Thursday, 4 June 2015

Flat Track at the X Games TONIGHT

Many of the top GNC riders, and a few crossover guests, like current road racer and two-time Daytona 200 winner Danny Eslick, will contest the first ever X Games flat track race in Austin, Texas tonight. 24 riders are aiming to qualify for a 12-rider main.

Riders will start from a motocross-style gate (like at the Superprestigio) on a track built at the Circuit of the Americas. We spoke to Sammy Halbert at the weekend and he said he had been told it's a 3/8-mile, and when he saw an overhead photo he thought it had very tight corners.

The whole of US dirt track is buzzing about this opportunity to put their sport and skills in front of a major TV audience. For those who don't know, X Games is the Olympic games of extreme sports and is run by the TV network ESPN. It is a made for TV sporting event and serves up some incredible moments.

But while this is a fantastic opportunity, it has given some people the opportunity to be negative about the AMA and what they're doing for the sport. I interview quite a lot of the pro racers and all of them want pro flat track to be on TV. That's obvious. who wouldn't? But some race fans are bashing the AMA for not having the sport on TV on a race-by-race basis. I was included in a reply to an email reminding people the X Games was on that said:

'Great for flat track. It just shows how far AMA has fallen down that they can't get decent TV exposure for anything but arenacross. So many good races are never seen anymore.'

It struck me as quite a blinkered view, so I wrote this reply and thought I'd share it here.

Every sport in the world thinks it deserves to be on TV, but it's not an easy deal to pull off. 
This doesn't prove the AMA has fallen down at all, in my opinion. The truth is flat track is a niche within the already minority sport of motorcycle racing. 

Try writing a pitch to a TV executive on how you'd sell dirt track to their TV company. It's not easy. It's not a world championship. It's contested by bikes that don't relate to street bikes. It has little manufacturer support (except Harley). It is slower than superbikes or GPs. It is less exciting, to a couch potato, than a flying 450 at a supercross event. To non-aficianados it doesn't have a lot going for it. 

The X Games deal is a lot easier, because
A: The sport hasn't been on TV for years, so it's a novelty.

B: Harley Davidson have thrown their weight behind it, to try sell bikes to a new audience. 

C: The X Games needs to reinvent itself every few years. They experimented with Supermoto a few years ago. It didn't save that sport. 

D: Street motorcycles are gaining popularity with the opinion-formers of the X Games generation (the hip crowd). Flat trackers can crossover with this crowd. 

E: The sport is blue collar and 'extreme' like the street sports X Games is built on. 

F: It's a one-off annual event, so no one has to wonder if an audience would follow a whole season of the sport. It'll be wild for one night, then the masses will move on. Hopefully a few people will fall in love with the sport and start following it on or at their local GNC race. 

I'm not saying the AMA are doing a good or bad job with regard to TV, but just because someone is putting the sport on TV for one night a year doesn't mean someone is doing a terrible job, because they don't have the whole season televised. 

American viewers can watch Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing on ESPN's live coverage of the X Games on Thursday, June 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. PT).

British viewers with ESPN or BT Sport packages can see it from, I think, 12.30 to 2.30am in the early hours of Friday morning. G


JP said...

The AMA has done a poor job but they have had an assist by teaming with DMG (The folks who run Daytona ... NASCAR) who really don't seem to get Two Wheels very well. Yeah, they have the Daytona 200 every year, but tradition carries that to an extent, this year it was not an AMA event as road racing was taken over by MotoAmerica, who worked a TV deal with CBS (not a great deal, but better than web streaming only) and is trying to get racing to give us more Spensers, Lawsons, and Raineys. Daytona decided not to deal with MotoA. Last year Road Racing was a disaster. very few races, and Yamaha ass about the only factory really interested. The Factories seem to have perked up a bit this year, but MotoAmerica will need to make gains.
Flat Track has not had as many problems, but there have been many I have seen and that is as a far outsider just catching the news time to time. Several tracks canceled well before race weekend. The new rules are helping some, but the rules fudging to keep the XR competitive I think hurts. Now that they have the Street 750, maybe they will get off rules that try to keep a 1970 design competitive against a more modern design.

Roger Falasco said...

It's all about the advertising revenue over here. The heyday of dirt track was 1, before motocross, and 2, later on with all the tobacco advertising money. Want to see it on tv, get some big money advertisers behind your sport. If advertisers thought that a good way to reach a wide audience was by sponsoring riders or series, flat track would be all over tv.

Sideburn Magazine said...

It's chicken and egg, though, isn't it. Without TV there and no big sponsors. This X Games thing has got to help the sport a little, but it's no magic bullet and, like I said in the blog post, flat track is an aficionado's sport.