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The non-profit professional

October 11th, 2007 · No Comments · Politics of Riding, Racing

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dollar_roll2In AMA Motocross is Not NASCAR I noted that NASCAR is all business. The AMA is a private, non-profit corporation chartered in Ohio. Think about that.

Professional racing is so named because the racers are professionals – that is, they expect and work to make their living by racing motorcycles. By inference then, racing is approached as a profit-making enterprise by professional racers. This works great in NASCAR, F1, CART, IRL, etc. as all parties have a common understanding and guidepost for judging their progress. Actually, it works pretty well in the stick-and-ball sports too, where team owners, athletes, and fans all understand that the game is the game, but at the end of the day it’s about the money. So the integrity of the game is protected because all parties have a monetary incentive to do so, and that incentive is shared equally and evenly among them. Not to be confused with the money being shared equally. That’s a different thing.

This underlying profit-making motive levels the playing field for all participants. Everyone makes decisions on economic (meaning cost/benefit) parameters and in many cases there is some sort of open-book revenue sharing agreement. Having a common understanding that it’s all about the money makes it easier to compare relative value and get the money split appropriately among the parties. Everything has a market value, with competition and profit setting the boundaries of the playing field. At least that’s how it works most places.

But not at the AMA. As a non-profit the AMA is disconnected from the concept of professional as profit maker. I don’t mean that the AMA’s Director of Competition or various racing officials don’t get the obvious point that racers need to make money. They do. But the AMA’s very structure, as a membership corporation, is anathema to the profit making motive. And this has a profound effect on how the AMA runs its racing programs.

Manufacturers participate in NASCAR, F1, etc. because those organizations offer a marketing outlet they can leverage. NASCAR, F1, etc. have an incentive to build their sport such that it’s a better name recognition opportunity for various manufacturers than the alternatives. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday applies in NASCAR and F1, but no one expects to run out and buy Michael Waltrip’s Toyota or Felipe Masa’s Ferrari.

AMA professional racing is almost diametrically opposed in every way. Yes, AMA professional racing is a lot smaller than auto racing. But we need to honestly ask the question – is the structure of AMA racing the way it is as a response to the small size, or is the small size of AMA racing a result of the structure? Is professional motorcycle racing trapped by a governance model that was designed in the 1920s

If you have a single, successful example of a growing, vibrant, healthy, non-profit professional racing organization in the US (or anywhere else, for that matter) please let me know about it. I’m not aware of any.

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