Why the glory days are gone – May 15, 2006

Editor’s note: Last issue we featured the first part of an extended interview with International Jet Sports Boating Association Managing Director Scott Frazier. In the completion of that interview, Frazier talks about his goals for the IJSBA, the hurdles that still remain, and whether it’s realistic to expect the organization to once again reach the level of years’ past.
PSB: What are your immediate short-term goals for the organization? Where would you like to see it get to this year? How about in the near future? What changes have been made to push the organization in these directions?
Scott Frazier: My immediate goal was to create a sustainable environment as quickly as possible. This meant cutting the IJSBA overhead and putting a halt to spending increases for participants. This meant putting a tight cap on the allowable modifications.
This was imperative for two-stroke PWC. We need to not encourage any more spending on two-strokes. Any disposable income current racers have should be put in the bank for a future four-stroke purchase. The four strokes are only going to continue to get more competitive, and with fewer modifications required. Therefore, we need to help racers embrace these new units.
My goal is to create a set of long-lasting four-stroke rules, which will have tight modification caps for most classes. This will create a sustainable environment in the sense that people will be able to modify their PWC for a particular class and know that unit will be as competitive next year as it was the season they just completed.
On the non-monetary side of things, other major goals are to increase communication, increase racer participation at the policy level, and to remind the PWC community that the IJSBA is their organization. We are the world’s only association that is solely for PWC competition and that has a democratically elected board of directors. The IJSBA is not a for-profit company, which means that all of our effort goes back into the PWC fund. We don’t have investors that need a dividend. Our bottom line is delivering the racing to the people. I think by installing a multi-tiered racer committee we will have further participation and foster more communication. This has already been put into place and I hope it is fully running staffed soon.
I also think that the sport desperately needs to make sure that all of the international racing is uniformed, at least in the mainstream classes. This should make worldwide planning and acquisition of sponsorship much easier. We have been working with the international affiliates to move in this direction.
PSB: What are you most optimistic about in the IJSBA’s future? What will continue to be the biggest hurdles the organization will need to overcome?
SF: I am most optimistic about the sport’s future in relation to how we are embracing four-stroke PWC. The durability and out-of-the box performance of the new four-strokes are absolutely unrivaled. In fact, it looks like we are near the end of the horsepower performance advances for (runabout) PWC. The best racers in the world are saying that these first generation of four strokes already produce more speed than they can handle on the track. That tells me that we have reached a point where horsepower wars will not produce a net advantage for the racer. This means that we can set modification caps at a lower level for these new units, which will inherently keep racing costs lower. This should allow us to retain racers longer.
The biggest hurdle will still be the barrier to entry. To go from not owning a PWC to becoming a beginner level PWC racer is at least $8,500 if one purchases a competitive used PWC. The price is slightly less if one opts to use a Ski (stand-up model), but they will need to have a longer training period before they can enter an event and even think about being competitive. However, as the performance of new PWC becomes equalized among the OEMs and the used market gains surplus, then the barrier to entry should be softened. This will lower our biggest hurdle somewhat.
PSB: Is there realistic potential for a return to the glory days of a prominent national tour, with a large umbrella sponsor?
SF: No. There is no realistic possibility to return to the glory days. I can only imagine how that statement will be misquoted, but lets look at the history of this sport. What people refer to as the glory days was a period in the early to mid ’90s when the sport of PWC racing became incredibly popular. For those of us who were lucky to experience part of it, it was a wonderful time. Even novice racers were getting real sponsorships and earning prize money.
This era was the product of many simultaneously occurring conditions that, in many cases, cannot be replicated. A PWC, particularly the runabout (and most particularly, the three-passenger runabout) was a relatively new product. The cost of this product was well within reach of most people and was much cheaper and easier to store than a mainstream boat. The fuel cost to operate a PWC was also quite low at the time. Manufacturers were selling large volumes and technology evolved so quickly that many people were fast to upgrade their unit, which provided a surplus of newer used units for the second-hand market.
During these big money days, the only established exclusively PWC association to showcase the units was the IJSBA. So all of the discretional promotion money really only has one home. ESPN was still a young alternative network trying to earn favor with sports viewers; this provided for low-cost broadcasting. With the PWC industry investing millions in the sport, Budweiser was happy to come along for the ride as the OEMs were surely marketing to the same demographics as the beer industries.
Fast forward to today: PWC are more expensive (and rightly so as the performance technology, amenities and quality of a new PWC have dramatically increased), fuel to tow and operate the PWC is much more expensive, OEMs sell far less units, the cost to broadcast a non-spectator sport on a primary cable sports network can exceed $50,000 per airing. So, every major factor that allowed this sport to have its 15 minutes either no longer exists or exists in a smaller capacity than our glory days.
Notice, we didn’t even talk about the brutal regulation that PWC faced in the mid to late ’90s. That is a whole other can of worms. Again, I think once we settle into a sustainable formula, then we will enjoy a sport that provides more happiness than our past. psb

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