by Steve Bauer
It’s the second most popular form of motorsport racing behind NASCAR, it packs arenas such as Atlanta’s 71,000-seat Georgia Dome, has a dedicated following in Canada and boasts some of this generation’s most popular athletes. If you haven’t already guessed it, the sport is Supercross, and its emergence onto the national sports scene has raised the hopes of both manufacturers and dealers who have been suffering from lackluster off-road bike sales in recent years.
What at one time was a niche sport for amateur dirt bike racers has morphed into a multi-million dollar business that shows no signs of slowing down. According to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), the governing body of Supercross, last year the sport attracted 830,851 live event spectators, and more than 14 million viewers watched the races on the Speed Channel and CBS, an increase of 40 percent over 2005.
A dealer connection
Supercross first evolved in the 1970s out of motocross, which differs from Supercross in that the cycle racing is done outdoors over more open terrain. Motocross continues to command a large and loyal fan base, however, with the sport extremely popular across the globe, especially on the local level. With the exposure and success of Supercross, many dealers are becoming more involved in their communities to support younger riders.
“The growth and exposure of Supercross racing the past few years has led to a whole new generation of kids who want to be the next Ricky Carmichael, Chad Reed or James Stewart,” said Jason Beck, owner of Grand View Powersports in southern California. Beck says promoting the local motocross scene provides invaluable exposure and business for his dealership.
“When you’re talking about amateur racing, riders typically purchase products from local dealers, and if you can cater to racers in your area, typically they’ll rely on you for products and service,” he said.
Even if a dealer chooses not to provide service to local riders, they can still cash in on the popularity of pro series like AMA’s Supercross.
“I guarantee you’ll be able to bring customers into your store by somehow promoting or associating yourself with a pro race in your area,” Beck said. “Whether your involvement is selling tickets, sponsoring an autograph session or even something as simple as placing posters in your store, there has never been a better time for dealers to take advantage of the success of the sport.”
A boon for manufacturers
Not only are dealers benefiting from the sport’s popularity, but manufacturers are as well. Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki and Yamaha all sponsor AMA Supercross teams, and the exposure that comes with sponsoring a champion is well worth the hefty investment.
“Every time James Stewart is on TV, the exposure that Kawasaki gets is immeasurable,” said Michael Summers of Racer X magazine. “The same goes for every other manufacturer out there sponsoring a race team, whether it’s Supercross, motocross, etc. It’s very similar to NASCAR in that fans gain a loyalty to a rider and hopefully for the manufacturer, the vehicle they drive as well.
“If you can get these kids on a certain bike when they’re young, the goal is that they’ll stick with that brand their entire lives.”
Summers says because Supercross and motocross cater to younger crowds and feature young stars, the TV exposure gives manufacturers an opportunity to cater to a crowd that maybe can’t afford a sport bike but still wants to get off-road and have some fun.
“Most motocross riders are between the ages of 16-30, so if they haven’t been riding since they were kids, watching a Supercross race on TV will definitely motivate these guys to come down to a dealership and look at a bike,” Summers said.
With off-road bike sales down the past three years, many hope the mainstream TV exposure Supercross brings will attract new riders into dealerships.
“I think the manufacturers have certainly done their part in terms of producing some really great new youth models,” Beck said. “I’ve seen a lot of interest in Suzuki’s new four-stroke youth model, along with Yamaha’s (TT-R110E). As long as the bikes are affordable and there are places to ride, the customers are going to keep coming. For these kids, Supercross is like a mix between NASCAR and the X-Games, fast racing with a lot of extreme jumps, etc. You can see the excitement in their eyes when they first sit on a bike, and for the most part they’re hooked from then on out.”