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Revved up and on a roll
Published July 30, 2007
Kevin Robinson cut through a crowd of people and shuffled down an aisle of 18-wheelers just outside Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium. The smell of high-octane fuel and the steady staccato of revved engines surrounded him.
|Supercross visits 18 cities each season and
attracts more than 830,000 people annually.
The average ticket price is $25.
The 22-year-old was stoked. Supercross was back in Sin City where it would deliver another full day of action, and each year, Robinson found himself enjoying the races more and more.
“Supercross has gotten blown up,” said Robinson, a Las Vegas native who was attending his 22nd race. “Now there’s fireworks and light shows. There’s all these energy drinks and [women] dancing around everywhere. Before, there was nothing.”
Once a fairly simple event with a largely West Coast following, supercross has exploded into a Gen-Y Shangri-La brimming with pyrotechnics, loud bikes and scantily clad women. In the process, it’s vying to become the next big thing in action and motorsports.
The sport’s higher profile can be seen in everything from the packed arenas nationwide to the expanding and consistent coverage of competitions on TV, from the efforts to add a supercross course to the nation’s signature action sports camp — Woodward East — to the introduction of a new form of the sport — Moto X racing — at this summer’s X Games.
“It’s big with a big opportunity for growth still,” said Steve Astephen, Wasserman Media Group’s president of action sports. “You can’t beat the fact that they do 18 weeks in a row with 70-something thousand people, but it’s really a sleeping giant.”
Bob Walker, a sports marketing executive with Omnicom’s Connexions Sports and Entertainment, agreed, saying, “It’s the best-kept secret in sports marketing.”
The reasons include the sport’s appeal to 18- to 34-year-old males, its room for sponsorship growth, the addition of new team owners and its evolving TV package with Speed and CBS.
Racing into stadiums
Supercross developed from motocross more than 40 years ago. At the time, motocross held events in the countryside where riders competed on expansive outdoor tracks.
Supercross brought the competition into stadiums, making it spectator friendly. The American Motorcyclist Association, the sport’s governing body, held the first major race at Daytona International Speedway in 1971.
The sport grew rapidly, but stalled until the mid-1990s when AMA turned it over to one promoter. The move ended decades of marketing by a multitude of companies by consolidating promotion under Pace Motorsports, now known as Live Nation.
Today, supercross visits 18 cities and attracts more than 830,000 people annually. Last year, it averaged 46,220 people, and 70,649 people filled the Georgia Dome for a race.
The average ticket price is $25, making it more affordable than a NASCAR race and only $10 more expensive than a day at AST Dew Tour or the X Games’ skateboarding street competition.
And like NASCAR races and action sports events, supercross contests are all-day affairs. Pits open shortly after noon, offering fans a chance to see their favorite riders prepare for the evening competition.
At the final supercross race of the season in Las Vegas in May, more than 17,000 people packed into the pits over the course of five hours. The early part of the day was dominated by families, but that crowd gave way to men in their late teens and 20s.
Only WWE delivers a higher percentage of males ages 18 to 34 than supercross, which attracts a crowd that tilts slightly older than the X Games and the Dew Tour’s 12- to 18-year-old set. Young men who follow the sport are 44 percent more likely to be that age than the national average, according to Scarborough Research.
Those young men dominated the pits in Vegas. Flat-brimmed ball caps topped their heads and oversized, square sunglasses shielded the sun from their eyes in the outdoor pits. Soul patches ran from their lips towards their chins, and tattoos covered their arms. T-shirts and tapered jeans piled up above clunky shoes by DC, Etnies or Adio.
They bounced from pit to pit, leaning over railings to watch mechanics and riders work on bikes less than five feet away. Some waited in line for autographs from top stars such as James Stewart, Chad Reed and Kevin Windham. Others grabbed posters and free samples handed out by the series’ sponsors.
Others, like Derek Sausman, 22, stopped with friends to watch four scantily clad women dance to thumping rap music in the back of a Toyota pickup truck. The girls — three blondes and a brunette — represented Amp’d Mobile, and their short black mini-skirts, black fishnet tights, tiny tank tops and white platform shoes attracted a crowd.
Sausman was among more than 30 young men who watched as they danced. He was attending his sixth supercross race in Las Vegas and said the sport had evolved over that period from a family-focused environment to one that catered to people age 16 to 26.
“It’s become the trendy thing,” he said. “You come. You party in the pits. You go to the race. It’s a great day.”
