Alex Puccio’s Controversial Crowdfunding

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Alex competing in the 2014 World Cup series, where she placed 5th overall. Photo: Seb Lazure.

While crowdfunding may be commonplace amongst start-up businesses, bands, and filmmakers, it has rarely been used by climbers, until last week when Alex Puccio posted a request for donations on the crowdfunding website RallyMe. Setting her goal at $10,000, Alex plans to use the money to fund her 2015 World Cup circuit travel expenses, where she hopes to, once and for all, clinch the title of World Cup Champion. Her request for funding has received a range of responses from the climbing community, from “I couldn’t think of a better cause worth supporting! So honored to be able to donate to see this hero make her mark on the world!” to “I feel insulted that Miss Puccio feels she’s entitled to money that could go to better causes.” With these two opinions and many in between it got us thinking about why the climbing community seems to be so polarized about Alex’s crowdfunding.

All In Favor

The IFSC determines the World Cup champion by combining an athlete’s top 5 scores in IFSC competitions, meaning that Alex needs enough money to travel to at least 5 different locations around the world. One supporter on Instagram says, “All those international flights and hotels – I am surprised 10k is enough to cover the expense. I totally support this fundraising effort and already donated.” Alex is currently working (outside of training) to independently earn the money in addition to receiving money from sponsors. Nevertheless, competing for the World Cup Circuit requires additional funding. In response to a negative comment on Instagram Alex clarified her work situation by saying, “I do have a job and work there about 5 days a week on top of training as a professional athlete which is also a full time job. So I do work just about everyday! I have one day a week where it is my own. And our sport just doesn’t have the money yet to support all the top athletes fully but I hope I can help change that for the younger generation!” After years of balancing and budgeting working and training as a pro athlete, Alex reached out for additional financial support from her friends, family, and fans.

A young (and blonde!) Alex competing in the 2011 World Cup in Vail, CO. Photo by Heiko Wilhelm.

A young (and blonde!) Alex competing in the 2011 World Cup in Vail. Photo: Heiko Wilhelm.

Alex is undeniably the best female boulderer in the US and her fans want to see her be the best in the world. In past World Cup seasons she has placed 3rd (2011 & 2013) and 5th (2012 & 2014) overall. This year she is more focused on training and winning than ever before. Her fans have been following her training progress on Facebook and Instagram and have seen the fruits of her training in countless competitions including this year’s ABS Nationals, where she took home the title for the 9th year in a row. Alex is primed and ready for her most successful World Cup season yet. From the perspective of her supporters, it would be disappointing if a lack of funding prevented her success. Crowdfunding thus allows her fans to support her and be a part of her success on the world stage. One supporter sums it up, saying, “You rock, girl. Will definitely be donating. Would be such a shame if dollars were the only thing holding you back when you’ve already reached this level. Good job asking for help, we’ll get you there, and just keep crushing!”

For some, the implications of supporting Alex extend even further. Chalk Talk Podcast offered a broader rationale for donating, saying,”This is supporting American representation on the national stage. It is unfortunate that we don’t have a way to get our top athletes to all of these comps (though I hear USAC is working on it), that is why we have to show support individually.” This perspective views donating as a show of support not only for Alex but for all of our top climbers.

All Opposed

However, not everyone in the climbing community supports crowd funding professional climbers. Some outright oppose the idea of professional climbers being publicly funded while others believe the onus lies on the financial structures within the climbing community. Fingers have been pointed at sponsors, climbing gyms, USA Climbing, and the IFSC to better support professional climbers. One of Alex’s Instagram followers offered up this perspective, “As one of the strongest female climbers in the game I would think your sponsors would take care of you. The climbing industry is flooded with sponsored climbers so much so that the big names still have to ask for help.” Perhaps sponsors are spreading their funds around too thinly, or perhaps our sport simply isn’t creating enough revenue to support professional climbers sufficiently.

Just a few of the other sports organizations that partner with RallyMe to fund their athletes.

