|James Pearson signing with Beal|
"But there is no glamour, not even a shoe sponsor, just very hard work and absolutely no financial support from his Australian federation.
'I'm in debt on my credit card right now due to the last WC season costing me so much money. I'm slowly paying off my debt now although as soon as the 2012 WC season starts the credit card will come out again. I have to pay for everything including my uniform to compete in, my IFSC license, my climbing association membership, competition entry, hotel, travel etc.... So it all adds up.'
This aspect of being a "professional" climber is one that is rarely if ever discussed. Climbing is a pursuit a lot like yacht racing or showing purebred dogs in that a substantial amount of personal and social capital is assumed to be on hand to cover the expected day-to-day expenses of participation. In other words, to even initially obtain, let alone maintain sponsorship, it is expected that an athlete will maintain a high profile in the sport, usually through travel and extended sojourns at fashionable climbing areas, participate in competitions (very expensive for travel, accommodation, and fees) and be available for other promotional responsibilities such as video shoots, shoe demos or climbing festivals. Such requirements are generally incompatible with genuinely remunerative employment of any kind, meaning that someone or something else is ultimately footing the bill for most if not all the professionals below the very thinnest sliver at the top. This is the simple reality of climbing today.
In other words, for every hundred dollars worth of "free" product, a climber may have to invest 10 to 20 times as much hard cash, maybe more, maybe less, to maintain the lifestyle required to obtain and keep that sponsorship. This of course is not counting the staggering opportunity cost of missed educational opportunities or actual gainful employment, costs that will eventually be counted against many aspiring "pros" when they realize they can no longer maintain elite participation in the sport or in the outdoor industry. As mentioned above, this hard reality is passed over in the media and rarely discussed in public by the athletes themselves. Kudos to Webb-Parsons for mentioning it.
This theme was on my mind in particular when I recently received an email from Moon Climbing informing me that I was being dropped from their team. Now for me, sponsorship is not a matter of financial necessity, it is a matter of my desire to help promote companies that I respect and whose products I personally use and recommend. But on reflection, I realized that looking back, the efforts that I made to fulfill my responsibilities towards the company in the end cost me more out of pocket than the value of the products themselves. Not to say that it wasn't nice to get some "free" gear, but that in the end, at best, I estimate the net financial value to me cashed out in negative terms. Would I do it again? It really depends on the company and its vision for the future. There were certainly some concerns with Moon that I should have heeded.
I understand that for a teenage climber with adequate familial financial resources and no particular obligation in the immediate future towards a career or other responsibilities, climbing sponsorships are great. And there are actual professional climbers out there, not many, but some. But it seems to me that a more public discussion of the actual costs involved in elite-level participation, especially with the increased media presence of sponsorship, as with Beal mentioned above, in concurrence with the rise in numbers of competitive youth teams, might be enlightening to aspiring athletes, their families, and the climbing community in general.