By Jody Weisel
The GP series was once the most prestigious motocross series on the planet. It was the championship that riders around the world aspired to (even American riders). No more! Now, most young European riders want to move to America to race (and follow in the footsteps of Karsmakers, Bayle, Pichon, Albertyn, Tortelli, Vuillemin, Roczen and Musquin)—and Americans only go to Europe as a last resort. It’s no secret that all is not well with the FIM World Motocross Championship.
Discontent runs deep within the teams, riders and fans. And, most of the blame for the downward slide lies at the feet of Italy’s Giuseppe Luongo. He is the wannabe Napoleon calling the shots—or rather changing directions with the wind blowing off of Elba.
The list of policies implemented by Luongo make for disturbing reading for hardcore motocross fans.
The elimination of purse, start and travel subsidy money for GP riders.
The introduction of large entry fees (over $1000 per race).
Race-sanction fees of hundreds of thousands of dollars per event.
Poor tracks (chosen in deference to pit infrastructure over the actual racetrack and its tradition).
Dwindling rider entries (amazingly, a declared goal of the series promoter). Entries in the premier class are so far down from the good old days that only half the starting gate is full.
A travel schedule that busts the budgets of most small teams—with a freight allowance that isn’t big enough to cover the weight of the bike for a 10th-place 250 rider.
This past season, after three or four different press releases about the new Super Final format, Youthstream kept right on changing the format between races. They released so many different formats that it became a running joke in the pits.
In search of sanction money, Luongo took the World Championships to Qatar for the opening Grand Prix. Nothing wrong with that, since Qatar has solid racing credentials in other motorsports, but their motocross track was flat as a board and not worthy of a local fairgrounds race. Plus, there wasn’t a spectator in sight. It damaged the reputation of Grand Prix motocross to race in an empty field in front of no one.
AMAZINGLY, THE ONCE-A-YEAR SHOWING OF THE USGP ON "WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS" WAS SEEN BY MORE PEOPLE THAN THE COMPLETE AMA NATIONAL SERIES IS NOW.
Ever since the days when the Carlsbad USGP was on “Wide World of Sports,” fans have wished that motocross could be shown live on the major networks. Amazingly, American motocross and Supercross have been on TV for many years, but it should be noted that the once-a-year showing on “Wide World of Sports” was seen by more people than the complete AMA National series is now.
The FIM brain trust: Wolfgang Srb, Vito Ippolito and Giuseppe Luongo.
Being on TV is a valid goal for any sport—from tractor pulls to women’s volleyball to offroad trucks. Three distinct groups benefit from television coverage:
(1) The fans.
For the fan, television provides instantaneous coverage of the sport they love, especially when that sport is taking place thousands of miles away from their living-room couch. The fans’ motive for motocross being on TV is enjoying it.
For the energy-drink companies, hop-up shops, gear companies and motorcycle manufacturers, television expands the number of impressions that they can make with their logos, riders and promotions. TV adds to the overall media package and presents the chance to reach a new audience who might not own a motorcycle, drink an energy drink, wear day-glo nylon gear or buy titanium exhaust pipes. The sponsors’ motive for motocross being on TV is to sell more product.
(3) The promoters.
Whether we are talking about Giuseppe Luongo’s Youthstream group or the American MX Sports promoters, being on television is all about money. Promoters have several income streams: (A) Riders’ license fees. (B) Riders’ entry fees. (C) Sanction fees (often disguised as something else). (D) Series sponsors. Being on TV won’t necessarily pay a direct return on investment in license, entry or sanction fees, but it is a carrot to wave in front of potential series sponsors.
EVEN THOUGH THE PROMOTERS HAVE TO BUY THE TV TIME, THE MONEY SPENT IS SEED MONEY TO DRAW IN MORE SERIES SPONSORS.
Think about it. If the AMA Nationals could get Mr. Pibb to pay to be a series sponsor 30 years ago without TV coverage, imagine how much a promoter could charge if he could promise Mr. Pibb a weekly TV show—and the added spiffs of free TV commercials, visible track banners, “Party in the Pits” segments that show lots of Mr. Pibb logos, and carefully placed signage, arches and finish-line towers. The promoters’ motive for motocross being on TV is to monetize it. And, even though the promoters have to buy the TV time, the money spent is seed money to draw in more series sponsors.
You may be tempted to think that there is a correlation between the amount of TV coverage and the growth of a sport. There is, but in motocross, it has been a negative correlation over time. As TV coverage has increased, and Supercross and motocross have been on TV for many years, the sport has shrunk. Now, you might say, “Well, that is because of the recession.” There is no doubt that the recession has been a factor in the decrease in bike sales and auxiliary products, but even before the recession, sales were decreasing.
Even if the sport isn’t growing, television coverage is still a positive step for the fans, sponsors and promoters. Every motocross fan wishes deep inside his heart of hearts that the rest of the world could see the beauty of the sport he loves. And, it goes without saying, that the corporate sponsors who believe in the sport enough to put good money behind it deserve as many eyes as possible on their logos. The promoters—both Youthstream and MX Sports—need to make a profit to keep presenting the sport at its best for the good of their pocketbook, the sponsors’ continued commitment and the fans’ enjoyment.
