Features 7 Sep 2017

The Point: Domestic race teams

What's going on with professional motocross and supercross programs locally.

In the ever-changing landscape of motocross racing, it’s not been uncommon to see various teams enter and/or withdraw from the sport over the years. For 2018 we will see the exit of both the Carroll Motorsports outfit of Troy Carroll and the Motologic operation with Paul Free at the helm. With the privately-operated, factory-backed Kawasaki and Honda organisations closing their doors and with the future of those manufacturers remaining yet to be determined, MotoOnline.com.au decided to check in with a selection of industry personnel – including our own crew – for this edition of The Point and get their take on the current situation and the value of competing at a professional level domestically.

Image: MXN.

Craig Dack (CDR Yamaha team owner):
You need to look at things in three stages, being short-term, medium-term and long-term. If you look at the sport over a long-term view, it has been through its ups and downs, it has been through much worse times than it is going through at the moment. At the moment, in relative terms to what I’ve seen in my 35 years in the sport and 25 years as a team owner, things are pretty good. I know at the last motocross round we had record entries and supercross seems to be back on track, as four or five years ago we didn’t have a supercross series. As far as the industry goes at the moment, there do seem to be a fair few cutbacks happening and we will fall victim to those to some extent, but we’ve got a very solid business model and we’ve been through tough times before, so it’s all just sort of normal business for us. When things get tough, they all come good again, so don’t panic, the sun still comes up tomorrow morning and sets at night. But because Troy Carroll has dropped out, I don’t think he’s dropped out because of the economy, I think he’s just going in a different direction, and with Motologic, you can’t think that what they did in motocross has buried them, you need to remember that they’ve been predominately a road racing program for many years. Everybody just needs to take a deep breath and get your business model sorted so you can sustain these tough times. Especially with racing, you may go through a period where the industry is really good, but you’re not winning races, so that also puts a big strain on the relationship because they want results. There’s all sorts of different things that come to play with tough times.

Kevin Williams (MX Nationals series promoter):
We always have to be aware of what’s going on in the market, there’s no doubt about that. I guess I’m privileged to some information on some stuff that’s going on that I think is very positive. I believe that although Troy Carroll’s program has come to an end, Kawasaki will be still be racing and I’ve spoken to all of the manufacturers and the indication is that they will all still be racing. To what level though is probably a bit unknown at the moment, but I think over the next four weeks we’ll get a lot more clarity on it. KTM are increasing their involvement in racing and the word on the street is that they will have three riders in MX1 next year. Yamaha will continue with their strong presence, as I understand Suzuki are definitely going again and Kawasaki have told me that they will be racing again. Unfortunately as things tighten up you sometimes need to have a complete change in the way you do things to reset and that’s what’s probably happening with some of the manufacturers. It’s disappointing, I think Troy Carroll had a really good program this year and it worked well, but there always has to be change. We’re looking at change, we’ve got some big announcements to make that can assist in the affordability of racing and travel costs, so you know, it’s like every business model, we need to continue to review it and be prepared to make changes to the market as we move forward. Outside sponsorship is becoming more and more difficult to attract and we’ve got to be innovative and people really need to manage their costs throughout the business. We have 26 staff at each race now and with our travel and accommodation costs, we have to be really mindful of that the same as the teams do. It’s disappointing that Troy isn’t going again, but I fully respect his decision to spend more time with his family and look at what his other options are. Whilst the market is tough, our total rider numbers grew by over 100 during the series. At Coolum for example, for the first time in seven years we had qualifying at the final round in MX2 and our support classes were full at the last two rounds, so whilst the industry is doing it tough, there’s still people wanting to go racing. There is a bit of doom and gloom out there, but I believe there will be a turn and things will improve, we just need to keep adjusting our business as the market trends change.

Image: MXN.

