Features 8 Feb 2010

The X Factor

Take a look inside the sport of Supercross in Australia two years into the Monster Energy Super X series featuring Chad Reed and promoted by Global Action Sports.

Reed and Global Action Sports have been a major force behind leading Supercross into a new era.

Reed and Global Action Sports have been a major force behind leading Supercross into a new era.

Brisbane’s QSAC Stadium is packed with 24,887 fans eager to get a glimpse at Australia’s multiple-time world champion Chad Reed.

The opening ceremonies take place as the top 10 riders in the series are introduced one by one, raising the spirit as the top three hit centre stage with video reviews of their seasons to date on the big screens around the circuit.

Finally, Reed comes blasting out on his Kawasaki KX450F from backstage, aka the pit area, completing an introductory lap and jumping all the technical rhythm sections without single look beforehand.

The crowd goes absolutely ballistic and later that night fans would have the joy of witnessing Reed score a clean-sweep of the night’s proceedings on route to his second successive Super X, Australasian Supercross Championship.

This is Super X, and American-based Reed is the star of the show, raising the sport to new levels in and boosting his domestic buddies with him into the mainstream.

In 2009, Super X scaled to new heights once again, building from its inaugural season one year earlier and improving many aspects of the sport following feedback from series stakeholders and fans.

Super X was announced by new promoter Global Action Sports in January 2008, 10 months before the series would officially commence in October, with a straightforward mission statement being the aim of the game: “Create and Implement a new and innovative national Supercross series which popularises the sport into the mainstream through the development of great TV.”

GAS’s secret weapon it held up its sleeve was the announcement that Reed would be contesting the initial three seasons of Super X to help it launch, with Reed also revealed as a partner in the series ownership.

“For a long time I’ve been wanting to lift the profile of Supercross in this country and play a role in it. I want to put Supercross back on the map,” Reed explained upon the launch of the new series.

Reed is massively popular in the U.S and is quickly gaining recognition at home, too.

Reed is massively popular in the U.S and is quickly gaining recognition at home, too.

“Supercross has been kind of run down here and it needs to be changed up a bit,” he continued. “Supercross is what I love most and what I’ve made a career out of. Motocross is cool and more grass roots, but Supercross is more action-packed.”

And that love for the sport is what has attracted Reed to take a risk in investing in the sport on a national level, effectively forcing him to race year-round as he competes in around 30 events per year in the United States before adding the seven rounds of Super X to his schedule to cap off the season.

For road race fans, Reed’s participation is the equivalent of having Casey Stoner return from the MotoGP World Championship to contest the Australian Superbike Championship during his off-season.

“To have a world champion who is still competing on the world stage actively participate in the running and promotion of the sport is a huge coup for this country and not something we have ever seen before,” Motorcycling Australia CEO David White explained.

Reed, combined with GAS’s Mike Porra, has proved a lethal combination in trying to put Supercross racing on the map as a leading motorsport in Australia, with Porra’s resume boasting the running of events such as Uncle Toby’s Iron Man Super Series and the iconic Crusty Demons of Dirt.

“In the United States and Europe Supercross is personified by its heroes, each event is a complete experience where racing plays the lead role but is backed up by various forms of entertainment and exhibition sessions,” Porra said of Supercross. “Our aim is to create these superstars and bring a new element of excitement to the events.”

A strategy was set in place with live television secured on Fox Sports, as well as delayed telecasts aired on Network Ten and Fuel TV, with the television deal the first Supercross series in the world to secure live television for the entire seven-round series – running prime time on Saturday nights over an eight week period spanning through the months of October and November.

The circuits were built to the specification of the American AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, series, finally giving our domestic stars the opportunity to shine on full size tracks as the series stepped up from the entertainment centres of old into massive outdoor football and athletic stadiums.

True to Porra’s reputation, settling for the traditional race formats wasn’t part of his grand plan, featuring just two traditional 20-lap main events during the 2008 season and then phasing them out last year altogether in the Pro Open category.

Instead, fast-paced race formats have been used with great success, albeit with some refinements along the way, and the industry has slowly adapted to the realisation that tighter, more action-packed racing makes for much greater entertainment then watching Reed win by 30 seconds after 20 laps.

The level of our local greats such as Jay Marmont, Tye Simmonds, Daniel McCoy and Cody Mackie has improved exponentially as they follow in Reed’s footsteps, while Pro Lites riders like Matt Moss and a host of young guns strive to be like Australia’s best ever.

The likes of domestic stars Marmont (2), McCoy (65) and Boyd (4) are now Super X contenders.

The likes of domestic stars Marmont (2), McCoy (65) and Boyd (4) are now Super X contenders.

Crowds have flocked to see the heavily-advertised Super X series, with the opening year attracting 91,000 fans to the live events throughout the country in Perth, Adelaide, Geelong, Wollongong, Townsville and the grand final in Brisbane.

