Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sponsorship in the Modern World

Here's a photo from a news site posted publicly on Facebook that pretty much sums it up:

Back in the days of mega-expeditions with hundreds of porters and horrendous environmental impact, climbing on the backs of a pyramid of logistical support, sponsorship meant the equivalent of millions of dollars and banners and flags and photo ops. Anyone remember the Nike ads from K2 1978?

Over time this evolved into mega-cool climbers using the gear or waving flags or whatever in return for funding the trip. That hasn't changed much over time as a general rule.

For a while, there was a wave of "everyman" climbers. Normal family guys and business people riding the edge of the coolness wave showing that it was possible to balance a normal family and employment life with climbing and mountaineering. Then the noose tightened and the wave switched to freakishness. You'd then find "first left-handed, right eye dominant, 5'9" red head to climb Everest in purple" and the like. These became so silly that the corporations sought to distance themselves from the lot.

But how do you define cool? According to an article in one of the major climbing magazines a couple years ago (old enough that without signing up I can't get to it from the websites), climbers started doing insanely stupid stunts to get funding. The bottom line of the slightly tongue in cheek article was that spending 100 hours scamming for a free pair of shoes that you could get by working at McD for 10 hours seemed like a bad use of time.

When I was at the Winter OR Show in SLC January 2014 I was slightly offended and appalled at the number of people there trying to get free gear and sponsorship from almost every single booth. It explained why some booths had rigid security systems in place to keep you from going in and seeing their goods unless you were a properly registered media or buyer with an appointment with the rep you already had relations with.

Carstensz - Logo Wear Festival at the Summit

In my "Carstensz, Stone Age to Iron Age" book HERE I explained how all of the "guides" abandoned us at the summit so they could take their slew of photos with sponsor jackets and banners and goodies and cards and plaques. It was with absolutely no level of exaggeration in the hundreds! They were loading new memory cards in between shots. They changed their jackets and t-shirts and hats to get all the photos in. Instead of rescue gear they carried backpacks full of sponsor logos. We were on our own for the entire descent aside from a guide we had to actually threaten to help us across the Tyrolean Traverse by helping to belay us on the transition from the overhanging rock to the cable harness.

And I still haven't even touched the surface of the charity climbers who live off their charities, another of the dirty little secrets stifled by the code of silence that seems to permeate the climbing world. For a brief introduction I can refer you to Krakauer's Three Cups of Deceit.

While lots of modern people make fun of the jolly old days of gentlemen climbers using up their savings, investments, and trust funds to support their life of adventure, before long, it will be back to these good old days and the paychecks will be scant in quantity and amount.