Two things of note this past week in the world of motocross (three, I guess, but I’m not all that interested in who hired Chad Reed — it was obvious someone would) – Youthstream opens U.S. office in southern California, and CycleNews publishes an interview with FIM president Vito Ippolito confirming the FIM’s intentions to grow a Supercross World championship (Cycle News Issue #32, Aug. 13, 2008, pg 7.)
Neither of these things is unexpected, but together they are an important warning — nature abhors a vacuum, particularly the vacuum created when the AMA sold off professional racing.
Under the AMA pro racing in every discipline except road race and SX was a goat rodeo and a national embarrassment. Getting out of the racing business was overwhelmingly the right thing to do. Selling most everything to Daytona Motorsports Group was the right choice. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t get some new and different problems in the bargain.
One problem is that Supercross is a sort of bastard stepchild, grandfathered under a very nearly perpetual contract to LiveNation, a company whose business is live event promotion. LiveNation produces nearly 30,000 events each year, ranging from monster trucks to rock concerts. The AMA still has significant interest in, and rules-making rights for, SX under this contract. Although there have been rumors that these rights might be sold off as well, it’s not clear that they will be. This has split the US motocross scene in two, with the AMA/LiveNation on one side and the new AMA Pro Racing’s MX Nationals on the other. There’s currently a big disconnect between the worlds of MX and SX, and there is no longer a single entity to represent the US in international discussions. The moves by Youthstream and Ippolito are opening volleys in the war to fill the gap in this new world.
In the same issue of Cycle News Henny Ray Abrams’ “Chicanery” column lays out a doomsday scenario. Abrams is a firebrand, a muckraker, a hyperbolic prophet of doom who is unhappy no matter what the AMA does. He’s excoriated Rob Dingman since he took the helm of the AMA. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, I like to read his stuff. In Abrams’ vision LiveNation/AMA/FIM expand the SX World Championship to the point it sucks so many dollars, riders, and dates from the US Nationals the series collapses. The relevant quote from Ippolito is this:
The FIM is interested in having events outside of North America. If we have a World Championship, it must be a real World Championship. We have to push in this direction, and LiveNation agrees that this is important. They understand and are very interested to help have rounds outside of North America.
Abrams is right about a lot of things. Add 4 or 5 dates to the SX series, throw in the extra travel time to Asia and Australia, and you could have a real conflict with current MX National dates. At the very least you create a really long season. Now consider the Youthstream move, which has the following stated goal:
Youthstream USA has been formed to expand Youthstream’s worldwide operations and bring world-class events to the USA and other markets. This includes future Motocross and SuperMoto Grand Prix events and the prestigious Red Bull Motocross of Nations.
Do we not have world-class events here already? Do we not have the fastest motocross and Supercross riders in the world? How many former World Champions come here to test their metal after winning the FIM’s European “World” Championship? Again, from Ippolito:
In the Supercross World Championship we have 90-percent American riders, and in the Motocross World Championship we have 90-percent European riders. The problem is, Where are the American riders in the World Motocross Championship? Where are the European riders in the World Supercross Championship? Are these World Championships, or not? In MotoGP and World Superbike it is more universal.
And that is the problem. There’s no incentive for American riders to go to Europe, especially since the world’s largest, fastest motocross market (that would be us for those of you keeping score) is not included. Bringing 1 or 2 GP rounds to North America is not likely to solve this problem. We’re Americans. We don’t like eating a different ethnic food every week. We don’t like dealing with customs and passports for a bunch of little countries when over here we would just call them states and be done with it. It’s all quite fun as a vacation, but as a lifestyle, or as a way to make a living, it grows tiresome.
To get a handle on this the FIM and Youthstream need a piece of the US market. They need a way to change the perception of the MX Nationals in the US and the World, and to bring the MX Nationals underneath the “World Championships” in a way that is palatable to US fans. That’s why they bid on the MX Nationals series. And that’s why it’s a good thing Rob Dingman didn’t sell it to them.
We are looking at the opening rounds of a battle for world domination. The old status quo, where both sides muddled around in their own way, is falling. The US is the battleground — LiveNation/AMA/FIM on one side, AMA Pro Racing/MXSports on the other. My guess is that a truce will be formed. If the FIM push too far they will lose. There is no historical evidence that a European-based motorsports championship can dominate an American market. AMA Pro Racing/MXSports know this. But it would also be very cool to have some GP rounds and big international races here. Both side know this, too.
What is likely is a growing chasm between SX and MX, with more and more riders choosing one or the other. Arenacross is an attempt to create a grassroots version of SX, and there is a lot of territory in the US where small, indoor facilities are very popular for large parts of the year. Lots of little mini riders are growing up practicing on small SX tracks. Sooner or later motocross will be forced to abandon its younger American sibling and go head-to-head for riders and fans. If it is to survive it must have dedicated resources across the business spectrum – not merely become a stepchild of larger, Supercross-focused organizations.
To this end, Dingman’s decision may ultimately prove to be the right one, but we’re likely to see a lot of bloodshed in the meantime.