Features 8 Jul 2020

Input: The future of Australian MX and SX

Where to next for the sport at a professional level domestically.

Words: Simon Makker

With so much uncertainty surrounding the 2020 Australian motocross and supercross championships due to coronavirus restrictions, together with Williams Event Management’s exit from the MX Nationals, there are currently a lot of unknowns as to what the future of racing looks like locally. However, with dirt bike sales experiencing a phenomenal rise and positivity increasing, MotoOnline tracked down a cross-section of key industry personnel to discover an inspiring amount of optimism for where the sport is heading.

Image: Foremost Media.

Craig Dack (CDR Yamaha Monster Energy Team):
The current situation is so fluid and it’s hard for anyone for come up with a plan, but we have sponsors and team partners that we still need to provide answers to. Personally, I believe motocross has been on the slide for several years and it’s not a surprise it’s got to this point where WEM has decided to move on, but I believe in this journey of life, when a door closes another one opens for the better. I’ve been talking with Motorcycling Australia (MA) and they have a clear plan and enthusiasm to change the MX Nationals next year. MA has done a very good job of promoting the AORC and the ASBK, both series have gone from strength-to-strength, and I’m very optimistic that motocross will be resurrected in a bigger and better way from 2021. As far as supercross goes, AME has got the sport in good hands. This year has been an unfortunate hiccup when they were just gaining momentum, but I’m hopeful we’ll still see some supercross racing later this year.

Adam Bailey (AME Management/AUS SX Holdings):
It’s a shame to see WEM move on from promoting the MX Nationals, but we’re happy for Kevin and the new direction he’s going. We’ll still engage him to assist us with the motorsport operations for the Australian Supercross Championship, which I think is a role that he enjoys and plays 100 percent to his strengths and makes the most of his experience, to allow us to focus on our strengths. We’re not worried about the future of racing in Australia. We have very clear goals and a direction we wish to take the sport and brand of the Australian Supercross Championship and feel really positive that regardless of COVID-19, we’ll get where we want to be. The current situation is a setback, for sure, but overall it is allowing us to reassess what we do and make a plan to be better in the future. We’re in a very good place compared to so many sports, as are our teams. We’re lean and nimble enough that we know we can come back swinging when the time is right. As for motocross, this year will be a bit of case of survival, but so long as the industry bands together I think it will work with MA at the helm. The reality is, MA has alternate revenue streams in licence revenue that they then can choose to reinvest into the series. An outside promoter, be it WEM or anyone else, does not have this security, so is reliant on sponsorship and ticket sales, which is obviously a higher risk situation. MA has the funds and resources to run the series competently and if it’s not profitable right away, which is likely the case, they can weather the storm until it covers i’s own costs. We’ve seen them do this for the ASBK series, so I’d expect and hope for no less. The reality is across the board there is easily enough money invested in motocross across all the teams, riders and industry in general, to completely reinvent it, its media and content production (including potentially TV) and more. It’s more about allocation of funds and where money is spent that needs to be revised from end to end, as well as the structure of the events needs to be rethought. Motocross in itself is a core fan, grassroots sport. We need to consider what the ‘event’ in its entirety looks like if it’s going to attract new fans to come and take a look. I like the ideas of adding some amateur/junior classes perhaps to increase participation on the Saturday and perhaps some camping at the events to get people and families out and about to have a good weekend watching the best the country has to offer, as a starting point. There’s plenty of work to do across both disciplines for sure, but we’re believers and feel more than confident that the best is yet to come for us and the sport we love!

Gavin Eales (Serco Motorsport):
From a distributor’s point of view, we haven’t been this busy in a long time, but stock availability means we have to be on the ball with our planning. I’m really disappointed with what’s happened from a racing side of things, though. The situation this year has set our sport back miles and miles and it’s been a kick in the arse for everyone, but it’s the cards we’re dealt and have to roll with it. We just need to go racing. I’ve been involved in some of the planning meetings for 2021 and have heard what MA is planning, which it’s quite exciting – if they follow through with what they’re saying, it’ll be great for the future of the sport. Supercross is in a tricky situation because we currently can’t have big crowds and we can’t get international competitors in. AME still need to plan as if they’re holding a proper series and I’m hoping we’ll still see a few rounds, which is better than nothing.

Todd Waters (Berry Sweet Husqvarna):
Although the AORC is going ahead the first week of August, motocross is still my main focus and I can’t wait to get back racing again. I have no hard feelings for WEM wanting to step back from promoting the MX Nationals, I’ve raced under [Kevin] for 15 years and he has a lot of experience and the infrastructure in place to provide a good series. Moving forward, I’m interested to see if someone will step up and pay more prize money and supply more infrastructure. The championship has been the same for a long time and now is a great opportunity to change things up and get people excited to go racing again. It’s a heavy time for the young guys coming up, though. I’ve got 17-year-old Regan Duffy on the team and he reminds me of a young version of myself, but where I’ve experienced racing on factory teams here and around the world, the future is a lot more uncertain for them. In the future, the series needs to change big-time and get rid of some of the ridiculous rules, such as not allowing people to push-bike in the pits or double mechanics to the starting-line. We’re professional racers and it’s insulting that we get treated the way we do, which certainly takes the fun out of racing. The rules need to be relaxed and people need to chill out!