Driving corporate interest
Supercross’ ability to attract young men like Sausman has fueled major sponsorship growth over the last five years.
Increasingly, endemic sponsors like motocross bootmaker Alpinestars and EBC Brakes are joined by large public companies like Circuit City and Makita. And every major energy drink — from Rockstar to Monster and Red Bull to SoBe No Fear — has gotten involved.
The sport not only attracts young men, but those young men are also 10 percent more likely than the average population to have an income between $40,000 and $75,000, according to Scarborough Research.
“This is a sport where fans have money,” said Adrian Hunter, vice president of events at Amp’d Mobile, the series’ title sponsor. “They’re buying dirt bikes and accessories for them. If you’ve got a male that likes to burn cash and is passionate about his dirt bike, he’s going to be passionate about everything else.”
Sponsorship packages for the supercross series range from the mid-six figures for entry-level sponsorships to $2 million for presenting-level packages, annually.
Sources put Amp’d Mobile’s title sponsorship, a three-year agreement that has one year left, at more than $3 million.
Live Nation offers sponsors space to activate in the pits, media and on-track signage. It also accommodates companies interested in activating at individual races, charging them close to $20,000 for pit space.
|Sponsors set up shop in the pits of a supercross
race aiming for the sport’s young demo.
Live Nation doesn’t offer the only entrée into the sport, though. Companies also can back individual teams. Title sponsoring a competitive team costs $2.5 million or more annually, while associate-level sponsorships go for $400,000 to $700,000. Backing a team offers sponsors hospitality, rider appearances, rights to rider images and name, and branding on a rider’s gear, pit crew and bikes.
“Once you’re involved with a team, you’re getting great hits in the magazines, on site and on TV without doing anything,” said Napster President Brad Duea, whose company sponsors the Factory Connections race team. “It can be really self-activating.”
Napster’s sponsorship has paid off in other ways, as well.
A conversation at a race with fellow sponsor Samsung alerted Duea to the company’s efforts to make handsets with music capabilities. He worked with Randy Smith, vice president of telecommunications at Samsung, to make Samsung’s new BlackJack phone compatible with Napster. AT&T promoted the phone by offering free Napster access.
“What started in supercross gave us tremendous mainstream exposure,” Duea said.
But supercross sponsorship also has its downsides. It can be expensive for sponsors to travel to all 18 events around the country. Doing so requires putting a marketing team on the road for at least 16 weeks, and, in order to stand out in the pits, sponsors must transport a tent big enough to compete with the 18-wheelers that teams bring to each stop.
“You can throw a 10-by-10 tent in the back of a truck and hire a local model,” said Fuse marketing’s Issa Sawabini, “but you won’t stand out. You’ve really got to spend some cash.”
The sponsorship landscape in supercross is fragmented, as well. Live Nation, teams and riders, who own the rights to their helmets, all pursue the same sponsorship dollars, and each offers a different exposure opportunity that potential sponsors must weigh.
Because teams are sold separately from Live Nation, buying into a team doesn’t guarantee sponsors an activation footprint in the pits, and buying into Live Nation doesn’t guarantee series sponsors exposure on any riders.
Makita is one of the few sponsors to overcome that. The toolmaker, which sponsors Ricky Carmichael’s team, also cut a deal with Live Nation to sponsor the series so that the company could have a presence in the pits where it can feature its tools separate from its team’s truck.
The sponsorship landscape could become easier to navigate and more attractive as the sport’s team structure evolves. Currently, there are two types of teams: factory teams run by bike manufacturers such as Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki, and independent teams run by riders or owners.
Factory teams are increasingly giving way to independent teams, which have brought new sponsors to the sport. With the help of Wasserman Media Group, the L&M team featuring Chad Reed brought in the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians as a title sponsor, while another independent, Factory Connections, brought in SoBe No Fear energy drink.
The next wave of independent teams led by NASCAR’s Gibbs Racing should further that development. Coy Gibbs will run the team, which debuts next year, and he says he may encourage current NASCAR partners to get involved in supercross.
The opportunity to bring a Chevrolet, Home Depot or an Old Spice into the sport could further its exposure to a mainstream audience and elevate its profile.
“[Gibbs Racing’s] a story and it’s brand recognition,” said Ken Hudgens, vice president of marketing and television for Live Nation. “Those two things and a race team that’s competitive, cutting edge and committed can have a good influence on viewership, sponsorship, ratings — everything.”
