By Karin Gelschus
It’s no surprise snowmobile racing sponsorships have declined this year.
It is surprising, however, that the Cross Country Snowmobile Racing Series (USCC) is up about 40 percent in rider participation, and the International Series of Champions (ISOC) has remained nearly flat.
Continued, strong support from a couple manufacturers and snowmobilers’ desire to ride and race.
“Obviously in down times, your budgets will shrink; whether that is in the form of paying out smaller contingencies, downsizing rider sponsorships or having to scale back on race circuit sponsorships,” said Mike Kloety, Arctic Cat snowmobile race manager. Despite all that, he added, “We firmly believe in supporting Snocross, Cross Country, Ovals and Hillclimb. It makes our product better, and makes the sport of racing more exciting.”
Polaris Industries also has continued to support and promote snowmobile racing extensively, says Tom Rager Sr., the company’s race manager.
“Considering the environment we’re living in, I’m very proud that Polaris is still allowing me to participate at high levels in all forms of racing,” he said. “We’ve continued to support ISOC very close to the same levels we’ve always supported them. We’ve increased our participation in USCC, and we have more supported riders in USCC than we ever have.”
Cross country growth
The tough economy could be one reason the USCC has grown so much in the past year.
Pat Mach, president of USCC, says the biggest thing the organization has going is the fact that snowmobilers can take their regular trail sleds and bring them to the racetrack.
“We’ve focused on setting our series up to target the trail rider market,” Mach said. “That’s the biggest thing right now when everyone is watching their pennies. They can participate in classes where they can compete fairly inexpensively. Come out and have some fun, get the adrenalin of racing, and at the same time, not have to have a specialized sled for $10,000 or whatever it is.”
Rider participation has increased about 40 percent this year, says Mach.
“We’ve had growth every year since we started,” he said. “Granted we started really small, but our Red Lake I-500 went from 81 riders last year to 125 this year.”
The increase in participation can be partially attributed to USCC’s marketing efforts.
“We do more online stuff. You can do a Webcast free of charge. That’s opened up the spectators. We had thousands of unique visitors watch the races that way,” said Mach. “Rider-wise, it’s a lot of word of mouth. We try to make it a point to pay our riders right away. Make it a fun experience for them. They get hooked. They want to come back and keep doing it.”
The USCC’s marketing efforts and success haven’t gone unnoticed.
“The USCC is a solid affiliate,” said Kloety of Arctic Cat, “and now with racer numbers on the rise, I look forward to them getting more aggressive in the marketing of their events and finding creative ways to get more consumers watching the races in person or online.”
Attracting more participants has been a team effort with the manufacturers.
“We’re getting more involved in cross country. We’ve increased our participation in USCC in a couple areas,” noted Rager of Polaris. “We’re a sponsor of USCC corporate-wise. From my end of the business, we have increased our drivers and support to our drivers.”
Polaris alone has seen about a 20 percent increase in its rider participation within the USCC. Arctic Cat also has been instrumental in the success of USCC, says Mach. To the manufacturers’ benefit, Mach says the USCC provides the OEMs with additional field-testing for their new sleds.
“That’s one of the biggest things we offer the manufacturers,” he said. “Arctic Cat has really used that to its advantage. They’ve had factory representation at every one of our races for the past three years.”
One sled that Arctic Cat fully utilized the field-testing with was the Sno Pro 500, says Kloety.
“We develop and learn a lot from racing that transfers directly into our product,” he said. “For 2010, we introduced our new Sno Pro 500. This snowmobile has been a huge success. It was built to attract new riders/racers, young and old, into the sport of snowmobiling at a race-ready price they can afford. We believe we have accomplished that. In the recent USCC I-500 cross-country race in Thief River Falls, there were 88 entries in 2009. 2010 saw 127 entries, and 46 of them were Sno Pro 500s. That’s pretty impressive.
“We also introduced a new motor for 2010 in all our models, the 800HO with 160-plus hp. This consumer motor was a direct result of racing.”
“Sno Cross still has the most hype and excitement surrounding it,” said Kloety. “There are still a good number of affiliates promoting races all over the country. The number of racers participating at the top levels are down, but there is a bigger contingent of younger racers participating.”
Younger racers and youth have been more of a target when it comes to ISOC’s marketing campaign, says Andy Groebner, director of marketing for ISOC.
“We’re trying to find more ways to get families involved and get more people into racing,” he said. “We’re using our races and TV shows to do that, and we’re working with OEMs and dealers. We have a platform to do it, but we’re trying to find more ways. It’s more of a grassroots effort.”
One grassroots event ISOC held was in Shakopee, Minn. “At Canterbury, we had free 120cc demo rides for the kids, and at the end of the weekend, we gave a sled away to one of the kids,” said Groebner. “It was raining like crazy on Saturday at Canterbury, and we actually weren’t going to do it because of the rain. There were kids literally up there waiting to do it. Through the promotion with Arctic Cat, Christian Brothers and ISOC, we do free demo rides and 120 give-a-ways at all of the Nationals.”
In addition to those types of events, ISOC works quite a bit with the dealers.
“We want to do more with the dealers,” Groebner said. “The dealers would be one pivotal piece. We want their ideas. What are some mutually beneficial ways to work together? We all need to work together.
“The entire industry is different than most where everybody does try to work together,” he continued. “Everybody is a competitor in the end in terms of OEMs and competitive brands, but everybody in the industry knows we need to work together to move forward.”