Image: Foremost Media.

Alex Gobert (Foremost Media/MotoOnline):
In more recent years there has been a generalised perception that the sport here is dying or at least heading that way, but in my opinion, right now is the ideal opportunity to properly collaborate and really press forward and determine the future of racing here in Australia. A strength of our particular discipline is that there are two very specific elements that it can pivot from. To begin with, motocross is at the core of the sport, which is most appealing to fans who are riders or have family involved. These are the people who follow every move of their favourite riders and teams, the type who get out on the bike and are in-store purchasing product from within the industry to enable them to ride or race themselves. Aside from that, supercross – as is very clear in the US – appeals to a broader market from an attendance perspective, where the riders are the genuine stars of the show, where motorsport is mixed with entertainment and where the action is fast-paced enough over a few-hour period to maintain attention and provide an enjoyable night (or afternoon) out. It’s at supercross where we have the chance to attract new audiences at places like Marvel Stadium or WIN Stadium, etc, and then potentially show them what the outdoors are all about as well. This is where quality content, social media and widespread coverage comes into play, because to keep people engaged, we as an industry collectively need to showcase the sport and make it appealing to wider audiences. Once you have that following, which already is quite strong across the board, then that’s where viewer numbers rise, ticket sales hopefully increase, greater returns for the manufacturers and distributors prompt them to become more involved, outside of industry sponsors gain value and the momentum that we need comes into play. And when you truly consider it, as a nation we are incredibly fortunate to have had the series that we have over many decades because the reality is that outside of America, supercross at scale isn’t that common. There are a lot of vital steps to be taken from this point, obviously, but the first of those is for us all within the sport to get behind event organisers, the brands that make it all possible, existing teams, privateers and to appreciate everybody else who is going above and beyond to make a difference. Combined, the foundations that we have to work with are solid and now is the time to power ahead together towards 2021 while sales are up and enthusiasm for competition is high.

Yarrive Konsky (Penrite Honda Racing):
We’re in uncharted territory and need to follow the law and ensure we’re abiding by the rules and regulations. For 2021, I’d like to see a concentrated group effort on all things motorcycle racing, I’d like the industry to come together with MA, the state governing bodies and the teams to strategically plan the sport’s future. Next year we’ll have a clean slate and new opportunities, which is promising. Strategically everyone wants to move forward, we want to put the past behind us and create a strong and sustainable championship. There are some smart, insightful and dedicated people in motorsport and I am genuinely excited to see it all unfold as there are many people like myself who strongly believe in it. Australians love motorsport and motorcycle racing – the AUS-X Open proves that, the ESPN figures on AMA Supercross prove that we have an appetite for racing and per capita our competition license-holder numbers are some of the highest in the world. I would love to see motocross on TV, I believe the future of our sport is moving in the right direction and next year is shaping up to be amazing.

Kevin Williams (Williams Event Management):
I think that the depth of talent that we have in this country is amazing at the moment. Seeing what’s happening on the international stage, we’re in a very good position from an athlete point of view and from an infrastructure point of view. What post-COVID looks like from a commercial point of view, is totally unknown. I hope that it comes around and I’m sure that there will be some adjustments made by everybody, which will be required. Racing is important and motorcycling for me is not just a business, it’s a passion and a lifestyle that we are all a part of. I think it will work, I look forward to seeing what it is. Will wee see a downsize in some teams and structures? Probably. There will be some consolidation required. It may be a little bit more like the road racing and AORC, where it becomes a little bit more pro-am than pro, but as long as everybody takes a positive attitude to see what they can do… I know sponsorship is difficult, speaking to people in the industry. We’ve got a good group of people in the industry, in team managers, in Motorcycling Australia, team partners and those that still carry a lot of passion, so through the bumpy road ahead I’m sure that we will see out the other side some movement that will be positive.

Geoff Munro (MXStore):
Coming out the other side of this whole COVID situation, I think the industry will be raring to go, which is exciting. Kevin Williams has done an awesome job with the MX Nationals over the years and leaves behind a really good base for the industry to work off of. Once racing returns I think we’ll see more interest in the series, people will be excited to go back racing and to watch and support racing as well. We’ve also been talking to the supercross promoters and it’s exciting to see where that championship is heading. The most encouraging thing is that everyone is still keen to be involved and the more alignment we get across the two championships, the better it will be for everyone. We’re heading in the right direction and I’m genuinely excited to see what happens next year.