Speeding onto TV
In many ways, supercross is in its television infancy. Though it appeared on ESPN from the 1980s through 2005, it generally bounced from time slot to time slot and suffered from what Hudgens called “a lack of focus on the network.”
Two years ago, though, Live Nation secured a new TV contract with Speed. The rights-fee agreement sees Speed broadcast 44.5 hours of supercross races annually with guaranteed Sunday programming showing the previous day’s race. Industry sources put the rights fee at more than $1 million annually.
Though Nielsen household ratings fell from a 0.28 in 2005-06 to a 0.2 this year, the sport contributed to a record 45 percent growth in viewership by men 18 to 34 at the network. It also doubled its advertising sales in year two, according to Todd Siegel, vice president of ad sales with Speed.
As part of the agreement, Speed offers a six-figure investment in promotional support annually. It’s also increased its offerings of the sport, going from one live event in 2005-06 to two last year and may add more.
Leaving ESPN also allowed Live Nation the freedom to negotiate a time-buy agreement with CBS, providing supercross with its first network exposure in more than a decade.
|Buying into supercross teams doesn’t
guarantee sponsors activation in the pits.
But a consistent schedule and more network and live broadcasts haven’t solved all of the sport’s TV problems. Sponsors, agents and sports marketers say the production quality of broadcasts lags far behind most sports properties.
“The television is terrible,” Astephen said. “The production and the creativity has to be 10 times better, but it’s improving every single year.”
ESPN has some ideas of its own for improving production of the sport. The network will add Moto X racing, its own spin on the sport, to this year’s X Games.
It plans to reduce the field of riders from 20-plus to 16 in the first race and shrink it to only six riders for the finals. It also will reduce the number of laps the riders make around the track. It will devote a camera to each rider in the finals.
“As a viewer, it will be easier to root for people when you can see them on TV and you don’t get lost trying to find your guy,” said Chris Stiepock, X Games general manager. “A shorter race will hopefully lead to better finishes by preventing people from getting runaway results.”
Executives at Live Nation doubt ESPN’s entrance into supercross will have much impact on the sport. Hudgens said, “ESPN didn’t have a lot of interest when they had it and now it’s part of the X Games. I couldn’t tell you what that means.”
But others see its addition to the X Games as another sign of growth. They point to Rally America’s addition to the X Games last year. That move improved Rally’s credibility and visibility by giving its athletes TV exposure and placement on EXPN.com.
“With supercross getting added to X Games, it’s only going to make the sport bigger by reaching a wider audience and broadening its exposure,” Astephen said.
If that increased exposure results in revenue growth, the addition of more nonendemic sponsors and the development of the sport on TV, it will only accelerate the sport’s ascent, sports marketers and sponsors say.
“I would like to think it will grow like NASCAR,” said new owner Coy Gibbs. “For a long time with NASCAR, people didn’t think it could be done. Then you’d take them and they were hooked, and I think supercross will be the same way.”
2008 Supercross schedule
|Jan. 5, 2008||Anaheim||Angel Stadium|
|Jan. 12, 2008||Phoenix||Chase Field|
|Jan. 19, 2008||Anaheim||Angel Stadium|
|Jan. 26, 2008||San Francisco||AT&T Park|
|Feb. 2, 2008||Anaheim||Angel Stadium|
|Feb. 9, 2008||San Diego||Qualcomm Stadium|
|Feb.16, 2008||Houston||Reliant Stadium|
|Feb. 23, 2008||Atlanta||Georgia Dome|
|March 1, 2008||Indianapolis||RCA Dome|
|March 7, 2008||Daytona Beach, Fla.||Daytona International Speedway|
|March 15, 2008||Minneapolis||Metrodome|
|March 29, 2008||Toronto||Rogers Centre|
|April 5, 2008||Irving, Texas||Texas Stadium|
|April 12, 2008||Detroit||Ford Field|
|April 19, 2008||St. Louis||Edward Jones Dome|
|April 26, 2008||Seattle||Qwest Field|
|May 3, 2008||Las Vegas||Sam Boyd Stadium|
Supercross series sponsors
Las Vegas Events
Motorcycle Mechanics Institute
Rockstar Energy Drink
U.S. Air Force
Source: Live Nation
|All American KTM
Bloodshot Rockstar Suzuki
Boost Mobile Yamaha of Troy Racing
Butler Brothers MX
Factory Makita Suzuki
Factory Monster Energy Kawasaki
Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Motoworld.com PPG Yamaha
Source: Live Nation