Troy Carroll (Carroll Motorsports team owner):
I think the sport is definitely in a bit of a hole right now in Australia, but that’s not to say that there are a couple manufacturers out there that are doing it right. What happened with Carroll Motorsports was that the funding Kawasaki had to offer for 2018 wasn’t enough to sustain an organisation, as big as what mine was. That’s not to say that other teams couldn’t go out there and do it for whatever that figure is, but at my level it just wasn’t able to happen. Looking at the sport in general, I think we’re going to see a very weak field next year in the way of factory teams. I don’t think it’s Australia’s fault, it is happening worldwide, this isn’t just something where manufacturers have come and said ‘we’re going to cut budgets’. This is happening worldwide, it’s international, so I’m not blaming anybody for it, but it’s just the way it is – that’s business. 2018 was probably going to be one of the biggest years I’ve had in outside sponsorship, which shows that outside of the industry, people are willing to spend money, but our industry – the motorcycle industry – is suffering a little bit and it is a shame. Like I said, this isn’t anybody’s fault, it’s happening everywhere.

Jeremy Hammer (Foremost Media publishing content coordinator):
It’s definitely a bummer to see Carroll Motorsports and Motologic exit the sport, it’s never a good thing when operations like that pull the pin. Some might say it’s a sign of the times, but really, money has been tight in the industry for quite a long time, so it’s nothing new. Personally, I think it’s a sign that teams and riders need to change their approach so that companies can see value in investing in the sport. Sure, motocross and supercross isn’t mainstream here in Australia, which does add to the difficulties of attracting major brands outside of the industry – and it’s outside sponsors that the industry needs, but there needs to be more value than a logo on a bike/truck/rider or a mention on the podium/social media. Australia’s premier auto racing championship, Supercars, is a good example of increasing sponsor value, majority of the drivers are actively involved with sponsor activations away from the race track and this where I think motocross can learn a lot from, because generally speaking, there isn’t too much of that happening. I could go on all day and that’s just my two cents worth, but sometimes it’s not hard to see why the sport isn’t going in the direction we’d like it to. I don’t think it has anything to do with the promoters or the governing body, who I think are doing great job, it’s more so riders and teams taking control of their own situations.

Image: Jeremy Hammer (Foremost Media).

Dale Hocking (DPH Motorsport team owner):
Obviously it’s not good for the sport and the sport is suffering, outside sponsorship is a big thing these days and for me I’m kind of on the other side of it as a lot of it comes out of my pocket these days. It’s hard for manufacturers, the economy still isn’t crash hot out there and the manufacturers are feeling it without the bike sales. That lack of sales then obviously then flows over to not being able to help the race teams. It’s not good for the sport, but I think all of the manufacturers will be there next year, probably in a different way and program, but I’m sure they’ll all be there – they all want to go racing. As the old saying goes, you win on Sunday and sell on Monday. I can’t see Suzuki, Kawasaki or Honda pulling out because they have to do it, it’s one of those things. It is tough in the sport, but I think the sport does need television. Being in business, I try to drum up outside sponsorship and 99 percent of the time the first thing I am asked is what do I get out of it and what sort of television coverage it is. As soon as you tell them that there’s no television coverage and it’s on a computer system, they tend to turn away. I’ve known Kevin [Williams] for a long time, since I was 14, and I know it’s an astronomical cost to run television, but I do honestly think it will help the sport. You look at ASBK [Australian Superbike Championship] and they have live television, obviously I don’t know what the rankings are because I haven’t looked into it, but I do think motocross needs it and I feel it would help with outside sponsorship to help grow the sport. I think one of the biggest issues is with the way the sport is run, Kevin runs a great event don’t get me wrong, it’s managed to the clock and it’s great, but I think there’s a few things that need to be looked at by Motorcycling Australia in how the events are run. Look, it is a tough one and it’s not good to see teams closing the doors, but I personally think all of the manufacturers will be racing next year, but obviously it depends on what level and their commitment.

