By John Basher
Supercross blends artificiality and reality by matching a
death-defying circus-like show and true-to-life racing. It is a
shot of adrenaline, aided by maniacal fans thirsting for action.
In essence, Supercross has the makings of being the perfect
American pastime. Just imagine if dirt bikes had preceded
baseball. Babe Ruth would have played second fiddle to the
likes of adrenaline-junkie gear heads from a foregone era.
Too bad Edward Butler’s invention of the internal combustion
engine didn’t come 100 years sooner. Abner Doubleday might
have been laughed out of Cooperstown, and the shifting tide
of U.S. culture would have been forever changed.
“THERE’S A BURGEONING
THAT’S CREATING UNPRECEDENTED
GROWTH IN SUPERCROSS
VIEWERSHIP. CRASHES, IT
SEEMS, ARE A SMALL PART OF A
MUCH BIGGER ENTERTAINMENT
There’s a reason why Supercross continues to blossom
through economic hardships and a change in the status quo.
At one time considered a novel concept with participation by
an elite few, Supercross is growing up. As much is proven
by a sound television package, Internet traction and word of
mouth. Perhaps word of social media is a more accurate
assertion. It doesn’t seem long ago that Supercross made
national news only through sensational footage, as in a “Did
you see that?” kind of way. While crashes will always appeal
to our voyeuristic traits, racing is the central reason for the
sport’s success. As a result, there’s a burgeoning powersports-centric audience that’s creating unprecedented growth
in Supercross viewership. Crashes, it seems, are a small part
of a much bigger entertainment package.
Supercross caters to 16- to 30-year-old males. This
group is the demographics for big business. They are
impressionable, financially capable and haven’t yet galvanized
their loyalty to certain brands. In other words, the average
Supercross fan could be persuaded and drive off a Toyota lot
while drinking their favorite flavor of Monster Energy. For this
reason, mainstream sponsors such as Dodge, Toyota, Geico
and Der Wienerschnitzel have poured marketing dollars into
the sport. Supercross is a cash cow for business enterprises,
because the target demographic is spot-on.
Mike Goodwin invented modern Supercross, but many have
taken the Supercross platform and run with it. You remember PACE, SRO, AIR, MTEG, SFX, Jam Sports, Clear Channel
and Live Nation, don’t you? Leave it to Feld Entertainment,
a live-show production company with roots in circus
management, to take the sport to new heights. Granted, the
series already had a proven track record before Feld acquired
the rights to Supercross from Live Nation in September of
2008. From racing inside state-of-the-art football and baseball
stadiums in major cities across the U.S. to manufacturer and
fan support, it was a home run (or a touchdown, depending
on the stadium). Feld focused on improving the television
package, building a live-streaming platform, attracting
endemic media and creating buzz. In 2015 the series visited
the Big Apple (okay, I admit that East Rutherford is in New
Jersey), and this year New England finally hosts a Supercross
after decades of neglect.
All is not perfect, though. For starters, it would be nice if
Feld Motor Sports allowed race teams to promote themselves
by selling merchandise. According to one team owner, sales
from T-shirts and other wares could be $15,000 per race.
That amounts to well over $200,000—income that could
be reinvested into their racing program. Affording teams the
chance to recoup expenses would generate long-term
sustainability and continued growth.
Other valued changes include the need for sizable
family-friendly seating areas inside the stadium. Such an idea
was lost on me before I had kids. Post-rug rats, I realize that
taking the wife and children to a Supercross race shouldn’t be
about hooliganism and having beer thrown on your 6-year-old.
Young children should be free to enjoy the races; screening
the riffraff out of a family-dedicated seating area is a must-do.
On the racing front, it’s advisable for the organizing body
to have the 250 evening program mirror the 450 class.
The inclusion of 250 semi races would add excitement and
drop the sideshow stigma that is unnecessarily cast over the
250 class. Don’t believe for a second that Feld Motor Sports
doesn’t have the time to include two additional semi races in
the evening program. They can easily shorten the halftime
entertainment, because no one cares about fans racing
around the stadium floor on foot while holding handlebars.
Folks pay good money to see racing, not amateur hour. As
for the viewing experience; although we all love fireworks,
there have been many instances where the smoke hung in
the air like a thick London fog.
Supercross has never been better, but that doesn’t mean
the promoters should rest on their laurels. Now is the time to
reach a broader audience and take the sport to new heights.
Feld has the opportunity to seize millions of eyes. I, for one,
am rooting for the powers that be to grow Supercross into a
sport recognized by many. Then, maybe the rest of the sport
will grow to the level it was in the 1970s when the industry
sold one million dirt bikes a year—now they sell less motocross bikes per annum that there are seats in a football
stadium. Hopefully, they can work together hand in hand.