There are those who say that Youthstream’s Giuseppe Luongo has done a lot of good for Grand Prix motocross. However, the same could be said about slave traders helping the cotton industry in the 1700s. If the Good Ship MXGP is being sailed for the good of all in the Grand Prix community, then why does it seem like the little captain on the poop deck is reaping all the pirate booty?
One thing for sure, Luongo has lined the purse of his Youthstream organization through the blood, sweat and ligaments of the Grand Prix riders. And he achieved a goodly portion of it by taking money from the teams and riders at every step along the way. Need examples?
(1) Luongo took the purse money away from the riders. Believe it or not, they race the GP’s for no purse money. American riders race each week for a $66,000 purse (and in Supercross there is a $350,000 riders points fund). In the GPs the payout is zip.
(2) Luongo eliminated the start money that had traditionally been paid to the Grand Prix riders to help them cover the costs of racing the GPs.
(3) Fifteen years ago the average 10th-place Grand Prix rider made just under $32,000 a year in start and purse money. With that $32,000 the rider could finance his expenses for the race series. Today, a Grand Prix rider has to spend $32,000 to cover his entries and travel.
(4) Luongo wiped out travel money for fly-away races, which meant that the teams and riders would no longer be given a subsidy to enable them to travel to Brazil, Mexico or other far-off lands. For comparison, the MotoGP road racers get an allowance from the road race organizers to help cover their shipping fees.
(5) Previously there was a GP team association called MXTAG. They had a representative named Gerard Valat. Gerard fought for the rights of the teams and battled for reinstatement of the fly-away race travel subsidy money from Youthstream. According to reliable sources, Youthstream eventually told the teams that they would reinstate the travel money on the condition that MXTAG got rid of Gerard Valat. The teams put it to a vote and the decision was made, by just a single vote, to go along with Luongo’s offer. From then on MXTAG was neutered and Youthstream wouldn’t speak of Gerard Valat’s replacement. Youthstream did reinstated the travel money, but two years later the travel money was taken away again.
IT IS ASSUMED THAT THESE BACK ROOM DEALS ARE WHY THE ORIGINAL PETITION NOT TO GO TO MEXICO–AND YES, THE TEAMS DID PROTEST THE MEXICAN ADVENTURE EARLIER–FELL APART. IT IS CALLED “DIVIDE AND CONQUER.”
In Grand Prix motocross there is a lot of wheeling a dealing and nobody knows what different teams, riders or promoters actually pay. There are allegedly entry fee deals done for some teams, and for those good buddy deals favors are traded. It is assumed that these back room deals are why the original petition not to go to Mexico–and yes, the teams did protest the Mexican adventure earlier–fell apart. It is called “divide and conquer.”
(6) All in all, Luongo’s absorption of the purse, start and travel money earned Youthstream an estimated $3,500,000 a season. Money that previously went to the riders.
(7) Giuseppe Luongo doesn’t feel bad about taking the money from the riders. In fact, Grand Prix entries fees are approximately $1248 at present exchange rates (with a price break if you sign up for all the races). Compare this to the USA, where a rider pays $200 to enter an AMA race, and the 40th place rider makes $220 per moto in purse money to offset the cost.
(8) Before Luongo took control of the FIM World Motocross Championships in 2004 (with an unbelievable long-term contract from the FIM that reportedly gave him the rights to GP motocross until 2026) the typical sanction fee to host a Grand Prix was $25,000. According to reliable sources, the sanction fee for a promoter to hold a GP under Youthstream could be as much as $750,000 (with none of that money being shared with the riders). In fact, Luongo’s sanction fee schedule is a sliding scale with government funded events paying as much as $750,000 per race (and Luongo reportedly offered a Grand Prix to Kuwait for 2013 for this sum), while private
promoters pay less. And, if you are a race that Luongo desperately needs, you might pay nothing. The most important factor in the sliding scale is that Youthstream favors the far-off countries and government-funded events because that is where the money is (irrespective of whether there is any significant offroad motorcycle market in that country or even any world class riders).
ENTER MEXICO! YOU DON’T NEED TO BE SHERLOCK HOLMES TO BEGIN BELIEVING THAT LUONGO’S INTEREST IN EXPANDING THE FIM MOTOCROSS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IS A SEARCH FOR BIG WALLETS
Enter Mexico! You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to begin believing that Luongo’s interest in expanding the FIM Motocross World Championship is more of a search for big wallets and deep bank accounts than what’s good for the sport. To our way of thinking, before every GP team has to load all of its equipment and spend a reported $25,000 in shipping and travel fees to go to to Mexico, at least one Mexican rider should try to ride the Grand Prix circuit. Doesn’t it seem strange that Luongo wants to race in Thailand, Brazil, Bulgaria, Kuwait and China–when there are more motocross bikes in SoCal than all of those countries combined. In fact, there are more motocrossers shopping in a San Diego mall on a Friday night than in all of Kuwait.
If you asked Luongo and his defenders why they are taking motocross so far afield from its base audience, they will tell you that they
are giving the sport a global presence and raising its profile around the world. They claim that Youthstream is attempting to steer the sport into growth markets that have long-term appeal to sponsors.
Giving lip-service to the riders who he took $3,500,000 in income away from, Luongo says, “The most important part of our sport is the riders” and, that by investing money, albeit the rider’s money into the sport, the riders will benefit from more sponsors and better rides (and this is true as most World Champions move to the United States where they find more sponsors and better rides).