Surprisingly, for the second year GAS set a goal for a total crowd figure of 82,800 – a 10 percent decrease compared to the first year in light of the “second year blues” and the Global Financial Crisis that struck the world in 2009.

But instead, the series exceeded the promoters’ own expectations, reaching out to 90,800 spectators and only just falling short of the opening year crowd figures, axing Adelaide and Wollongong from the schedule, replacing those events with one in Launceston and another in Canberra, also experiencing its first overseas journey to Hamilton in New Zealand.

Television ratings in 2009 increased by approximately 20 percent over 2008 to almost five million viewers, while the official website at SuperX.com.au also received over 300,000 unique visitors through the months of July-December.

A massive coup for Super X in 2009 was the title sponsorship of Monster Energy Drink, the American company using the sport of Supercross to spearhead its campaign in launching into Australia – also featuring as the title sponsor of Super X in the U.S.

“Super X is the perfect mechanism for us to carry our brand forward in Australia and New Zealand. Our sponsorship of the AMA championship gives us and Super X the opportunity to emulate the success of the U.S. series in this market as well as take it to a whole new level,” said Monster Energy Australian and NZ manager Adrian Hunter.

From this point, it seems the only way is up for Super X in Australia, continuing the progression of the sport domestically and already securing the services of current world champion James Stewart and top-line American Ryan Villopoto for 2010.

GAS intends to invest more dollars towards a mainstream marketing campaign in the future, a strategy that it hopes will expose the sport to the entire Australian population, working with major sponsors to develop marketing and promotional campaigns aimed at the general public via their distribution outlets.

The future will see GAS work with its television partners to cross-promote Super X on other stations and programs, also planning to develop a national viewer promotion while further investing more money to work with News Limited newspapers in each state to ensure the series receives major coverage both pre- and post-events.

It’s all about investment at this stage in the game, two years on in an all-new revolution of the sport, and the results to date have been encouraging enough for GAS to push ahead in the quest to challenge V8 Supercars as the leading motorsport in Australia.

The 2009 running of the Monster Energy Super X, Australasian Supercross Championship, experienced a new level in competition with eventual champion Chad Reed coming under massive amounts of pressure in his debut with Monster Energy Kawasaki.

Reed won the Open class, while Matt Moss was the man in the Lites.

Reed won the Open class, while Matt Moss was the man in the Lites.

Reed had a rocky start to the season with Rockstar CDR Yamaha’s Jay Marmont winning the opening round in Launceston, before Reed bounced back in Geelong to claim the victory in the second round.

A superb third round indoors at Perth’s Burswood Dome in Western Australia saw Woodstock Honda Thor Racing’s Dan Reardon take his first Super X win, holding off Reed by the narrowest of margins on the final lap in the only indoor round of the series.

The series then headed back to the east coast for its inaugural round in the country’s capital at Canberra Stadium, where Marmont took an inspirational round win just two days following the death of his baby daughter, Lila.

One week later Marmont took over the series lead for the second time of the season with a third place at Parramatta Stadium in Sydney, but it was at that round where Reed hit his stride.

From that point, Reed proved unstoppable with clean-sweeps at Parramatta, Hamilton in New Zealand, and then again at Brisbane to round out the season as the undisputed champion.

Other standouts during the season were Motorex KTM’s 17-year-old rookie Tye Simmonds, Pacific Ink Coastal KTM privateer Daniel McCoy, and even the King of Supercross Jeremy McGrath, the retired American scoring second at Parramatta.

Other international Aussies who have made the trip this year include Rockstar Makita Honda Racing’s Michael Byrne, as well as Suzuki’s Jake Moss until he was injured in the opening outing.

A dominant season for Rockstar Motul Suzuki’s Matt Moss saw the 21-year-old wrap up the Pro Lites Super X title with one round to spare in the six round series on the all-new 2010 model RM-Z250, winning ahead of Serco Yamaha’s American import Kyle Cunningham and Shift Motul Suzuki’s Lawson Bopping.

Super X has revolutionised the sport of Supercross racing in Australia, introducing short and sharp finals after the riders qualifying through a series of heat races that make for a much greater show both live at the stadiums and live on television.

The formats scheduled for the eight-round 2009 season were all unique to Super X, featuring zero traditional 20-lap main events in the Pro Open class and instead consisting of specifically designed formats to boost entertainment.

Revamped formats made for plenty of action-packed starts in 2009.

Revamped formats made for plenty of action-packed starts in 2009.

Round one’s format in Launceston was the Triple Challenge, where the Pro Open competitors had to contest three six-lap finals to make up the final positions for the round – with 20 points scored for first and one point for 20th in each of the three races to decide the final points.

