Is rock climbing a watchable sport? For climbers, yes (to a certain degree). If you’re hiking and you see some people scaling up a rock face, then also yes. But I don’t think any non-climber is clamoring for more rock climbing on primetime TV. No one is marking their calendars for the next World Cup live-stream on YouTube. And as unpopular as it is to say (especially on a site that revolves around climbing), the reason no one cares, is because climbing is nearly unwatchable from an outsider’s point of view. There is an initial novelty, but once that wears off…CLICK.
I think about this more than I should, and write about it less than I should, but what (if anything) could make rock climbing a watchable and entertaining enterprise. The sport as is stands competitively right now comprises of three varieties. Sport climbing which consists of a climber wearing a harness, tethered to rope, trying to make it up a very tall wall without falling. Bouldering which consists of a climber sans harness and rope, trying to make it up a much shorter wall without falling. Speed climbing which consists of a climber tethered to a rope trying to make it up a very tall wall as fast as possible…without falling.
I’m not just considering watchability. I’m really shooting for mainstream popularity that stays true to the sport without overdoing it on gimmicks. If all we wanted was popularity, then all you’d have to do is make the uniforms more revealing, include intimate personal background stories, provide lots of money to the winner, and manipulate the potential for a love connection. At that point however, climbing would look more like a “reality” show and less like a sport. So, let’s avoid the gimmicks as much as possible.
As mainstream sports go, team sports enjoy much more success than individual sports. Golf and Racecar driving are exceptions, but those are terribly boring flukes that can’t be relied on as a formula for success. One of the reasons that team sports are so successful is a human desire to belong. There is an aspiration to be part of a tribe. In most major team sports, the majority of the players aren’t from the city emblazoned on the front of their jersey. Fans are drawn to the team, not necessarily the players. That is, until those players are wearing the right colors, the colors that represent the “right” tribe. Another relevant commonality shared by most team sports is the implementation of both offense and defense. A less relevant feature, although nearly universal is the use of a ball. From cricket to rugby some form of ball is used. Although not absolutely necessary, a ball may help climbing become more understandable and recognizable to future would be fans.
The major team sports often, though not always include a clock (we’re looking at you baseball/softball), and tend to run for about two hours. They have some type of scoring, as well as penalties for actions deemed undesirable to the outcome of the game. There are probably dozens of additional shared features, but I think these are the important ones.
So, where are we? We want to keep sport climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing in some fashion. We want to make climbing into a team sport, jerseys and cities included. We want to include both offense and defense. Perhaps we add a clock, some penalties, and a points system. Finally, we should try to incorporate a ball of some variety.
This is the groundwork for climbing reimagined. Phase 2 will include style, and teams. Phase 3 will include rules, goals, and gameplay. I have a loose idea of what Phase 3 will look like, but I’m open to suggestions, so if you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them!