IJSBA gone; APBA increases presence

In a story that continues to rapidly unfold as this issue of Powersports Business goes to press, the five manufacturers that fund and support the International Jet Sports Boating Association — Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Sea-Doo, and Yamaha — elected to dissolve the racing organization as of December 31, 2003. Manufacturer support will now be focused on the American Watercraft Association, a one-time IJSBA spin-off that is being restructured into a recreational user group based in Washington, DC.
“The board has decided that a new direction is important,” explained Kawasaki board representative Roger Hagie, “and that the new direction will be focused on the AWA as a representative of the user community. That really is the driving force. We want to put whatever energy and effort this board has split between the IJSBA and the AWA side of the picture, we want to put it into a reconstituted AWA with a focus on the needs and voice of the recreational user.”
As to any other reasons board members may have had for the decision, as well as what will happen to the IJSBA’s racing efforts, board members were silent, adhering to their decision to release the details first in the AWA member publication Jet Sports the first week of February. “One of the fairly clear expressions that the board has made is that they want the March issue of Jet Sports to give that statement,” continued Hagie.
An organization which began in the early ’80s to promote the growth of personal watercraft racing, as well as provide rules, organization, and a sanctioning presence, the IJSBA had been under increasing criticism over the last five years from both the manufacturers and racers alike, who watched as the once-surging sport of PWC racing began a rapid decline. According to one industry insider, who spoke to PSB on condition of anonymity, the manufacturers had threatened to pull the plug on the IJSBA repeatedly over the last several years, and had become increasingly critical over what was perceived as a lack of return on each manufacturer’s substantial monetary involvement. Criticism was also levied at the IJSBA for failing to grow the sport, and the inability to secure any form of outside-the-industry sponsor who would alleviate some of the financial burden placed on the manufacturers.
With the perception apparently turning more towards the idea that racing did not in fact help sell a substantial number of boats, and money and support needed to help fight a growing number of legislative and access issues, manufacturers began to support more heavily the idea of the enthusiast-oriented American Watercraft Association, and question the money being spent to support the IJSBA. Once the board made the decision to separate the American Watercraft Association from the IJSBA fold, and relocate it to Washington, DC, many industry observers speculated that the move would be the beginning of the end for the racing organization.
The sudden demise of the sport’s major sanctioning body has left a sudden gap for racers looking for a competitive venue, as well as promoters with events looming on the horizon. And created an opportunity for the American Powerboat Association, who has made quick strides to fill the void.
The organization is certainly no stranger to personal watercraft racing. For years, the APBA has dabbled in PWC events, most notably during the mid-’90s when they served as the first sanctioning body to open the doors to runabout craft during the now-defunct Busch World Cup series. With the demise of the IJSBA, the APBA now stands poised to step in and assume the lead sanctioning role.
“My feeling is that basically the manufacturers did not feel as though they were getting a return on their investment,” explains Patrick Mell, head of PM Sports Marketing and the man the APBA has tapped to head up their expanding PWC involvement. “Basically there was an alternative out there that could provide the same sanctioning, membership, and insurance function for the sport where the manufacturers were not going to have to support it financially, as they have in the past, as well as not be involved in the day-to-day operations of running it, as they have in the past.
“They just want to get out. It’s a lot of work, and it takes away from their job of developing and selling watercraft.”
As Mell points out, the APBA already has the internal workings in place to run a cost-effective sanctioning program. “The good thing is that the APBA is an organization that can real quickly have the race program set up,” continues Mell. “I expect this to be 100-perecent up and running by the end of January, with the insurance program set up, and the first mailing to all the people. Any promoter who wants to do an event will be able to purchase a competitive insurance package, and it will be very similar to what they’re used to.”
Allowing the APBA to handle the racing side of the equation also does away with the need to fund an office and staff, as the IJSBA required in the past. “The APBA has the benefit of a complete office full of people,” explains Mell, “to handle the processing of the memberships, and the sanctioning, and the accounting functions, and things like that.”
Due to the timing of the transition, Mell cautions not to expect any dramatic changes, at least not yet. “We’re not going to be able to reinvent the sport in just a couple of weeks,” he explains. “The plan for 2004 is to basically adopt the IJSBA rule book, make some minor changes to it, hopefully make it easier to understand and easier to enforce.” From there, one of the next tasks will be to develop a new rules committee, which will consist of promoters, racers, the aftermarket, and the manufacturers. “By having a rules committee that consists of racers, the aftermarket community, the promoters, and the manufacturers, allowing more people to have some input in to how the sport is run, I think some positive changes can be made.
It kind of stops the negativity of everybody pointing fingers. Everybody will be working together to develop rules that are in best interest of the sport, rather than just best interest of the manufacturers.”
As to last season’s pro and national tours, Mell does not see the events happening for 2004, although rumors persist that Kawasaki may again support a West Coast-based series similar to 2003. In Mell’s opinion, the manufacturers have already indicated they plan to spend their money elsewhere, and it is far too late in the game to solicit outside-the-industry sponsorship. In 2005, he expects to see a return to national-type racing, with a few select events possibly centered around existing APBA race programs.
“I think the resources of the APBA events could bring some good things down the road to the sport,” Mell says. “Even if it’s running a 45-minute race in the middle of a Formula One race with personal watercraft in front of 100,000 people, anything is better than what’s going on now.
“I’m excited about the potential, I’m excited that hopefully the manufacturers, although their financial obligation will now be reduced, hopefully they won’t take that money and not spend it, but now invest it in the sport, whereas before they were spending the money on running the association. The APBA is something that, just through tie-ins with the other events, is going to be something very positive for the sport. It’s going to provide the same exact resources to the promoters and the racers as the IJSBA provided.
“I think the sport can turn around. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, but I think with some realistic plans, and everybody working together with a positive attitude, this sport can turn around.”
Familiar words. But for the first time in a lot of years, they’re coming from a new organization.

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