After my brief appearance on PitPass Radio I got a nice follow-up e-mail from the crew – Scott Casber, Tony Wenck, and Ed Kuhlenkamp. I forgot to mention Ed in my earlier post about the show. He is president of BUILD-MOMENTUM High-Performance Marketing and serves as a third co-host on the show, usually calling in from his home in North Carolina. Ed’s got a pretty high-powered background in marketing and business development, and his company is doing some very good work helping motorcycle sports companies. Scott is a radio and media guy that likes bikes. And Tony is a racer, race promoter, and race team manager. All three are pretty visionary guys.

We exchanged a few more e-mails regarding my thoughts on the AMA, mostly because Ed and Tony hold different views than I do on the state of the AMA, the source of its trouble, and what needs to happen to fix it. Over the course of our discussions several points came up that I think are likely indicative of the way the motorcycle industry views the AMA and motorcycle riders (who are, in fact, the industry’s customers.) But here’s one that really stuck out:

The lack of support for the AMA is the most glaring issue with the motorcycle community and the problem resides with the riders, not the AMA.

This just can’t be right. The problem cannot be the riders. If a business (and the AMA is a business) is in trouble then there are only two broad reasons (excluding uncontrollables such as natural disaster and government intervention):

  • Mismanagement (corruption, bad product, bad marketing, etc.)
  • Failing to serve customers (which actually rolls back to mismanagement.)

If riders do not support the AMA in sufficient numbers it is because the AMA is not offering a product or products that are sufficient to gain their support. Period. Blaming the customers is dumb.

The Recording Industry Association of America (the association of music companies that want to sell you separate CDs to use in your car, home, iPod, etc) has become infamous for blaming its customers – going so far as to sue huge numbers of them – as it kicks and screams its way to a slow, agonizing, well-deserved, and long overdue death. This has been a remarkably unsuccessful strategy for the music industry. Their sales continue to plummet, their customers continue to disregard their wishes, and now their biggest channel partners are kicking them in the ass telling them it’s time to move on and do what the customers want.

Which brings us back to the AMA. My earlier post Effects of Motorcycle Industry Consolidation on the AMA says:

Like it or not it’s all about the money. The AMA cannot represent the riders and the motorcycle industry at the same time because we, the riders, are not equal to the industry. Our interests and needs are not going to align perfectly with the industry. And we are stupid if we think our paltry membership (250,000 members is about $10 million in dues) is going to get us equal footing in a conflict.

The idea that the riders are somehow at fault for the AMA’s troubles says a lot about how the industry sees us, and how it sees the AMA. In AMA Motocross is Not NASCAR I noted how the AMA History page informs us that the association grew out of the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association early in the 20th Century and how even today the association’s structure is split between the two groups – riders and industry. Yet the two groups are not equally represented.

In short, if the motorcycle industry views its customers as the problem, and the AMA’s trouble as a sign that the customers are just not cooperating, then we should all run as fast as we can away from the AMA.

I’m excited by Rob Dingman’s big announcement. It represents a possibility for real change. But not nearly enough. From a rider’s perspective the AMA is seriously flawed in both its structure and its approach. I’m not aware of any consumer/customer advocate organization that has half its board made up of the industry that serves those same consumers, nor any that gives every corporate member a vote at meetings while limiting its customer congress to making non-binding recommendations.

In short, the AMA is seriously screwed up as a riders’ organization and a lot will have to change before I can throw my support behind them.

Wow! Really big news this week. AMA president Rob Dingman has announced plans for the AMA to stop promoting professional racing.

PICKERINGTON, Ohio (September 14, 2007) – The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has announced that it is embarking on an ambitious new plan to fundamentally change the way it conducts business. Specifically, the AMA is getting out of the racing series promotions business and will begin seeking series promoters for each of its professional and amateur racing disciplines.

In making the announcement, AMA President/CEO Rob Dingman, said the organization must ultimately define the distinction between the traditional roles of a sanctioning organization and that of a series promoter. “It is clear to the senior management of the AMA that we must change the way we handle the business of racing,” said Dingman. “Unfortunately the AMA’s role has become blurred and this lack of clarity has led to an erosion of confidence in the organization. The primary objectives of this new initiative are to improve AMA Championship Racing overall and realign the company so it can be successful in its historic mission of serving the needs of motorcyclists by pursuing, promoting and protecting the future of motorcycling.” [More…]

It’s hard to read exactly what this means. I’m not sure even Dingman knows just yet. A lot depends on how the AMA defines “promotion” vs “sanctioning”. I’m not at all convinced the AMA should even be a sanctioning body. But I’m prepared to listen to what he has in mind. It’s clear I’m not the only one who thinks the AMA is ill suited for a professional motorsports business.

There are some things the AMA could be doing as a sanctioning body – safety research, track owner education, etc. It all depends on how they spend their limited resources. But one thing I do know. They’re going to have to make some significant changes and prove they’re serious about this before the grassroots riders take them seriously. I’m eager to see what happens.