The checkered flag falls at NASCAR’s final event of the year – the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jeff Gordon wins. He’s crowned NASCAR world champion. And Dale Earnhardt Jr. is crowned NASCAR Nextel Cup champion by virtue of his second place finish.
The Formula 1 championship comes down the final race of the year in Brazil. After the race, Michael Schumacher is crowned champion. And so is Fernando Alonso. (For Fernando’s championship, he raced two extra races earlier in the season, and his results from the Monaco Grand Prix do not count.)
The referee’s whistle blows at the end of the NFL’s Super Bowl in January. The Pittsburgh Steelers have defeated the Seattle Seahawks. The Steelers are crowned champions. The Seahawks are crowned champions too.
Can you imagine any of these far-fetched scenarios happening? The leaderships of NASCAR, Formula 1, and the NFL are smart enough, and have enough common sense to know those scenarios would never fly with their fans, corporate partners, and competitors.
Try explaining the concept of two supercross series to someone at a race for the first time: “Well, you see, there is a ‘world’ supercross series that has two rounds in Canada. But they don’t count the Daytona supercross, and …. “
Actually, two series is a symptom of a much larger problem: lack of leadership. Who is looking out for the best interest of supercross as a whole? No one. Everyone is looking out for their own best interests, with no unifying force in place solely to provide leadership for the sport.
Let’s look briefly at four groups that have an interest in supercross:
1. The riders
Pluses: Fans pay their money to watch them compete, especially the top stars of the sport. Minuses: They are young, lacking maturity & business experience. Many of them don’t even have a high school education. They do not compete as a group, but as individuals.
Supercross super-star James Stewart is 20 years old. He’s considered a veteran. Current AMA Supercross Series champion Ricky Carmichael’s 26, and will retire from full-time motorcycle racing at the end of the season.
In most major sports, many athletes are reaching their physical, emotional, and mental peaks in their late 20’s. Not so in supercross.
2. The manufacturers / OEMs (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, KTM)
Pluses: They have the top riders, and can choose where they race. Minuses: They are being priced out of fielding multi-rider teams, and, economic reality could set in at some point in the future.
Remember, each of these entities in the USA does not actually build motorcycles. They get them from their parent companies in Japan and Austria respectively.
A team manager recently said “Manufacturers as a whole outlay more money into the sport than any other group. Racing supercross on a corporate level requires incredible investment in hardware, staff, infrastructure, and support. In the 70’s and 80’s, it was common for factory teams to have 5 – 8 riders under contract. Now, with today’s top riders receiving compensation in the millions of dollars, you see most manufacturer teams with two riders instead. Top rider salaries are making it prohibitive for us to field large teams.”
In the future, will factories look closer at the actual ROI (return on investment) they receive? Factory backed teams have withdrawn from other motor sports series before, to invest their capital in more fruitful endeavors, so the idea is not entirely inconceivable. (In 1968 Honda withdrew from F-1 racing to more fully develop low-emission technologies.)
3. The AMA
The AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) is the sanctioning body of motorcycling in the USA, and AMA Pro Racing is a for-profit subsidiary of the AMA.
Pluses: They own the rights to the most prestigious off-road motorcycling series in the world (the AMA Supercross Series). Minuses: They have not been able to effectively communicate who they are, and what they do.
AMA appears to be in a good position – they control the rights to their events. They have been in existence since 1924, and have a membership of 270,000 plus. Their mission statement is ‘to serve the interests of motorcyclists by pursuing, promoting and protecting the future of motorcycling’.
Recently, from an enthusiast’s perspective, they seem to have lost their way. What exactly is the AMA’s focus? It appears as if they don’t have the knowledge, skill, organization, or cajones to be true leaders. Are they under capitalized? Overwhelmed? Understaffed? In regards to supercross, there seems to be no clear message as to what their core focus is.
4. Live Nation (Formerly Clear Channel, formerly SFX, formerly Pace, etc.)
Live Nation is currently the largest promoter of supercross in the USA, handling 15 of the AMA Supercross Series events.
Pluses: ‘Perceived’ power, excellent infrastructure. Minuses: History of business ‘style’ has produced, among other things, an inquiry by the U. S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division, a high profile lawsuit, court case, and settlement in the millions of dollars. Their history of business ‘practices’ has created ill-will with some both in and out of the industry.
When the AMA was discussing future supercross promotional rights with another business entity (Jam Sports), did Clear Channel create the ‘world’ supercross series (World Supercross GP) to create confusion amongst fans, industry, sponsors, and others, and to dilute value in the AMA Supercross Series? Regardless of the reason, having two ‘series’ has done exactly that.
Should supercross have a Commissioner?
A Commissioner is an official selected by an athletic association to exercise administrative leadership.
If you know anything about major sports in the USA, you’ve heard of these men: Bud Selig, Paul Tagliabue, and David Stern. They are the respective Commissioners of Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA.
These major sports made great strides once they embraced the idea of a Commissioner.
Baseball’s National League started in 1876. Judge K. Landis was elected baseball’s first Commissioner in 1921. The MLB Players Union negotiated their first CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) in 1968.
The NFL began in 1922. In 1941 Elmer Layden became Commissioner of the NFL. In 1956, the NFL Players Association was founded.
The NBA was created in 1949. The NBA elected it’s first commissioner, Maurice Podoloff, in 1949. The NBA Players Union began in April 1957.
A Commissioner of supercross would have to address many issues in the near future, including:
- Riders Union
- Comprehensive TV contracts
- Drug testing
- Insurance / Pension
- Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)
- Increased purse monies / Revenue sharing
- Licensing agreements
Unions came about in the first place because company owners took advantage of their work force. Companies normally look to maximize profit by giving their staff as little as possible, and by charging the consumer as much as possible.
Two positive effects of a Riders Union would be: education & unification for the riders, and, (much like the US government has three major branches – Executive, Legislative, & Judicial to balance each other out) make sure one entity does not have too much power over any other.
Give the riders, the manufacturers, the sanctioning body, and the promoters representation to create a management board, evaluate candidates with the knowledge and experience to lead, and elect a Commissioner.
Regardless of the concept of a Commissioner, supercross needs real & effective leadership. Supercross can keep the status quo: stay the same, unbalanced, a minor sport in the world’s eye, with everyone looking out for their own interests. Or, with proper leadership, it can mature and blossom into a major sport of 21st century. Let’s hope it’s the latter.
Next topic: How about changing the names of the classes to ‘250s’ and ‘450s’? (The name ‘Lites’ bites!)