When the riders refused to go out for their qualification races in Mexico, claiming that the track was too dusty and dangerous, they weren’t really striking over the conditions in Mexico–but the unfair conditions in Grand Prix motocross. They didn’t want to be at a sub-par racetrack in the middle of a country who hasn’t had a world class rider since Pedro Gonzalez (15 years ago). They didn’t like the news reports of drug gang violence or the disturbing sight of a dead body laying on the road to the track. Both Luongo and FIM boss Wolfgang Srb skipped the trip to Mexico. Did they think it was too dangerous? The GP riders couldn’t believe how slow the Mexican national riders were...and the ensuing number of collisions proved their point because of the phenomenal closing rate.
They were unhappy, not with the dust, but that the dust was in Mexico, and so were they. So, they refused to ride Saturday’s qualifiers. When only ten riders went to the starting line on Saturday, the image of Grand Prix motocross, its professionalism and its organization was damaged by everyone who heard about the rider protest.
Who’s too blame for this mess? This is a good question, but if you think we are going to lay the body at the feet of Giuseppe Luongo you are dead wrong. Luongo is doing what Luongo does–he’s never hidden his agenda. So who does the blame lie with?
FIRST AND FOREMOST, ONLY UNDER THE MOST GENEROUS TERMS COULD THE FIM AND YOUTHSTREAM NOT APPEAR TO BE IN CAHOOTS WITH EACH OTHER. DOESN’T AN OVER 20-YEAR CONTRACT BETWEEN THE FIM AND YOUTHSTREAM SEEM A LITTLE SUSPECT?
First and foremost, only under the most generous terms could the FIM and Youthstream not appear to be in cahoots with each other. Doesn’t an over 20-year contract between the FIM and Youthstream seem a little suspect? Who benefits from handing the controls over to one group until midway through the next decade? You know who? It seems obvious that when one group hands over the keys to the car, the first group must have part ownership in the vehicle. The rumors have circulated for years about potential wrong doing, but in the Grand Prix’s truth-free zone they never see the light of day.
In our humble opinion, until the FIM’s current management hires an outside auditing firm to look over its contracts with Youthstream (and the men who signed the contracts) there will always be the suggestion, whether true or false, that money (or ownership in Youthstream) has changed hands between the past or present FIM management and Youthstream. Wouldn’t you love to see a independent review of who really owns Youthstream?
Second, KTM, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki are to blame. They have allowed the sport to be hijacked (along with their bikes, riders, mechanics and transporters). They are racing in countries that they don’t see any reason to be in and being charged for the honor (including dealing with the shipping company of Youthstream’s choice). Perhaps the teams don’t care about their riders, but if they think the sport is benefiting from racing in embarrassing places–they are getting what they want.
From a pragmatic point of view, the riders, teams and manufacturers do embrace the idea of a worldwide championship. They believe that the Grands Prix should be held in more places than the Benelux countries–but the overseas travel has to be within their budgets. With proposed 2013 fly-away races that could include two races in Asia, two in South America, one in the Middle East and a return to Mexico, the team budgets cannot cover the expenses–unless Youthstream pitches in to supplement the extra costs.
And those are just the concerns of the factory-backed teams. The small privateer teams have about as much chance of sending bikes, riders, mechanics, and parts to Thailand as they do to the moon. One thing is for sure, the teams are in uproar about the massive increase in fly-away races and they want to meet with the FIM to work something out–to either stop the foreign expeditions or to get financial help. As pablum, Youthstream will probably give in a little. However, even if Giuseppe Luongo agrees to pay travel assistance to the top 15 riders and their teams, who could trust him. He agreed to pay travel money before and reneged on the deal within two years.
THE EUROPEAN PRESS CONTINGENT IS MADE UP LARGELY OF COWARDS, MEN WHO CAN BE BOUGHT OR LAGGARDS. THEY ARE MORE INTERESTED IN A NICE PRESS ROOM AND FREE FOOD THAN THE RIDERS’ WELFARE.
Third, the European press contingent is made up largely of cowards, men who can be bought or laggards. A large number of moto-journalists are more interested in a nice press room and free food than the riders’ welfare or the legitimacy of the championship. It appears to the outside observer that Luongo has almost every European journalists in his back pocket. Most of them barely mentioned the troubles in Mexico in their race reports–for to do so would mean that they would be banished from the press contingent in the future. And there is no shortage of work-for-free journalists that would be willing to take their place. Perhaps most telling was when a European journalist, who had been critical of Youthstream in the past, was asked if he was going to the Bulgarian Grand Prix, he half jokingly said, “No, there are too many places to hide my body in that country.”
Finally, the sponsors are indicted by their benign neglect. They sponsor the events and increase their market share, but never take the riders well-being into account (are you listening Monster?). This is true in the USA as well as Europe. When a major sponsor is handing over $2,000,000 to sponsor a series, they should demand that a percentage of their sponsorship money be shared with the riders. It is the right thing to do. The sponsors shouldn’t have to be asked to share the wealth, they should insist that the promoters do it. But they don’t...as long as they get a couple hundred free tickets and good signage, they turn a blind eye to who is being abused by the system they support.
Who don’t we blame? We don’t blame Mexico. They wanted to get on the map for something other than murder. We don’t blame the riders. They are the victims not the perpetrators.