Just a few of the other sports organizations that partner with RallyMe to fund their athletes.

There currently seems to be at least two camps of climbers: competition focused and outdoor focused; the former being more concerned with excelling as competitive athletes and the latter being concerned with maintaining crags and seeking solitude in nature. (Yes, we understand that this is an oversimplification and that climbers can identify with both, but for the sake of argument try to see them as competing view points.) Those in the outdoor climber camp may be offended by the idea that Alex Puccio is asking them to fund her competitive pursuits, however, at the root of this opposition may be a desire to see more public funding for access and crag maintenance, and perhaps a fear of comp climbing being the future of the sport.

Alex’s crowdfunding effort brings up what is probably the most sensitive subject in climbing: money. The sport simultaneously glorifies the dirtbag lifestyle and requires expensive equipment. Add to that gym memberships and the cost of traveling to new crags and we’re talking about some serious dough. Members of the climbing community don’t seem to talk about money often, so when it is brought up it can immediately repulse people. After Alex responded to one particular negative commenter he replied to her, saying, “Thank you for responding to my comment. I’m sorry I came off as a jerk, but my first response when people ask for money is indignation. I think it’s a shame your sponsors don’t pay you enough that you have to ask your fan base for money.”

The Verdict

Crowdfunding has been a tremendous resource in other fields, and this is likely only the beginning of it for climbers. The negative responses to Alex’s call for donations are most likely less of a personal attack on her and more of a response to many current issues the climbing community is facing. We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic below, but no matter what side of the debate you fall on please be respectful of our community. It’s a pretty rad one.

Best of luck to Alex in the upcoming World Cup series!

Climb on!
Mary

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20 thoughts on “Alex Puccio’s Controversial Crowdfunding

  1. sean says:

    The legacy of ethics- focused climbers, stuck on antiquated ideas of what climbing should and shouldn’t be is getting to be a bit over-the-top. at this point, in this social climate, how can anyone justify negative remarks on this sort of issue. the massive splattering of sponsorship resources that is spread so thinly is part of the growing pains of an industry on the rise. the public is embracing climbing so the companies need to make themselves known. they do this by giving people free shit, by offering small financial contributions to every day folks on the only expedition they’ll ever take in their lives, by giving away tons of prizes to tiny gyms for tiny comps. the fact that a top climber, one who is quite public about her climbing and her training, has to crowd source to fulfill this goal, should be inspiring and should definitely not have to defend herself for it.

  2. Jen says:

    Considering how well she climbs and competes, Alex doesn’t have that many sponsors. I think it is just Scarpa, Fugoo, and Friction Labs. Looking at Sasha’s page, it sometimes seems like she is talking about a cool product everyday which is fine, but Alex doesn’t have that.

    I definitely think it is worth putting money towards Alex competing, she is just a great role model for a lot of girls and climbers in general.

    Also for people who don’t want to just give money to her, maybe consider hiring her for coaching. I believe she has methods of doing that online if you don’t live near her.

  3. Sally Moss says:

    I think it’s a great idea. I have sponsored friends to travel across the world for sporting events who aren’t anywhere near Alex Puccio’s level. In minor sports like climbing (or weightlifting and strongman, which I also do), there’s just very little money to go around, and going to international events is very expensive, let alone doing a whole season.
    As you said in the article, it’s up to individuals whom they give their money to. It’s got very little to do with who is the most ‘deserving’ (who judges that anyway?), it’s about what you want to do with your money, what inspires you, what makes you feel like you want to give.

  4. Dave Sandel says:

    I am one that falls on the side of not supporting her through crowdfunding. I think Alex is amazing and she deserves the right to be able to compete on the world stage and represent the U.S.

    However, the reason I don’t support it is that it’s a glaring display of how broken the support and sponsorship systems are within the climbing industry. I’m not going to claim to know 1 single, tiny bit about Chris Sharma, but one can reasonably infer that he has made decent money as a pro climber – a house in Spain, a gym in the U.S., major shareholder of Evolv…etc.

