SBJ/July 30 - August 5, 2007/SBJ In Depth

Motocross continues to evolve, grow

Though the supercross season ends each May, most of its riders, sponsors and fans keep going. They turn their attention outdoors to the Toyota AMA motocross series, a 12-race championship that concludes in September.

The motocross series preserves the grassroots of the sport, and caters to committed fans and devoted riders. It’s also a sport that’s continuing to evolve.

The sport has benefited from a group of promoters
who collectively market events.

Close to a decade ago, the 12 track promoters behind each race united under the National Promoters Group. The group allowed them to collectively market the sport for the first time, and they’re already seeing the benefits. They’ve made facility upgrades, bringing in fencing, permanent bathrooms and pavement, to make the sport more fan friendly.

Now 40 to 50 18-wheelers visit each of the 12 stops. That’s an increase over just two 18-wheel transporters prior to the promoters making track improvements. The change is an indication of the growth of stadium-based supercross and an improved business model, which are both helping drive the growth of motocross, according to people familiar with both sports.

Because the purses are smaller for motocross than supercross — $22,000 to $25,000 per race versus $47,000 — a few riders like Chad Reed opt not to participate, but most, including Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Kevin Windham, make a point of being at every event.

Since the races take place at outdoor tracks in rural locations such as Southwick, Mass., and Buchanan, Mich., fewer fans turn out to watch them than supercross. Average attendance last year was 23,795 — a record. One of the largest events — outside Sacramento in Rancho Cordova, Calif. — draws 27,000 over three days.

“I compare supercross to a Rolling Stones concert and motocross to Lollapalooza,” said Bob Walker of Connexions Sports and Entertainment. “It’s truly the core of the sport and it attracts the most passionate fans.”

Fans of the sport are generally the same. While motocross races still attract a young male demographic, more families tend to go to supercross races.

For sponsors, the price to get involved in motocross is less than half the cost of supercross. The sport has only 24 hours of programming on Speed Channel compared with the 44.5 hours that the Amp’d Mobile Supercross Series receives. It currently does not do a time buy on CBS like supercross does, either.

The lack of network TV, fewer races and half as many fans drop sponsorship prices from more than $1 million annually to the low to high six figures.

Title sponsor Toyota is one of the few nonendemic backers of the sport and sees it as an extension of its commitment to supercross. The company uses the relationship to promote its Toyota Tundra truck and got involved based on research that showed 75 percent of motocross fans own a truck.

“It’s gotten our vehicles out there and that’s huge,” said Jim Baudino, marketing manager at Toyota. “Anyone in the pits is exposed and if they get people talking, that builds awareness in the motocross community.”

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