Sports have not always been so commercial. There was a
time when athletes and teams competed for the honor of the endeavor. It
was long, long ago, but there was a time when baseball stadiums weren’t named after cell phone companies, the only name on a bicycle racers jersey was the name of his bike and the
Olympics made skiers block out the brand name on the skis they used.
Those days are gone. Today, everything is for sale. And, while football
and baseball uniforms still remain unadorned with soap, beer or
drug-company logos, the announcers, scoreboards and end zones are active
marketeers for whoever will pay the most. (Even the hallowed stadiums
of our national pastime have their names changed to represent the
moneybags of the moment.)
Motocross has never been a pure sporting endeavor. Racers have always
had the manufacturers as sugar daddies (with their brand names
emblazoned across their chests). But, we have come a long way from the
days of Mark Blackwell, with Husqvarna printed on a plain white jersey.
Today’s jerseys sport a garish cacophony of colors and logos screaming
Suddenly, everything is for sale—even the riders’ safety. Where you
stand on the commercialization—of not just the racers but the racetracks
themselves—depends on which end of the money trail you are. You be the
FREE MONEY: Every sanctioning body pleads poverty as a reason for selling giant multi-million-dollar sponsorship packages. The money that Rockstar, Red Bull and Monster
pour into the sanctioning bodies exposes them to a young demographic of
active people who are most likely to buy their products. From the list
of sponsors, you can tell who a sport is attractive to. NASCAR attracts
furniture stores, hunting and fishing companies, alcoholic-beverage
makers, trucking companies, breakfast cereals, soft-drink companies and
telecommunication firms. Motocross and Supercross are most attractive to
energy-drink companies, insurance brokers, truck manufacturers and
VALUE FOR THE DOLLAR: By associating themselves with the Supercross or
motocross series, advertisers get free TV ads on television broadcasts.
(You didn’t think Toyota was paying for that ad with the truck going up
the flaming tower, did you?). They get their name and logo on every
promotional piece; they get signage at the track entrance, and they get
their name on the plastic fencing around the track. Additionally, they
get the finish-line structure and various archways around the track,
plus onsite inflatables and displays. (Who can forget the MasterCraft
boat that Ricky Carmichael just missed?)
TIT FOR TAT: With the money that the sponsors pay the sanctioning body,
the organization can expand the scope of the sport, tie in with
advertising partnerships and spread the wealth (or most likely, keep it for
FREE MONEY: To get sponsors to pony up, the sanctioning body has to sell
a little piece of the sport’s soul. No big deal; professional sports is
in no way chaste. For enough money, a sponsor will get prime VIP
seating—which is taken away from the spectator area. They will get the
so-called repeater banner—which blocks the spectators’ view on many
sections of the track. They will get guaranteed TV time—which is why the
banners and billboards are positioned to align with existing camera
angles. And they will get special features, including inflatables,
display areas, archways and track-side structures—which have over the
last few years been a hazard to the riders.
VALUE FOR THE DOLLAR: A year ago the Steel City National, Blake Baggett struck
an oversized Rockstar display that was wrapped around an aluminum
structure. There is no doubt that the 5-foot-tall Rockstar can protruded
into the track, because Baggett wasn’t the only rider to hit it.
Earlier the same year at Thunder Valley, MX Sports’ John Ayers drove a mule
over a drop-off jump, injuring Team Honda’s Josh Grant in the
cartwheeling crash. No matter why you think the drop-offs are on the
track, the real reason is to put advertising signage on the race course.
At the USGP the Red Bull arch fell down in a windstorm and knocked down seven riders. The said-same John Ayers placed a large aluminum Monster arch on the landing
of a tabletop jump at a 2009 AMA National with dire consequences. Sadly,
Carmichael’s run-in with the MasterCraft boat at the 2006 Dallas
Supercross didn’t stop the boat from being put in the infield.
TIT FOR TAT: It’s not a matter of when someone will be hurt; riders have
already been hurt by the sanctioning bodies’ advertising schemes. The
sport may not have any purity, but safety on the track should never be compromised in the name of the all-mighty dollar.