    I’m guessing he has had a ton of financial support throughout the years for his lifestyle and as much as he’s still the funnest climber to watch, he’s no longer THE top climber. People like Alex are, and the companies and organizations that support her need to step up.

    Likewise, the onus is also not completely on them. As I just mentioned Sharma’s financial success, and reading the previous comment about Sasha, it is also Alex’s fault for not “selling herself”. That is, she is not in very many climbing movies. She does not endorse very many brands. And it goes on. Climbing is not yet a mainstream sport so climbers may have to do things they don’t want to do, such turn themselves into marketing machines. Market yourself, market your sponsors, market the sport, write for websites about how great you are, make videos, and it goes on and on and on.

    As much as I wish her sponsors would pony up and pay the bill, as they should, it is also her responsibility to use her position of “climbing fame” to generate income herself on top of her regular person job.

    • Matt says:

      Dave,

      Comparing Sharma to Puccio is your first mistake. You say you’re opposed to Puccio crowdfunding because: ‘how broken the support and sponsorship systems are within the climbing industry’.

      Why Sharma isn’t good to compare to:

      Sharma has been apart of this sport for years. He was lucky enough to be with some companies that would ride the bull market of the climbing industry up(Prana,5.10). Sharma wasn’t making a world cup circuit every year on top of trying to live in one of the most expensive areas of the world. Have you looked at pictures of Sender One gym? Sharma isn’t the only owner and Sanuk has sunk money into that gym. And Evolv was another company Sharma was a part of while they were still very small. Also, Houses in Mallorca are about $110,000, so the fact that Sharma owns a home in Spain isn’t as posh as it sounds.

      You say climbing isn’t mainstream but how come this industry has companies that specialize in making specialty climbing chalk that can sell for as much as 25$ for 10 ounces? Multi million dollar climbing facilities are being opened all over the country every few months. My point is there is PLENTY of money in this industry to support the elite athletes. With that said, yes I agree with you that the support system is flawed for our top athletes(USA Climbing and private climbing industry companies). This happens in so many sports where the companies reap most of the benefits because of what the athletes are doing BUT here is one difference. We are at the point in the climbing industry where there still is a chance to make a difference. Athletes don’t have to ‘pimp’ themselves out to the sponsors so they can get money to go do what they do best. If the current system is flawed and there is another way to go about raising money(like crowdfunding), DO IT. That may actually send a message to the sponsors and support system you originally mentioned to rethink how they want to take care of the people making them money.

      Our elite climbers aren’t supposed to be marketing machines. When you are one of the best at something you barely have time for anything else in your life. And when you go the crowd funding route people will want to give you money for the right reasons.

      • Dave Sandel says:

        I didn’t say I was opposed to her crowdfunding campaign. If she wants to ask and people want to give, that’s great!

        I said I wouldn’t support her through crowdfunding.

  5. Isabelle B says:

    This is a huge problem for American competitors specifically – in many other countries climbers and other athletes are supported financially by government or climbing federation programs, which helps pay for coaches, comps, and other expenses. Killian, Anna, and Jakob, for example, all get salaries and benefits from the Austrian government via a military sports program (check out Killian and Anna’s interivew at enormocast.com!)

    • pipo says:

      Yes very good comment. To compete in all the worldcups is an expensive affair and it is a shame some countries don’t offer any support to their athletes who are clearly capable of getting good results. Cody Roth illustrates this in Enormocast, when he was competing in Europe he was sleeping in a tent while some of his fellow competitors were staying at 3 star Hotels.
      Also it is a huge shame some athletes like Dimitrii experience disadvantages because of visa problems.

  6. Amelia Bedelia says:

    Generating income for herself using her “climbing fame” is exactly what she is doing Mr.Sandel and in my opinion it’s great! Try and look at this way- the IFSC World Cup, just like any other sport competition, is entertainment. Entertainment is content. For years crowdfunding sites and “backers” have been paying good money to consume films, games, and albums. Crowdfunding is a very viable and increasingly popular form of content creation. So props to those athletes,film makers, game developers, and engineers who use their fame to reach out to their fans and ask them to support their careers and push forward new ways of getting content in the hands (or eyes) of those who want it.

