Happy February, everybody! You know what that means, Football season is about to be over and spring is on the way for us to focus on our jump gains from winter conditioning. Now I get it, there’s no direction correlation between parkour season and football season (becuz parkour is eternal bruv), but today being the Super Bowl made me curious as to what the Super Bowl equivalent of a parkour competition would look like. So before the big game today I just wanted to write some of my thoughts on the matter.
Who Would Host The Event?
It all starts with the event organizers, who controls the pocket book? If we look to where the financial incentives lie in any given situation we can construct a plausible business plan around the capture of that financial value. Now unfortunately, that’s not really how it works, we don’t sit down together and figure out a plan that’s best for everybody – somebody brazen sits down alone and presents it to everyone else and then we decide whether or not we want to give them our time and money to see that vision grow. So how do we know if the future of our competitions is one of the existing formats?
The answer is we decide which one we want, and then we work to support it. Currently the silent majority of the sport believes NAPC is the best representation of a competition for the athletes, by the athletes. When a competitor is confronted with an issue on the course, the organizers are quick to adjust with them. And though I’ve only attended the Finals once myself, even seeing it from the livestreams you can feel the love and camaraderie that encompasses these grassroots events all over the United States and Canada. But despite the undeniable positives of NAPC, I believe it is not a scalable business model as it currently exists and while that fact remains true there are other dissenters still eyeing the crown jewels. We’ll get that into that more a bit later on.
Once upon a time the WFPF reigned supreme over high concept parkour media and engaging competitive event formats, that was well was over a decade ago at this point. Today they continue to host events that receive criticism from the wider community and occasionally from within their own athletes as well. These criticisms are primarily based around the format and judging of these events, with athletes feeling they were not scored properly for the performances that they put on. Having been to the WFPF Vegas Pro Am Competition myself, I had a feeling that the problems stem from much deeper.
It comes down to the fundamental question, what type of future do we want for our athletes? Because my first day at that competition in 2016 I witnessed athletes wander around on hard concrete all day waiting for their chance to be center stage and yet were largely ignored by the cheerleading and tumbling parents that myriad the audience. By the time they were able to perform (it’s a performance more than a competition), many of the athletes were too exhausted to move in a way that kept them safe and confident. Why is it that we’re trying to assimilate into a machine that we don’t admire ourselves? This begets the real problem we the parkour community face – who exactly are we?
And while we struggle to find the answer to that core question, organizations like FIG and FISE seek to decide the answer for us. Unfortunately with sports, as with many things in life, it often comes down to the bureaucracy rather than the will of the people. Most of the talk around FIG is fear mongering because we are unsure of the certainty of their claim to the throne, but unshakably sure that we don’t want them to have it. Yet once more we have to look at it objectively as an event – is it engaging to watch? Is it engaging to participate in? Is it something that will attract advertisers and dollars?
Because that’s what the Super Bowl is – a giant machine for turning advertising dollars into entertainment to keep people spending their money on the products and services that dominate their day to day. That is the future of parkour if we are to embark down the path set by FIG and the pursuit of the Olympics – billboards and endorsements and total surrender to the global charade of friendly competition in order to sell commercial time. But is that a brighter future than the one we are currently experiencing? Because the Super Bowl of Parkour already exists, it has since 2007. The Red Bull Art of Motion.
If we’re looking at it strictly by total number of views, Red Bull has this game won across the board. Now it’s hard to quantify this the same way as the Super Bowl without providing the proper context with which you are comparing the two. Total views on the day? Art of Motion 2019 has more than 700,000 views at the moment, last years Super Bowl had almost 100 million viewers. So on views alone we don’t hold a candle, but the Playoffs themselves are a concept that Red Bull emulates really well with their online submission period. The month or two of people releasing their Art of Motion videos is one of the highlights of the year for athletes every year for almost a decade now.
How Do We Facilitate This Dream?
So there’s a lot of good problems and bad problems linked to running large public sporting competitions, and while there are many suitors to create the best format for spectators and advertisers alike – no such balance has really been found yet. Though Art of Motion has the most collective views, the damage done to the surrounding buildings may have Red Bull back on the road next year instead of in one place like Santorini was for so long. Though NAPC is beloved by spectators and athletes alike, any competition held in a confined space puts a finite cap on how many people can be there on the day.
So if we separate the total occupancy of an event from the total viewership of the event we are presented with a few unique opportunities. Because while the Art of Motion and its qualifiers may have the most cumulative views for a competition, as far as I can tell the most views in a single video for a competition actually go to Commit Freerun’s Own the Spot – via Storror’s YouTube audience. It has just over 1.2 million views at present and probably felt the most relaxed of any of the competitions being held due to the comfortable nature of it being on the streets just like any other day of training.
