SBJ/June 11-17, 2012/Opinion

Sponsors follow when competitors make ‘motocrossover’

There’s a saying in action sports: “With age comes the cage.” When professional two-wheel competitors get older, they have a tendency to seek the protection of a four-wheel vehicle with a roll cage. I prefer to call it “motocrossover.”

Take, for example, Brian Deegan, co-founder of the Metal Mulisha. Deegan is the most decorated freestyle motocross competitor in the world. He’s also an X Games RallyCross gold medalist and a multiclass champion in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. At 32, Deegan’s days of freestyle competitions are behind him, but his future with rally and short-course off-road racing will continue for many years.

This benefits not only the Metal Mulisha but other sponsors who are transitioning with Deegan from action sports to motorsports. Rockstar Energy Drink and Ford are also investing in this motocrossover. For the entire 2012 season of the Lucas Oil series, Deegan will drive the Raptor-influenced Rockstar Pro 2 Ford.

Monster Energy is also jumping into short-course off-road racing by sponsoring Stronghold Motorsports. Stronghold has several action sports icons on the team, including Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg, supercross legend Jeremy McGrath and X Games announcer Cameron Steele. As Deegan, Stenberg, McGrath and Steele all cross over from motorcycles to trucks — and from action sports to motorsports — their lifestyle sponsors are following.

As action sports stars migrate to motorsports, they bring awareness for sponsors and brands.
Photo by: VINCENT KNAKAL / MAD MEDIA
This year, several endemic skate brands, including DVS, Etnies, Osiris Shoes and DC Shoes, are aboard trucks in the Lucas Oil Off Road series, which is scheduled to receive 230 hours of airtime on CBS, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network, MavTV and Speed. As this mainstream network exposure converges with action sports and motorsports programming, we can expect to see more celebrity crossover athletes — and their sponsors — joining the race.

Ken Block, the skateboarder and co-founder of DC Shoes, was one of the first athletes to cross over to motorsports. After selling DC to Quiksilver for $87 million, Block had time to pursue his true passion: driving fast. He created the Gymkhana video series, started rally racing and thereby bridged the gap between action sports and motorsports. Not coincidentally, Block is sponsored by Monster Energy and Ford.

Ford, which recognized early on the value of action sports, has created “Octane Academy,” a reality series on Fuel TV with Block, Deegan, Tanner Foust and Vaughn Gittin Jr. These four youth icons have become the company’s brand ambassadors within action sports. According to Jamie Allison, Ford’s director of North American motorsports, “Every generation consumes motorsports differently, and today’s youth culture, the millennials, resonate with the excitement of action sports, which is becoming the foundational pillar of new forms of motorsports that we are supporting at Ford, like drifting, RallyCross, Gymkhana and short-course off-road truck racing.”

Block explains the consumer mentality. “Not every skateboarder is only a skateboarder,” he said. “There are lots of kids … that are into skateboarding, snowboarding — and they like to watch motocross.”

What makes these new motorsports so exciting to fans, and attractive to sponsors, is that they’re not just about the racing. They’re about lifestyle.

“There’s this cultural shift,” says C.J. Olivares, who founded Fuel TV and is now with GrindMedia, “where kids see it all as one. They see it as fun.” And that helps to attract sponsors who want to do more than slap a logo on a billboard, a graphic on a hood or a banner on a track. These new crossover companies know how to position their brands using the personalities of their brand ambassadors. Monster Energy, Rockstar and Red Bull aren’t just seeking increased logo impressions; they’re defining their culture and activating through the lifestyle of their brand ambassadors.

According to Jason May, marketing director of Rockstar Energy Drink, “I think the thing that sets action sports apart from traditional team sports is that there is a heightened level of creativity inherent to the individuals who are attracted to [action sports].”

One such person is Carey Hart, a former motocross competitor and founder of Team Hart and Huntington in the Lucas Oil Off Road series. Hart and Huntington Tattoo also was featured in the A&E series “Inked.”

“We’ve aligned with Carey’s brand more so than just with him,” May said. “Carey has transcended from being just an athlete to being an action sports icon.”

Short-course off-road racing appeals to action sports personalities because it’s like combining supercross, NHRA, the Baja 1000 and mixed martial arts all together in a stadium-like environment. Unlike the Baja 1000, which extends for a thousand miles from start to finish and is hard to attend and film, spectators of short-course racing sit in grandstands and watch the entire race from their seats.

The racing appeals to active youth because it’s like a fistfight on wheels. It’s a high-speed, full-contact sport. Drivers battle it out in 900-horsepower trucks around a track that looks like it’s made for motocross with jumps, whoops and high-banking berms. Sometimes the trucks get so banged up that there aren’t any body panels left over after a race.

As this new generation of celebrity drivers crosses over from action sports to motorsports, they’re bringing awareness to sponsors and brands that traditionally haven’t been involved with racing. “When I ask what’s going to make off-road racing bigger, it’s people like Brian Deegan, who others follow,” said Hezy Shaked, founder of action sports retailer Tilly’s. “More people like him and Carey Hart are getting into this racing.”

Perhaps that’s why Metal Mulisha and Hart and Huntington are two of the fastest growing brands in the retailer’s 141 stores.n

Alex Striler (AlexStriler@LucasOil.com) is the director of sales and marketing for Lucas Oil Off Road.

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