All of this is good, but there is an evil side to television coverage. The recipe for a perfect mix is simple: take an exciting sport, film it on the best tracks possible, and show it on the best networks you can afford. Despite the simplicity of this formula, the bureaucratic promoters want to take the easy way to TV success. No, not Real Housewives of the Motocross Stars, but something almost as crude. There is a danger, a very real threat, that in the pursuit of TV coverage to attract more series sponsors, the promoters would be willing to ruin the traditions, format, structure and historical perspective of the sport.
No matter how much they deny it, both MX Sports and Youthstream want to turn the traditional two-moto format into a single, bite-sized, commercial-ready, one-moto sport. This is just another step in the Oprah-ization of what was once a rugged, difficult and grueling sport.
At one time, the GP and AMA stars raced two 45-minute motos—a length chosen as the ultimate test of a rider’s physical fitness and his machine’s durability. Then, it was shortened in America to two 30-minute motos—the idea being that, shorter was more exciting. Think of it as if the Olympics held a 90-meter dash, because if nine seconds is exciting, eight seconds would be even more interesting. In Europe, where they don’t know who Oprah is, they went from two 45-minute motos to three 25-minute motos to one 35-minute moto and back to two 35-minute motos.
Changing a sport to fit the needs of a TV channel is a dangerous precedent. When the TV powers that be decided not to show motocross on their channel, or their channel disappears (as OLN, Speed, Spike and Fuel have), the rest of us will be left with a lightweight, pantywaist activity that has little to do with the history of the real sport of motocross.
THE PROMOTERS’ PURSUIT OF MONEY—AND DON’T MISTAKE IT FOR ANYTHING BUT THAT—COULD LEAVE US WITH A SPORT SO FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGED THAT MOST OF US WOULDN’T RECOGNIZE IT.
The promoters’ pursuit of money—and don’t mistake it for anything but that—could leave us with a sport so fundamentally changed that most of us wouldn’t recognize it.
Are we being alarmists? No, we aren’t. The MXA wrecking crew came into possession of Giuseppe Luongo’s secret plans for the future of Grand Prix motocross. These proposals accidentally fell into our hands. Of course, Giuseppe didn’t want anyone outside his inner circle to see his plans for a new world order, and certainly not MXA, but it is our duty to allow you to read what we have discovered. And, you have to read it to believe it!
We have included the highlights of what the “Napoleon of Motocross” thinks the sport should look like.
The MX1 and MX2 class names will be discontinued, and the sport will change its name to “MXGP.” The MXGP name will encompass the premier class and obviously borrows its nomenclature from the MotoGP road race series.
Ban the 450:
Luongo wants 450cc motocross bikes to go away. Does he want to replace them with 350s? Nope, he wants to make the 250cc class the premier class, which means that Cairoli, Desalle, Paulin, DeDycker, Bobryshev and crew would all be riding little bikes.
Eliminate the 250 class:
The existing 250 class, “MX2” in European parlance, will be eliminated completely. And, if the manufacturers and sponsors won’t go along with it, he wants to change the 250 class to the “Junior World Championship.” Additionally, no matter what happens, the MX3 class will be gone from the Grand Prix circuit in 2014.
You read that right. If a rider is suspected of breaking a rule, he would have to come into the pits for a stop-and-go penalty in the middle of the race, as opposed to waiting until the race is over and being given the opportunity to appeal.
Under current FIM rules, Youthstream has instituted an under 23-year-old rule for the 250 (MX2) class. Once a rider turns 23, he has to move up to the 450 class. If Giuseppe gets his druthers, the Junior World Championships will be limited to riders under 21 years old.
If forced to hold two motos by recalcitrant Japanese manufacturers, Luongo wants the first moto to be shorter and not count toward the overall GP victory. Instead, it would be used to establish gate picks for the second moto. The top three riders would earn points (three for first, two for second and one for third), but these points would be added to their season points total—not the day’s tally. This two-moto trick is just lipstick on the pig that is the one-moto system. And one-moto is what the sanctioning bodies really want because it is TV friendly. They also want shorter lap times so that TV viewers don't have to wait for the riders to come around.
Since every one of Luongo’s dream ideas ends with a one-moto format, the points paid out would change from 25, 22, 20, 18, 16, 15 on down to one point for 20th place to 50, 45, 41, 37, 36, 35 on down to one point for 40th.
Obviously, Luongo is not pushing his Super Final (combined 250/450) idea anymore, but if forced to throw a bone to the 250 teams, he will allow the top 10 in the 250cc Junior World Championship class to move into the one-moto MXGP class final, while the 250 riders outside of the top 10 would go to the 450 Last Chance, where the top five, regardless of engine size, would also transfer to the MXGP final moto. The MXGP final would consist of the top 25 riders from the 450 qualifying moto, top 10 from the 250 Junior World Championship motos, and the top five from the combined 250/450 Last Chance—for a total of 40 riders.
HOW DO YOU LIKE IT SO FAR?
