Competitive Logging: The Sport Planners Never Saw… Until Now
31 May, 2017By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Growth of an Extreme Niche Sport Shows International Interest
The last time we checked in with the logging sports crowd, Dinty Moore Beef Stew was doing a special promotion/reality show to try to turn a few average Joes into lumberjacks. Actually, they were calling them ‘lumbersexuals,’ and it made for some pretty amusing streaming.
Fast-forward to this year and people have stopped laughing – at least, the ones in the crowd of more than 1,200 who watched the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Championships in Hamburg, Germany. According to an article in Sporting Goods Business, the event, touted as the toughest competition in the extreme niche sport of competitive logging, eight athletes competed in the equivalent of a multi-sport relay, duking it out for the trophy.
The SGB article noted that disciplines included Standing Block (in which competitors had to chop through a vertical block with an axe), Underhand Chop (competitors had to chop through a horizontal block with an axe), STIHL Stock Saw (competitors had to cut two slices off a log, using a downward motion followed by an upward motion), and Single Buck (competitors slice through a 46cm log using a 2m single-man cross-cut saw). Because the activities take place one after the other (in what some sports events call an iron-man style), the STIHL Timbersports Champions Trophy is regarded as one of, if not the toughest logger sports competitions around.
We know, we know. You’re thinking: “Only eight competitors? Only 1,200 spectators?” But consider this: competitive logging, like many niche sports, is something that capitalizes on an area’s unique character and heritage. It’s a good fit in the right places. And its earthy, backwoods image is what brings in non-traditional athletes – and the spectators who celebrate their accomplishments.
A number of events are held each year, including the Lumberjack World Championships (an old and storied event that includes professional competitions and Masters events for both men and women), and Dells Lumberjack Show and Fred Scheers Lumberjack Shows, both of which are more spectator-oriented, although they do offer some rookie categories to allow kids and others to try their hands at safe events (translation: the kind that don’t require running a power saw or throwing an axe).
However, it has been saw and tool company STIHL that has been at the commercial forefront of the competitive movement—and which enjoys the higher profile and the economic impact. In fact, STIHL even holds the trademark on the term, TIMBERSPORTS® In addition to the competition recently held in Germany, STIHL hosts events stateside. Its U.S. Professional Series includes six disciplines, one of which is Hot Saw, in which the competitor uses a customized chainsaw with a modified engine, usually taken from a personal watercraft or snowmobile. (It’s labelled “one of the least predictable disciplines” for a reason.)
STIHL also sponsors a collegiate series of competitions, with five regional qualifying events, which are similar to collegiate athletic conferences: its Mid-Atlantic, Mid-Western, Northeast, Southern and Western qualifiers and one championship. The collegiate series started in 2003 with six colleges. These days, it’s up to 65 across the U.S., and more are interested in being added in.
While spectators might be attracted by any number of things – an interest in the history or the industries logging sports represent, a fascination with power tools or simply the adrenaline rush of watching the competition, the logging sports athlete has to have some specific traits. It takes, by all accounts, athleticism and discipline – and to a certain extent the ability to work alone to hone one’s skills – to get good at professional lumberjacking.
It also takes a certain amount of nerve. Dave Jewett, a professional Timbersports competitor, noted in a competition video, “I would describe Timbersports as like hitting a golf ball but put 20 golf balls in a row and try to hit them as fast as you can and put them on the green and if you miss, you’re going to cut your toe off.”
(Caveat: Planners will want to work with their event insurance provider on these events.)
And for those who are still ready to shrug it off, here’s one more inducement: Logging sports are a hot commercial property. The SGB article notes, “The STIHL Timbersports series airs throughout the year on the Outdoor Channel and TUFF TV while the STIHL Timbersports Collegiate Series airs on ESPNU. Duluth Trading is the official workwear sponsor of the series.”
In addition, the STIHL website notes, the company is open to considering proposals from potential host cities, noting the potential for exposure.
Broadcast to over 177 million households a year in the United States, the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series is the world's premier lumberjack sports event and the second longest running show on ESPN, behind only SportsCenter. Hosting a STIHL TIMBERSPORTS competition offers exceptional exposure for your city and the surrounding region. It provides a nationally televised platform to promote and highlight the venue and events occurring in conjunction with our competition.
Need more proof of the fascination? Try this: People who may never even pick up a saw are still sitting at home, binge-watching the reality TV show, Family Chops, or The History Channel’s Ax Men. Think they wouldn’t come out to watch a competition?
The fact that log sports are a commercial success is comparable in some ways to another old-fashioned sport that has undergone an evolution to gain national prominence: bass fishing. And just as those events have given rise to an apparel industry where individuals walk around in trucker hats from the BassPro shops, the STIHL website offers branded apparel and other souvenirs, much of which is adorned with the slogan, Kiss My Axe.