Adam Bailey (AUS-X Open co-founder and director):
For us things are going well and we’ve got amazing support from our sponsors. Obviously signing a new naming-rights partner in Monster Energy is a big deal for the industry and it shows that they believe in the sport at a time when they’re being extremely critical of what money they’re spending, so that’s a really good sign. The obvious thing is linking the cost of racing with the commercial return of racing. The reality is that our industry is only a certain size, so therefore, the spend should be relative to that size. In saying that, it is disappointing that there’s less support for teams and really disappointing that TC is closing his doors, because he’s done a great job over the years. What we’re trying to do at the AUS-X Open is provide return via television, via digital networks, social media and the rest of it that justifies being there. Every event or series for a team needs to provide more in return for its partners than it costs to go there, so I think that is the key. I don’t think that the industry has necessarily always helped itself and it has probably been too reliant on racing results to sell bikes, as I think it’s the perceived brand and the strength of that is what sells – somebody is making the purchase decision based on the brand they want to be associated with, more than they are because that bike won on the weekend. Dylan Long, Dan Reardon, Kade Mosig, as examples, are great ambassadors whether they’re winning or not, but it’s down to the manufacturers to use those personalities/profiles and use racing overall to build the brands, rather than just hoping that the guys win on the weekends to sell the bikes. That’s where the disconnect is, in my opinion. Our industry has probably been too slow to adjust to new media and what we’re exposed to, the way we’re influenced by athletes and that type of thing. Racing is a huge part of that, because they’re the ones to be associated with as hard workers and incredibly strong ambassadors. As well, athletes need to make as much effort in building their brands as they do racing their bikes and the sport will be in a better place – that includes being available for interviews, content and anything that puts them in front of more eyeballs. Speak out more, which will attract more attention to them and their sponsors. We will always be trying to push forward, always try to challenge what’s possible and I do think that AUS-X Open is proof of what is possible. I honestly do think that if done right – I’m not saying we’re the only ones as others are doing it too – and we make an event that people are excited to be a part of, then the industry will get behind it. You need to feel proud to be associated with it or what’s the point? We’re doing everything at the absolute best of our ability and that energy is what the industry needs. Times are tough, yes, but a lot of people are riding dirt bikes and it’s an amazing sport, so there’s a lot to be excited about and everybody should be focusing on their respective areas, so overall we’ll collectively continue to push forward.

Image: AUS-X Open.

Trent Cramer (Steve Cramer Products national sales and marketing manager):
It’s certainly an interesting topic and I have been thinking about the sport a bit of late. From a distributor’s perspective there seems to be a flow-on effect from the retail market. We are seeing some sluggish results and a high number of stores that are being bought by a number of the larger conglomerates. These smaller stores once had a real passion for the sport where they sponsored riders and their friends and family were heavily involved, but that seems to have dropped off and any money that once was invested into racing may be being spent in other areas. A large portion of race team budgets are supplied by the manufactures and distributors and this is reliant on the retail market – if consumers’ spending is down there’s going to be a reduction in funding and until that works itself out, there may be a shortage of cash-flow to race teams in the near future. I do believe the Australian racing industry is a lot smaller than some people think it is and those involved represent themselves very well. Teams may need to adjust their spending and look at where they allocate their budget during this tougher period. I don’t think the spectators come in to see big shiny semis, I think they appreciate good viewing points at tracks, brand stalls and activations like 6D and Alpinestars at the events and good racing. We’ve invested money in 2017 because we believe there is still potential for brand growth and awareness to consumers and we wanted to support racing. Unfortunately the flow-on effect from a flat retail sector may mean cash-flow between the sponsors and the race teams may be a bit flat for the next year or so, but it will bounce back.

Adam Spence (Foremost Media production content manager):
This is a touchy subject and something that can be looked at in a large range of ways. It is unfortunate to see organisations like Carroll Motorsports and Motologic announce that they will shut their doors, but unfortunately these things do happen in the world of business. We need to remember that although we have a passion for the sport, these teams are a business in the end and the no amount of passion will overcome a lack in budget. I personally commend anyone who undertakes the task of running a race team, it’s a tough gig and there’s a tonne of pressure on these guys to come through with the goods each weekend. It’s no secret that there’s a lack of funding within the sport, but it has been this way for many years and we have seen these same situations occur in the past. There’s no single magic fix to the budget issues we see each year, but it may just be a case of altering these programs to find a way to work within the relatively small sport of motocross racing. On a global scale we’re hearing the same budget stories, so it might just be a sign of a substantial change coming. And let’s remain positive about the current situation here, don’t get onto social media and put down the sport you love, because that’s not going to help anyone. Go buy from your local store, head down to the races with your friends and get involved and help create more atmosphere at the races. I believe it will take efforts from all corners of the sport to help improve these situations, there’s no single side that can take the blame, let’s get together and hope for yet another strong year in 2018.