  7. Climbing sponsorships don’t pay much at all. Mostly its just free stuff and maybe a few thousand per year. Which even if you have 5 at about 10K each which would be great, is only 38k or so after taxes, which isn’t much to go travelling around the world and competing on.

  8. Random Climber says:

    Shouldn’t USA Climbing bear that responsibility? They organize the events and determine who represents the US in international competitions, so it makes sense that they should handle some of the financial responsibility.

  9. Heidi Farrington says:

    The article states that Alex is a “professional climber” … “professional” indicating that she climbs to earn money and/or compete for money. That makes Alex’s climbing her business. There is no reason why she should not crowdfund her nascent business just like every other business woman out there currently raising funds for their endeavor. In addition, as a newcomer (and middle aged woman) to the sport, I can attest to the near impossibility of juggling work and travel and adequate training. Obtaining sponsors and fan-based support to allow her to concentrate on her training and competition is probably an effective means for her to meet her goals. I, personally, do not know where anyone comes off criticizing another person for being innovative. This funding is between her and her fan base and those who choose to donate. If you don’t want to, great. That’s your business. Why denigrate or criticize? That’s just rude and immature.

  10. Simon Parsons says:

    I think there is a much bigger issue at stake here. Sponsorship of sports persons was traditionally based on the marketing concept – attach your name to someone famous by sponsoring them and it can help you make money. A win-win many would say. The main problem with market based sponsorship is the value and quality of the product – it is not always a worthy product – e.g. Red Bull – in my view a terrible product and I would never accept money from such a company.

    As for crowd sourcing, this is in reality a donation to cause. There is nothing in it for the ‘sponsor’. So if you like the cause , then donate. My issue with this is that you have to ask the question is the cause worth my money? In the case of perfectly healthy persons asking for money to pursue an activity they like doing that does not benefit me or others tangibly (debatable point I know as good climbers inspire others), then I would argue – go get a job!

  11. Alex, if you read these forums, good luck in your journey.

  12. Neal Sipahimlani says:

    I think this is a fantastic way to go about it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that if you don’t want to support a cause – you don’t have to! Many other countries with high level athletes that compete in the world cup circuit have national support to help out with the high cost of attending these events. Here in the US, thats not quite the case. If athletes here want to attend, for the most part, the financial toll is incredible. If she can raise the necessary funds and the kill it then we should be psyched for her. For 99% us, this experience would be well outside of our reach but for the small number of athletes than can compete here definitely need some level of support unless they happen to just have a boat load of cash laying around. I’m psyched to pitch in because I can look on that experience and smile because I helped make that dream come true.

  13. Hannah M says:

    I think that crowdfunding is a great alternative to the traditional sponsorship model. It’s nearly impossible for athletes to get corporate sponsors these days, and deifnitely impossible for one sponsor to cover all the athlete’s costs!

    Crowdfunding democratizes sponsorship and sports. It allows us – the people – to decide who we want to succeed. Not based on what the athlete can give us, but on the athlete’s merits!

    It’s also an amazing way for the climbing community to come together. I mean, sure, in the USA you would expect the government to help out, but what about other countries with less money? For example, there’s a young female climber in Indonesia, Vitrie Handayani who is crowdfunding even though she is on the indonesian national team. http://makeachamp.com/vitriehandayani/16405

    Crowdfunding is a great way for us to empower women in developing countries who have an interest in sports. Why shouldn’t they be able to compete at international competitions just because they can’t afford it themselves?

    Kudos to Alex Puccios for taking charge of her own destiny!

  14. Bob says:

    What does everyone think about The money they donated now? Should she give it to Nathaniel or another athlete?

  15. Nathan H. Fox says:

    I love you Alex Puccio! Come over to Indiana and ride some bicycle. Hope you are okay.

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