But OWN the Spot was just a pop event since Hop The Block was cancelled. And with AirWipp now cancelled as well we have to confront ourselves with the harsh realities of competition creation – they are expensive to run and sometimes things will go wrong. So how do we make the existing formats with community support the dominant players within the marketplace so that advertisers will allay some of the problems with money? Because that’s what this all goes back to no matter how you slice it – how much money can be generated from this one day, one weekend, one moment of sportsmanship.
This is where it starts to get a little abstract and I need you to walk with me here. It doesn’t really matter which competition wins out, whether its NAPC or World Parkour Cup, Art of Motion or Own the Spot – what matters is that the athletes are provided for and stimulated to improve year over year. It’s not about how far the wheel travels, it’s about the fact that it still can travel. We need longevity if we are going to ever reach a mass audience like the Super Bowl does, and so far Art of Motion and NAPC have the best track record for that. Our future lies within the convergence of these two events.
2019 was the first year Art of Motion accepted finalists from other competitions in stead of qualifying via video submission or onsite qualifiers. While I believe they partially did this because there was no Art of Motion 2018, it more importantly signaled a willingness for Red Bull to engage with the grassroots culture of the sport in a way that has seemed foreign for the better part of the past decade. While Santorini year after year would see a sea of traceurs descend upon it eager to dust up the white walls of the island, at the end of the day it was an event for Red Bull, by Red Bull. The judges do as they are told, the camera crew almost run into the athletes because they don’t know what movements to watch for, and it’s a ton of fun for all the athletes despite the chaos left in their wake.
Why Do We Need A Super Bowl?
To be honest. We don’t. But eventually one day we’ll have one anyway. FIG and FISE will continue to run their events and possibly even enter into the 2024 Olympics. That event alone should garner more viewership than any parkour competition past or present, but I’m not sure about you – but watching the FIG events isn’t my idea of entertainment. And this is a crucial factor that may seem too obvious to state – if it’s a SUPER Bowl – it should probably feel somewhat exciting in nature. It should inspire future and present generations of athletes to step up their game and strive for excellence. You tell me after the watching the video below, does this resonate with the future you see for parkour?
Now in general in this article I’m not trying to shit talk on any of these competitions. Merely to provide some criticism and context where appropriate to evaluate them in the context of the future of the sport. But it’s hard for me to watch the FIG and WFPF events and feel like the future of the sport belongs within the confines they have erected for it. Rather I think it’s more productive for us to measure the success of these events by the total number of athletes willing to dedicate themselves to the cause on the day. And that comes down to NAPC and Art of Motion, one for the Americas and one for Europe. Year after year athletes make pilgrimages to these events, not because they have to, but because they feel compelled to do so and that their time and effort is appreciated.
And that’s why we do all of this. At the end of the day, it’s the living beings that decide to use their bodies to create movement patterns that we call parkour that really matter most in this equation. All the other factors cannot and do not hold value without the inherent value of the athletes themselves. So since we have no big money in the sport now outside of RedBull and those lucky enough to have other high paying sponsorships – the only way way to grow the sport is from within not without. That is to say that there is no need to rush to a finish line that someone has constructed, when we can figure out our path and set and adjust the roots as we develop them. Because sometimes when you just throw caution to the wind you end up finding the most beautiful things in life.
What brands like Motus and Storror remind us – is that sometimes you just need to shut up and film so you have something to produce later on. Not just words. But product. Tom and Res wanted to see the parkour competition scene change – so they built it themselves. And the turnout in the parking lot this year for their onsite qualifiers really says everything that needs to be said about their success in achieving in that vision. Because if you can get Americans to get off their asses and spend money on something that’s not within an hour drive of their homes – then you’ve got a product. You just have to figure out how to market it properly or get someone else to do it for you.
One day there will be more money in the sport than there is today. But training will still feel the same. Having your friend film your runs now is not so different from a cam op with a gimbal rig. One day we may have stadium lights and Olympic medals and Nike endorsements and perhaps the world will seem a little brighter for parkour athletes born into the world with nothing but their busted shoes and favorite sweatpants. No doubt the future of the sport will look different than it has in the past, for once upon a time the idea of competition was completely anathema to the sport itself. And yet now it seems impossible that the two will ever be separate from each other again. Happy Sunday everyone. Hope this article distracted you if you don’t like watching Football games.
Well I think I’ve rambled enough on this one. You’re probably half way done with your Super Bowl snacks by now. I would love to hear from the community on how they feel about the events mentioned in this article and which are most important for the future of the sport. Do you feel like the sport should experience pressure to grow at an accelerated pace or is it fine meandering its way through melodic media creation? Either way thanks so much for reading and I’m happy to be back on the blog after a trying year.