical issues (the exception last year was Kazo, Japan which was perfect).
Climbers have been patient so far; granted there are little rants on social media from a couple of people, but nothing significant. If these issues were to continue, with the fee on top, there would be hell to pay.
- Broadcasts from the past have been very basic, with the odd VT thrown in at the top of the programme and a couple of live interviews at the end. Granted there were low budgets and the teams behind the streams made the best of what they had. I wasn't paying for the coverage, so I didn't have much right to complain. Nobody did.
- However now we have a totally different situation. The new prices would suggest a dramatic increase in the level of coverage. Using my maths above, for £13.36 per competition, I want HD broadcast, I want a Gary Lineker-style presenter in the studio, with pundits and analysis and VT, as well as a live commentary team and a presenter at the structure to grab the athletes too. I would expect flawless coverage, no flickering signals, no laggy audio, if I am paying that much, I think it is fair, no?
- FloSport have got history. The deal with the IFSC is 3 years, finishing just before the 2020 Olympics. It might be total coincidence, but in 2016 USOC (United States Olympic Committee) penalised FloSport. In fact they had their broadcast credentials revoked for the Olympics and U.S. Olympic trials for publishing video footage of several Olympics trials events. Can FloSport be trusted to handle climbing while it is still in its infancy as Olympic sport?
- It would seem we are now seeing the next step of commoditisation and commercialisation of climbing. Where does it go from here?