So, here's the story: Clif Bar, a well-known maker of energy/protein bars sponsors several athletes, including five professional rock-climbers who are featured in a new documentary making the rounds called Valley Uprising. Clif was one of the major financial contributors to that film, but has since pulled their sponsorship of many of the climbers featured in the film (but not of the film itself). So what changed? According to a statement made by the company, "We concluded that these forms of the sport are pushing boundaries and taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no longer willing to go." The company adds, “We understand that some climbers feel these forms of climbing are pushing the sport to new frontiers. But we no longer feel good about benefiting from the amount of risk certain athletes are taking in areas of the sport where there is no margin for error; where there is no safety net.” In some ways, Clif is saying that it sees the risk that the climbers are no longer able to see, and for the athletes' sake, maybe taking away the monetary incentive to take on more and more risk is a good thing. But, what the company doesn't address is how this risk affects them: Clif isn't willing to have a sponsored athlete die, and the probability of death or grave injury that these athletes are now facing has passed some threshold that Clif no longer feels safe with. In other words, there is no safety net for their corporate image. Despite Clif's motives, it's still an interesting marketing dilemma: here is a company that builds its brand on chasing adventure, and inherent in those adventurous activities is a level of risk that other sports or activities don't entail. So to suddenly decide that they are no longer comfortable with this greater risk as a company policy seems like a weird about-face that could erode their brand. At what point does risk go from reward to liability?
Ultimately, I agree with Clif's decision because, though I have no empirical data to support it, I do believe that financial sponsorships can significantly affect risk preferences and encourage additional risk-taking because it's no longer about the thrill or the adventure, there is now a large monetary reward for pushing the limits as well. And for a population whose risk perceptions are already skewed by illusions of control and selective processing, maybe these limits need to be enforced by someone else.