How do you like it so far? Seems far-fetched doesn't it. Yet hese ideas were written down and proposed to the major motorcycle manufacturers for consideration in the future—and Luongo wanted them implement in the coming season. It is obvious that these strange ideas are designed to cover up the gigantic mistakes that Luongo, Youthstream and the FIM have made in handling the once-proud World Motocross Championships over the last decade. Do not forget that these are men who have already tried shorter motos, more motos, fewer motos, higher entry fees, no purse money, fewer riders and cookie-cutter track designs (in the infield of road race circuits). With that in mind, it is obvious that these new proposals smell from the desperation of clueless men.
Luckily, the factories shot down Luongo's plan in a major meeting before they could be implemented in 2014. But, it is a wake-up call to see what would happen if these men had carte blanche to do what they really wanted.
GIUSEPPE LUONGO’S 2014 GRAND PRIX PROPOSALS IN HIS OWN WORDS
These excerpts are taken from a letter that Giuseppe Luongo wrote to the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, outlining his plans for the 2014 World Motocross Championships. They are in his own words. Read ’em and weep.
And thank the team managers and factory teams that rejected these ideas in a rare showing of gumption by the team managers.
“Motocross is a great sport, but if we want it to stay on top we have to be ready for changes. These changes need to be welcomed, not seen as a threat. Often changes bring other changes, and we see this moment as the exact time to make other fundamental changes to adapt motocross to this new era and affront the new challenges. It is imperative that motocross become more attractive, sexier, with more emotions—an outstanding show for our fans.”
“Motocross has to become mainstream, also in the fast-growing world of the social media. Our top riders need to have the same level of awareness and value as other motorsport stars like Rossi, Vettel, Loeb, et al. Our program needs to be understandable for the international viewers and easy to follow for the big TV networks. This is why, after experimenting this year (2013), we would like to propose some changes to the motocross Grand Prix format.”
“In order to reach the main TV stations and to approach new and younger fans, we need one easy and attractive format of one hour to propose live worldwide. To better present the Motocross World Championships, and to make it more understandable, there needs to be only one World Championship, like in MotoGP and like in Formula 1.”
“By taking away the MX3 class and possibly reducing the MX2 class to a Junior World Championship, as a promotional championship where riders can prepare themselves while going from a continental championship to the MXGP or even taking away the MX2 class completely, will help the manufacturers and sponsors concentrate their investment on the MXGP.”
“After the experience of promoting motocross on the high level since 30 years, and for the love of the sport, we propose the MXGP to use 250cc bikes. Naturally, in this case, the MX2 would be completely taken away […]. Who can really control a 450? Not so many. In reality, the 250 show [is] much better racing. We […] should have the courage to opt for 250cc as the MXGP bike.”
LUONGO'S FIRST PROPOSAL: TWO MOTOS, BUT ONE DOESN’T COUNT
“The current MX1 and MX2 classes would be transformed in MXGP. MXGP would have two races. The first race would have less points, only for the top three—3, 2, 1—and the second race […] would be the only valid race for the victory of the GP. The following points system would count for the MXGP main event: first, 50 points; second, 45 points; third, 41 points, until the 40th who would get one point. Only 250cc bikes would be used for MXGP. The MX2 and MX1 classes would no longer exist. MX3 would be taken away. In this way there would only be one World Champion, the MXGP World Champion.”
LUONGO'S SECOND PROPOSAL: THE JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
“The current MX1 class would be transformed into MXGP. MXGP would have two races. The first race would have less points, only for the top three—3, 2, 1—and the second race would be the only valid [moto] for the victory of the GP.”
“MX2 would remain with the same name, with just ‘Junior’ [added to it]. There would be two races of 30 minutes, plus two laps, and have an age limit of less than 21 years old. However, the MX2 World Champion would be able to defend his title as many times as he wants, as long as he is under 21 years of age. It would be called the MX2 Junior World Championship and would be considered the right passage from the European Championships to the MXGP. The MX2 Junior World Championship would race only the European Grand Prix events.”
“[Under this system] there would only be one World Champion, the MXGP World Champion, because the MX2 would be a Junior World Champion, and the MX3 [class] would no longer exist.”
“To increase the show, rider penalties during the race would not be based on time or position disqualification that is enforced at the end of the race, but with a stop-and-go via the pit lane. Penalties issued after the race would remain as they are.”
LUONGO'S THIRD PROPOSAL: 2014 MOTOCROSS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
“We would run the MX2 class with two races per GP event; one race on Saturday afternoon and the second race on Sunday. Then, the top 10 riders of the MX2 Grand Prix would go through to the MXGP main event and the remaining to the Last-Chance Qualifier [LCQ].”
“On Sunday […], the MXGP qualifying race would be held, where the top 25 would go through to the MXGP main event and the remaining [riders] would go to the LCQ. From the LCQ, the top five would be taken, disregarding the bike’s [engine] capacity. The MXGP main event would have 40 participants, and the points would be allotted on the riders’ results, disregarding the bike’s [engine] capacity.”
“The goal of these proposals is to start discussions, and they are naturally open to advice and improvements […], keeping in mind the objective of reaching one hour of live TV.”
Youthstream Group President
Husqvarna Motorcycle tests