Image: MXN.

Kyle Blunden (KTM Australia motorsport marketing):
With KTM it’s important that we showcase the ‘Ready to Race’ capabilities of our motorcycles and really carry this mantra through everything we do here. Our motorcycles are produced from extremely high-quality components developed in the toughest conditions by the most talented riders in the world to ensure this mantra stands true. From a consumer standpoint, it’s important for us to showcase this in a racing environment here in Australia where the conditions are quite often tougher than anywhere in the world. Our counterparts are doing a fantastic job both in the MXGP and AMA racing scene and it could be quite easy for us to leverage their success to push our brands locally, but for us, it is equally as important to continue to achieve success racing here in Australia and New Zealand. We support racers throughout all disciplines of motorcycling – not just motocross – and we try to make sure that we are well covered in all areas of competition. Our focus really starts at the grassroots level of motorcycling, with the extension of our partnership with the Australian Junior Motocross Championship with Motorcycling Australia, our partnership with Transmoto and their series of events and some very exciting news coming later this week involving an entry level to supercross racing. We’re doing our best to ensure we’re supporting riders from a very young age and I think it is extremely important for us to continue to do so in order for us to portray the message that motorcycling is a fantastic sport, not just for the individuals but for families also. In addition, our dealers definitely see value in being involved with events such as MX Nationals and additional events. It gives them the opportunity to bring the essence of their dealerships to the events and get amongst their customers and potential new ones. It’s great to get them involved and, at the end of the day, without them and their support we don’t get to go racing – we need to keep these avenues open for them to get excited about racing again and keep them engaged. With the growth we are also seeing in supercross, it is a very exciting time to be involved in racing in Australia and motorcycling in general. We just need to make sure we continue to make the most of it.

Alex Gobert (Foremost Media managing director):
When piecing together this article, the goal was to provide a variety of perspectives and there is true merit in what everybody has referenced above. One thing I have personally been suggesting for some time now is that while more mainstream coverage always helps the cause, we as media within this industry really need to get behind everybody investing in the sport at a national level (manufacturers, distributors, teams, privateers, dealerships, etc) and provide them the greatest level of quality exposure possible, whether it be their racing programs, new bikes/products or otherwise. At Foremost Media we tip the majority of our budget into covering the very top tiers of racing locally and we are experiencing positive results because of that, both in terms of attracting a significant audience and receiving support from the industry as they seek crucial avenues for coverage. My opinion is that more outlets locally benefiting from marketing spend could cover racing more effectively and it would be a major boost for everybody trying to generate a following locally. Teams, riders and brands within the sport appear to be constantly improving in the way they promote themselves and social media content is vital, but they also have to go beyond that and try to maximise any given opportunities to build their brands, whether it’s online, in print, local news, etc. It all helps in the end. Sure, things are tough in certain areas, but we can’t overlook the amount of money that is actually being spent within this sport from a factory level all the way through to grassroots via varying degrees of support, not to mention bike/product launches, activations, expos and so on. It’s up to all of us who are involved and really want to see motorcycle competition continue to grow to do all that we can to raise awareness, showcase the incredible efforts of so many (again, being the teams, riders, brands) and what they’re achieving year in, year out. That way, the viability of it all will almost certainly rise and return on investment will be more definitive. There are so many options out there in terms of entertainment that’s accessible for people these days, including international racing, however what’s taking place here in our own nation is also definitely worth following and becoming a fan of. Next year is the 10th anniversary of MotoOnline.com.au and we’ve invested in attending MX Nationals, AUS Supercross and the Australian Superbikes consistently throughout that period, which is what’s enabled us to continue on as we currently do today, largely thanks to all of our amazing supporters that make it possible to generate daily content for everybody to enjoy. To me, that’s what it’s all about. It’s very much a shame that Troy Carroll and Paul Free’s teams are exiting as such and we wish them all the best for the future, they’ve got a lot to be proud of, that is for sure.