A conversation about media rights created the new SuperMotocross World Championship

Supermotocross media rights
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

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.”

SuperMotocross will combine elements of both the stadium and outdoor seasons to create an entirely new hybrid track. Align Media

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.”

2021 Monster Supercross schedule
Plans are still being finalized as to how to expand the footprint of some stadiums in order to create elements from both racing disciplines. Feld Entertainment Inc.

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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.