Geelong’s second round was the Quad Challenge, where the main event was made up of four five-lap finals with just five minutes separating the finals, before Perth’s third round inside the Burswood Dome saw the Round Robin introduced.

The Round Robin format was new for 2009, consisting of three rounds of three five-lap heats with 10 riders in each contested in a bid to make the 12-rider eight-lap main event.

Canberra saw the second Triple Challenge of the year take place, before Parramatta’s Sydney round of the series featured the hugely popular Survival format, where a series of four five-lap races saw 20 riders start before the bottom five in each race were eliminated until there were just five to finish up the night – with the twist being just a few minutes until the start of each race once the winner crosses the finish line.

New Zealand’s Hamilton round featured another Quad Challenge, before the season finale in Brisbane was scored via a Double Header format, simply featuring two 10-lap finals back-to-back to round out the season.

This season also saw the Pro Lites class take part in mixed formats at selected rounds, while also retaining the traditional 15-lap main event at other rounds during the season.

Super X in Australasia is becoming a massive spectacle worldwide, with riders from around the globe standing up and taking notice in the series that has quickly risen to being recognised as the second best series in the world behind the United States.

While Australia’s very own double world champion and current American AMA Motocross Champion sets the benchmark for Super X, American-based Aussies Dan Reardon, Michael Byrne and Jake Moss all made the trek home for the season in 2009.

The King of Supercross, American Jeremy McGrath starred in his second of two races in 2009, coming out of retirement to finish second behind Reed at the Parramatta round in a spectacular performance, proving he still has talent to burn just like he did in claiming seven AMA Supercross titles during his career.

King of Supercross McGrath (J) scored a spectacular second behind Reed at the Parramatta round.

King of Supercross McGrath (J) scored a spectacular second behind Reed at the Parramatta round.

The final round in Brisbane was supposed to see current world and AMA champion James Stewart make the trip down under for his Super X debut, until a virus ruled him out at the last minute much to the disappointment of fans nationwide.

GAS quickly stepped in to replace Stewart with not one, but two current AMA stars, Josh Grant and Davi Millsaps – both of whom have tasted race victories at the top of the sport in the States. Other Americans to grace the sport in Brisbane’s finale included young guns PJ Larsen and Scott Champion.

For 2010, Stewart is locked in, as is multiple-time AMA Pro Lites Supercross and Motocross Champion Ryan Villopoto, and McGrath, Millsaps and Grant have all expressed interest in returning for more.

Bring it on!

Super X may have raised the bar in Supercross promotion in Australia, but the sport does in fact have a rich history in the country thanks to Spokes Promotions’ running of the iconic Supercross Masters series for over 25 years.

The Supercross Masters series kicked off in November of 1981 at the Melbourne Royal Showground, later hosting events throughout the country at Sydney Entertainment Centre, Melbourne Tennis Centre, Brisbane Entertainment Centre and Adelaide Entertainment Centre as well as a host of outdoor showgrounds.

In 1999 Spokes hosted the first ever ticketed event at the Sydney Superdome (now known as ACER Arena), also gaining delayed television coverage on Network Ten as the producer of its own telecasts, and shining a bright light on the sport by importing American guests throughout its venture.

The final full season for the Supercross Masters took place in 2006, while 2007 was a mixed year for the sport with one round hosted by Spokes before current Australian Superbike Championship Championship promoter Yarrive Konsky stepped in at the last minute to promote the final rounds via Full Throttle Sports.

Reed and G.A.S have plenty to celebrate after a solid season last year.

Reed and G.A.S have plenty to celebrate after a solid season last year.

Global Action Sports will bring a whole new show to Australian shores in 2010, with hit MTV television show and popular DVD series “Nitro Circus” launching a new live show that will debut in Australia.

The Nitro Circus, headlined by former professional racer and international Freestyle Motocross hero Travis Pastrana, has risen to global fame, started by the innovative DVD series featuring Travis and friends performing outrageous stunts and on a range of crazy contraptions.

According to GAS, also the promoters of the Crusty Demons, the show itself will be a “fully choreographed action sports extravaganza, with the best tricks on the planet combined with mind-blowing stunts as only the Nitro Circus crew know how”.

A purpose-built multi-million dollar stage and set is currently being designed, with GAS the managing partners of the new venture – responsible for the creation, promotion and funding of the touring company.

“There will be characters and themes from the TV show, but the live show concept will be created from the ground up, as the most exciting and jaw dropping experience you can have inside an arena,” explained GAS CEO Mike Porra.

“It is our ambition to create the ’Cirque Du Soleil’ of action sports, which tours the world all year round. We believe Nitro Circus Live will transcend cultural boundaries, and like ‘Cirque’, it will be simply spectacular.”

The global premiere of the Nitro Circus World Tour will be the five Australian capital cities in May and June.

All images by Sport The Library.