What started as a discussion about how to create a unified media rights package for the two largest motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies bore offspring, and like most children, the SuperMotocross World Championship series will have characteristics of both parent companies.
Last week, Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross announced the creation of a three-race playoff series that will be run at the conclusion of the motocross season. The purse for the new series will be $10 million.
But that wasn’t the goal when conversations first got underway.
“It was the product of media rights,” Dave Prater, vice president of Supercross told NBC Sports recently. “When we took the media rights out together and started talking to different companies, that was one of the pieces of feedback we were getting – that the modern sports’ fan expects a postseason playoff as well as a World Series or Super Bowl to cap off the season. We were hearing that from multiple organizations, so it seemed like the right way to go.”
One of the biggest obstacles faced by both Supercross and Motocross in approaching broadcast companies is the length of their respective series.
Currently, Supercross begins in January and runs for about four and a half months.
With fewer rounds but more A Mains, Pro Motocross is shorter at three and a half months, but most of the same riders compete in both and have always essentially had an eight-month season. Tacking on a three-race playoff brings the season to nine months and places the sport in the same arena as NASCAR or the National Hockey League, two sports that dominate the calendar.
While this may have been in the back of the minds of executives in both organizations for some while, the timing was not always right.
Not much good came from the COVID-19 pandemic that paused sports for several months, but as Supercross and Motocross discussed the challenges in how and when to go back to racing, the relationship between the two took a slightly different form. Then they noticed their current media rights packages were due to expire at almost the same time.
“This was the first time that our contracts were this close together,” Carrie Coombs-Russell, chief executive officer of MX Sports Pro Racing told NBC. “It provided a great opportunity to look at our respective series and realize that if we were able to go to the market together, we would have a much better opportunity to put a really good television package together.”
And the sum of the parts was greater than the whole.
As they began having these conversations, it became apparent that there was an even bigger play.
Eight months is a long time in a sport that is as prone to injury and body fatigue as motorcycle racing. It’s never been a matter of if a rider will get injured in his career, it is how often and how severe. Occasionally riders will skip one season or another to heal or rest so they can put their best foot forward in the other.
Over the course of the long history of the sport, both premier class titles have been claimed by the same rider 12 times.
The reigning Supercross titlist, Eli Tomac, currently leads the Pro Motocross points and is poised to add his name to the list in 2022.
Beginning in 2023, riders have an opportunity to win three titles in a season – in what will essentially be a third, hybrid sport.
Just as parents retain their uniqueness when a child is born, supercross and motocross look to protect their identities.
“The beauty of this is that it is two truly unique disciplines in the same sport,” Prater said. “You’ve got supercross and then you go to motocross.”
Supercross is about precision. The tight confines of an arena don’t allow for the long straights and elevation changes of motocross.
Motocross is prone to greater speeds in portions of the racetrack, and it rewards boldness over precision.
The challenge will be in how to combine the best of both disciplines so that the winner of the three-race playoffs (which will culminate in a return to the Los Angeles Coliseum in October 2023) completely represents the best of both worlds. Supercross raced there at the beginning in the early 1970s and as recently as 1998 when Angel Stadium in Anaheim was undergoing renovations.
Some iconic images came from that venue as bikes raced up through the grandstands through the peristyle and then came roaring back down into the stadium.
This type of action is what SuperMotocross hopes to revive. A little of both styles of racing, and a lot of uniqueness.
“The beauty of this is that it’s new so we’re inventing it as we go,” Prater said. “The challenge is that we’re confined (in Supercross). We don’t have the space to do a true motocross-style track. The L.A. Coliseum is one of the larger venues. We can go up to the peristyle; that makes it perfect.
“We are looking at venues that can accommodate a large track like this, such as speedways, or just unique venues in general so we can accommodate this.”