Friday, October 19, 2012

One more time, with feeling...

As the old saying goes, as much as things change, they stay the same.  The 2012 Cdn riding season draws to a close.  Cdn road racing champions are crowned.   The professional/amateur also-rans whine about how they have to pay to be "the show" while everyone else involved makes money.  The "industry" puts on it's latest "happy talk" face and gets ready to sell, sell, sell at the winter shows and beyond.  Cdn moto-journalists and other online insiders/pundits pan or push products/services/events depending on what industry segments are most ripe for plucking gear freebies, bike test vacations and other perks.  (Be assured, I'm not on anyone's "perks" list.)

Port Dover Friday the 13th set new attendance figures (again), depending on whose numbers you believe, 50-75,000 bikes/riders and totals of 100-125,000 overall.  HOLEECRAP!!!  Not bad for something started by a couple average guys out of their back pockets...

M/c road race events also had notable attendances/grids, but mostly in the opposite direction... at some series, even the crickets have stopped showing up.  

Which begs the age-old question, if you build it, will they come?  Maybe not...  

An interesting side bar to temper the inevitable racing nostalgia for the "huge crowds in the good old days" appeared in the form of the video of the 1989 Mosport WSBK round.  Remember, this was before the days of MotoGP and WSBK arriving same-day-delay in your living room.  The weekly pulp moto-papers cranked out the "story", followed weeks later by colour photo spreads in the glossy magazines.  A video was a months-in-the-making treat to be savoured while the bike was snowed in.  If you wanted to see a race before the snow flew, you had to go to the track. 

While the initial impression from the video was of a hugely successful professional event with close racing, sponsor bucks by the transporter load and plenty of star power, a closer look tells another story.  

Close, spectacular racing?  Absolutely, every sponsor/promoter's wet dream these days.  Except a look further down the grid reveals the organizers had to scour the Cdn road racing ranks to fill the grid, a far cry from the one or two "wildcard" rides allowed today.  The skuttlebutt at the time was many of the WSBK regulars were less than enthused about Mosport's guardrails and generally poor track condition, so chose not to participate. 

But that didn't detract from the fact the fans in attendance were treated to a great show.  Except there weren't many fans there.  The aerial and race action shots showed mostly empty parking areas and bleachers.  The camera crew and editors did their best to avoid revealing the dismal turnout, but at some point they had to show the race action and the background track-side emptiness.  WESCAM was obviously a major sponsor and wanted the dramatic "still-cam" helicopter views to be prominent... a LOT of grass showing where parked spectator vehicles should have been. 

The 1990 WSBK round apparently did better, with more of the WSBK circus and "an estimated 35,000" fans in attendance.  I'm guessing that may have been the totaled number of per-day fan gate entries for the weekend, apparently still common practice when counting US MotoGP/WSBK attendance.  With European events of the time attracting closer to 100,000 Sunday numbers, no wonder there has not been a GP or WSBK Cdn round since 1991.  That and the fact that Canadian Superbike (CSBK) currently has no CMA/FIM sanction.  

The Cdn road racing backdrop in the 1980's brought the first iterations of RACE and CSBK into being, protests of the CMA's way of managing/sanctioning road racing via the FIM policy/procedures.  As just one example, CMA racers were forbidden from, and penalized for, riding in any non-CMA-sanctioned races/series.  The racers wanted their freedom and voted with their license/entry fees.  Ironically, Cdn racers wishing to compete in FIM European road racing events must still get CMA approval, or seek same via AMA channels.

Fast forward to late 2012, and a long rumoured new National series to be formed in protest of CSBK was actually, sorta announced.  This follows on the recent formation of SOAR, a protest regional series for RACE and track day refugees.  

The "new" Nationals promise their "better" rules will deliver lower costs/fuller grids, closer/more exciting racing, which wedded to star-powered social media marketing will naturally fill bleachers with adoring and committed fans.  Which will "of course" attract and retain sponsors from all over the Cdn landscape.  

This series will be formally announced "soon" IF (a big, big IF), the organizers get support from racers, sponsors, manufacturers and tracks.  

Deja vu all over again.  While I wasn't invited into the boardrooms, I would guess this is EXACTLY what was presented to "stakeholders" in the 1980's (and since) by RACE/CSBK/SOAR/VRRA/TFR/ASM and any other series organizer in the alphabet soup that makes up Cdn m/c road racing.  

So if they (re)build it, will the fans come?  

Maybe someone should look at how MotoGP, WSBK, AMA, WERA and other major series are faring before assuming re-jigging the rules and refreshing "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" (WOSSOM) marketing will put legions of Canadian butts in bleachers, eyeballs on TV/computer screens and set the FaceBook/Twitter-verse on fire.  

My read of current international events and informed commentary is that the new-rules/WOSSOM-lite formula ain't working all that well for the big-budget guys in motorcycle-friendly Europe, so how's it gonna play in "motorcycles are dangerous" Ontario?  While the "new Nationals" may sound completely different to Cdn m/c industry insiders and racers, it will look about the same to us punters who are needed to ensure suitable ROI (return on investment).

I guess 2011 CSBK Champion and WSBK contender Brett McCormick's 2,700 Twitter followers can't be wrong.  Unless you consider Rossi's 1.3 million T-followers aren't preventing European race attendances from dropping quickly and steadily enough to have Bridgepoint (mega-money rights-holders of MotoGP/WSBK) rearranging the rules/management deckchairs on that Titanic.  

Gee, if there was only some proven, long term example of low-cost, recession-resistant marketing scheme that brought out Cdn riders and non-riders (and international ones) in the droves, even if there was nothing particularly "exciting" to do or see...  

Say it out loud, all together now... "Port Dover Friday the 13th".  

Next post: "A Tale of Two Motorcycle Shows"