Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's the Economy...

Well the Dow went down another 700+ points yesterday and my bet is it goes below 8000 very soon, certainly by November. The U.S. is clearly in a recession and I am wondering how a sport that depends heavily on discretionary spending can continue the levels of marketing and sponsorship we have seen in the recent past. I may be over generalizing but I am convinced that the recent boom in competitions in the youth category was fueled at least in part by parents having access to easy credit. Plane tickets and hotels are not cheap. The same goes for young climbers traveling everywhere with no visible means of support. Can the industry continue sponsoring climbers when its margins, which are not large to start with, begin to erode?

Climbing has always been a sport for well-off white people and to a certain extent is recession-proof but I wonder if this time things will be different. Household incomes are on the way down and unemployment is certain to rise substantially. Retail spending is down everywhere except at Walmart and Costco. Can the climbing industry sustain itself at current levels?

Speaking of numbers, I have installed a visitor counter and noted 100+ unique visitors in less than 24 hours. Maybe these are nothing but spambots trawling for email addresses but I like to think that people are actually visiting the blog and reading. Thanks for your support!


climbingnarc said...

Interesting thoughts as usual. It should be interesting to see how the economy affects participation in the upcoming ABS/SCS series. I know that it is making people in our area less willing to drive 2+ hours to pay ~$30 for local comps.

Not to generalize too much but based on observation alone it does seem like most youth climbers come from upper middle class backgrounds that may not be all that affected by the current economic downturn. It is INCREDIBLY expensive to follow the entire series and climb at the national level events. I always found it odd to see all these teenagers flying all over the country to climb in comps where you could only hope to make any money if you took 1st or 2nd.

Tom Markiewicz said...

Great points Peter. I've been wondering about this myself. Time will tell, but I've already found myself happily exploring all the climbing in and around Boulder as opposed to longer road trips.

In the short term, climbers will likely stay local to save money. Long term it will probably depend on how long a recession lasts.

That said, there may be more of an effect on comps.

Purchasing climbing gear may not take as big a hit as we place a high priority on pursuing our sport (often to the detriment of other aspects of life).

bluegrassbouldering said...

wow. how did i miss this? i've been sorting through similar questions myself.

yes, i do think youth comps will take a hit. but as you and brian point out, climbing (especially bourgie comp climbing) is a practice of the privileged and as such may very well continue unimpeded.

jobless roadtripping, however, looks really bleak. when the colonial present doesn't afford american's the chance to do whatever they want - i mean damn - you start to ask if our colonial past was even worth it..?a

i guess the ultimate question here is: will people start to cut back on discretionary spending? no. not when their identity hinges on it. people might not be motivated to go out and buy a truck that epitomizes their consumptive flair at the moment, but will rock climbers drop 50-200 bucks a month for shoes, draws, and magazines? yes. yes. yes. not a dent. in fact, check out matt samet's interview on sendaustin! to see how climbing mag has flourished during this downturn. i wouldn't be surprised to see climbing flourish more broadly (assuming this isn't the beginning of the end) whilst more commodity dependent activities fail.



Peter Beal said...

Escapism always is popular in a recession. So I agree that small items will be as popular as ever. I wonder though if the baseline costs of travel, etc. combined with a likely much higher unemployment rate will undermine the fate of the upper end of the climbing leisure class, i.e. the "sponsored" climber. I fear that Matt was speaking only at the beginning of the downturn. We have yet to see the real fallout from all of this as major advertisers will be forced to cut back expenses or go out of business altogether.