By John Basher
Where is the sport heading? The answer depends on the
person, but it looks like the world of two-wheel racing as
we know it will soon be flipped on its head. Rumors abound
regarding Feld Motor Sports super-sizing the Supercross
schedule for 2018 and beyond. The real question isn’t if
Supercross is branching out; rather, how many rounds will
be tacked on. It shouldn’t take a planner to understand that
Feld Motor Sports might soon be encroaching on MX Sports’
National schedule. Time and tide wait for no man,
and Supercross is the power player.
“THEN THERE ARE CREATURE
COMFORTS LIKE TOILETS WITH
RUNNING WATER, CUSHIONED
SEATS AND VENDORS WALKING
AROUND HAWKING TREATS IN AIR-
CONDITIONED STADIUMS. IF JABBA
THE HUTT EVER SLITHERED OFF
TATOOINE, HE WOULD BE IN THE
CHEAP SEATS AT ARLINGTON’S
Oddly enough, the vast majority of those I spoke to welcome the change. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they
opened up about the benefits of Supercross going bigger.
One industry magnate mentioned viewership, through strong
attendance numbers and TV ratings, as the reason. He has
a point. In 2016, the Supercross series drew 773,961
spectators for an average of 48,373 fans per event. For the
sake of comparison, Supercross pulled an average of 34,852
spectators back in 1991. That’s a 38.79-percent growth in
25 years. On the television front, it’s true that Supercross
has endured growing pains since signing on with Fox Sports.
While every round in 2016 was broadcast live, several
were pushed to the lesser-subscribed Fox Sports 2 channel.
Conversely, two rounds were featured on Fox. Feld Motor
Sports intends on improving the TV package in coming years,
evidenced by their track record.
Supercross manages to avoid having a television package
cannibalize ticket sales. Fans are still shelling out money and
driving to the stadium. That’s partly due to the open pits,
side-show calamities, autograph opportunities and festival-like
atmosphere. The big draw, of course, is visual awareness.
Instead of relying on what a TV producer chooses to air,
spectators are able to take in all of the action as they wish.
Then there are creature comforts like toilets with running
water, cushioned seats and vendors walking around hawking
treats in air-conditioned stadiums. If Jabba the Hutt ever
slithered off Tatooine, he would be in the cheap seats at
Arlington’s AT&T Stadium.
Let’s not forget the ease of Supercross racing’s digestible
action. A night program lasts a hair over three hours, with
a series of short races. The longest event of the evening
is around 20 minutes—perfect for the adrenaline-craved,
iPhone-toting, 18-to-34-year-old viewer. There are no mid-race
timeouts. Any breaks in the action are filled with T-shirt giveaways, KTM Jr. Supercross, corny competitions and sponsorship plugs. That’s Feld’s formula for success. Now that cell
phones have become a social crutch, our reliance on technology will continue growing. Supercross fits the mold.
My concern is that a ballooning Supercross schedule will
have adverse effects on rider participation at the beginner
level. After all, what parent will watch Pros hucking 70-foot
triples and ask little Bobby if he wants to do the same? One
high-power executive had an answer. He believes that with
a Supercross-only schedule, fans will view Supercross as
the premier sport. He thinks people will have aspirations of
competing in Supercross, but those who don’t will resort
to motocross. I’m not so sure I believe that theory. Six-time
AMA Champion Jeff Stanton summed it up best by saying,
“Kids learn to ride motocross. They don’t jump right in on a
Supercross level. Without the youth following, we’re not going
to have anyone! There will be 10 guys on the start line, and
we won’t even have a show.” The sport grows from the bot-
tom to the top, so without participation, there is no future.
What of the AMA Nationals? After all, there are only so
many weekends in a year. If Supercross expands to 20
races, will MX Sports start their series in the middle of
June and race until the end of September? Will they cut
races? Riders like Eli Tomac have already publicly voiced
their concern about the length of the season. Ultimately, the
race teams and manufacturers will be the deciding factor.
Without talent lining up to the gate, the bottom falls out.
Personally, it pains me to think about a shrunken National
schedule. Unadilla, Red Bud, Washougal and Millville embody
what the sport is about. Motocross is what I know, and it’s
why I started riding in the first place. As for Supercross, a
decent life-insurance-policy payout for my family aside, I
would never think of trying to blitz a set of whoops.
Supercross is a spectacle; motocross is real.
Feld Entertainment purchased Supercross (along with
Monster Jam, AMA Arenacross and the International Hot
Rod Association) in 2008 from Live Nation for $205 million.
Entertainers as well as entrepreneurs, the Feld family is
looking to grow their empire. Supercross is only a fraction of
the total business, but it’s obviously paying huge dividends.
Back in 2014, Forbes.com conducted an interview with
Juliette Feld. When asked if Supercross was going to expand
internationally, Juliette ended her answer by smiling coyly
while saying, “We’ll have to see what the future holds.”
Yes, I believe that we will.