Warning: The Sport Is Changing, New Business Model Needed!

Former racers becoming ambassadors for brands they had little or no past relationship with is a sign of the times. Seeing Jeff Emig on a Husqvarna, Travis Pastrana on a KTM, Jeremy McGrath on Kawasaki and Ryan Villopoto on a Yamaha is strange, but it’s another clue as to where industry marketing is headed. It’s great to see former riders securing employment on their past achievements, but pay attention because it’s also a snapshot of how the marketing landscape is changing.

(Travis Pastrana's new rides)

Fielding racing teams has an enormous price tag and brands use race teams for marketing and development, “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” used to be the rallying cry. While this philosophy is still somewhat effective it’s not the only way to convince consumers what they should purchase. The days of limited information are over, simply seeing a racer win doesn’t convince the average consumer a specific brand suits their needs. Consumers use online research, friends, social media and brand ambassadors who fit their demographic to influence their purchases.

This could be a concern moving forward, will brands decide influencers that sell more product than current racers? I don’t see this happening, but I can imagine a large portion of the race team budget shifted to use on influencers. This could be detrimental to the survival of racing as it currently exists. In reality we don’t have a true professional sport, the racers making millions are doing this almost completely from their individual sponsors. If these sponsors decide their money would better serve them in a social media campaign it would be the end of racing as we know it. Unfortunately professional racing in its current form is nothing more than a place to showcase talent in hopes of landing sponsor money. Racers couldn’t survive off race winnings alone, the current payout doesn’t even cover the costs of racing.

Comparing the industry with the major stick and ball sports this type of money split isn’t a concern, because the sports are built with a different model. The sports split profits with the players, with baseball being the lowest split at 60% - 40% between the players and owners. My estimations have SX/MX split at about 92% - 8%, but these are only estimates based off ticket sales, sponsor money, TV revenue and entry fees. The money split between SX/MX promoters and racers is not even close to the percentage in other major professional sports.

(Tom brady in an SNL skit about sexual harassment)

My point here isn’t to bash promoters, they deserve to make a significant amount of money. My point is a better split would allow for a more stable and profitable sport, I don’t understand why this hasn’t been explored by either MX Sports or Feld. If promoters continue relying on brands to field teams solely off marketing budgets the sport will never have the stability required to grow. Until racers can survive solely by competition earnings without relying on sponsor money it can never really be a professional sport. Endorsements from sponsors should be icing on the cake, not the heartbeat of the sport. Can you imagine if the NFL told Tom Brady, “Don’t worry about your salary, we offer you the notoriety so you can make millions in endorsements.” This is exactly what is happening in SX/MX.

(Tom Brady's wicked accent skit)

I know the promoters are deathly afraid of any sort of rider association or union, but if they don’t step up and offer a more reasonable split it’s inevitable. As the companies supporting the sport struggle and promoters flourish it’s going to become an issue the current model will crumble. Hopefully the promoters will realize their long-term success depends on treating the racers like professional athletes.

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