Opinion: The return of Supercross

Supercross has been around since the early 1970s. The very first stadium motocross race was held in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1972. Called the Super Bowl of Motocross, the term evolved over the years into ‘Super cross’ and indoor stadium racing on dirt has entertained hundreds of thousands of race fans since.

The original concept was to bring the rough and tumble outdoor sport of motocross to the masses without them having to stand outside in the mud. Comfortable seats, food concessions and an action-packed format with plenty of handlebar-to-handlebar racing was a winning formula.

The supercross phenomenon was embraced by motorcycle manufacturers and sponsors alike. The massive live and television audiences have been served up ads and activations for consumer products from energy drinks and apparel to automobiles.

There is little doubt that indoor motorcycle racing exposed the sport to millions of people and made the elite athletes who compete in supercross at the highest level some of the wealthiest two-wheel racers in the world. Supercross is pure entertainment in the form of a racing series that rewards the most talented, prepared, and aggressive riders. Physical training plays a major role in the success of a rider. Staying fit and injury-free is not an easy task. It is a brutal, unforgiving sport that leaves little room for error. Many riders who make it to the pinnacle of the sport are lucky if their careers last more than a few seasons. Californian Jeremy McGrath retired gracefully to the life of a television commentator with seven championships, but he is an exception.

The American supercross series is generally considered to be the most prestigious dirt bike title in the World mainly because, until now, there hasn’t been a true World Championship (in supercross). Although attempts have been made, they have yet to be successful over the long term. It is generally acknowledged that the US series is the most competitive, featuring the very best riders from all over the World.

The US championship is under the ownership of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA). In recent years the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) collaborated on the US-based series until 2021 when the two entities parted ways.

Late last year we heard rumblings of a new SX series. Then, the FIM announced more details about a brand-new World Series that will be operated by an Australian group called SX Global. The numbers being tossed around in the press release are impressive – $50 million US dollars to be shared among ten four-rider teams over the next five years and a $250,000 prize money purse at each race. The teams would contest both the 250 and 450 classes fielding two riders in each class. The team licenses would be limited to ten just like in Formula 1.

The $50 million is underwritten by Mubadala Capital, an international investment company which is wholly owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. The substantial prize money being offered has certainly piqued the interest of more than a few prospective competitors.

Aside from the top professionals, many supercross racers provide their own funding. If they’re lucky, they may be financially supported (in part) by their family, a local shop, or an aftermarket business. Sometimes the best one can hope for is a discount on bikes and parts. It is not an easy sport to reach the top and getting injured is a very real possibility. It’s an unforgiving sport that is not for the faint of heart, or collarbone.

The new series is designed to compliment the AMA program by running later in the year. For 2022, the pilot series will run from September to November and the SX Global group intend on expanding to stage races around the world. Many countries have indoor SX races or even multi-race series in their respective countries, however the potential to expand into untapped markets is ripe for the taking. Particularly when one considers the opportunities in countries such as India or China where massive sales numbers of motorcycles are the norm (India is the largest in volume motorcycle market in the world) and motorsports in general is on the cusp of exploding. There are talented supercross racers all over the world.

Traditionally, the world’s elite usually land in the US to earn the big bucks and test themselves against the very best. It remains to be seen if the two series can co-exist especially when considering there are so few racers who can compete at such a high level.

There are currently only a handful of really good supercross racers in the world, especially in the 450 class. At the start of the 2022 season, fewer than ten 450 class riders were in contention. Now eight races in to the 17-race series, Eli Tomac and Jason Anderson are in the hunt for the championship, with a few more following behind who could win a race or two here and there before the season winds down in May. Races have been full of riveting on-track battles, complimented by drama off the track which armchair experts and social media pundits are quick to chime in on.

Filling the start gate with competent riders who can put on a great show could be a challenge. With more options available to them, a rider’s value may go up.

The new FIM series could be the demise of AMA outdoor motocross series mainly because, up until now, rider contracts usually extend into the outdoor motocross season. However, it is common knowledge that some riders don’t care to ride the tough sometimes muddy, sometimes dusty tracks for very little prize money or prestige. I think the new series will further drive racers to become supercross-only riders who enjoy the comfort of luxury hotel rooms in the centre of a city where you can easily fly into and fly back out, all the while racing in front of big crowds in a climate-controlled environment.

In addition to attracting new riders and audiences, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new brand of bike on the start line of the new series. UK-based motorcycle manufacturer Triumph announced last year that they will be building dirt bikes in the future and personnel were seen at one of the AMA races recently. Triumph isn’t the only manufacturer eyeing up the dirt bike market. India’s brand Hero has made in-roads in off-road rallying and appears to be expanding in that direction too. Exciting times.

Considering that electric dirt bikes are the future of off-road, we could also see these clean, quiet bikes migrating into supercross soon. They may not offer the same exciting sounds, but they would certainly fix the exhaust fume issue.

The big question for us as Canadians is whether we will see live supercross here in Canada once again. In the past, the Toronto and Montreal supercross events were the highlight of our racing season. Not since the mid 2000s have Canadians been able to watch live supercross in either Stadium Olympique or the Rogers Centre. Supercross has a great number of fans here in Canada, who have the option to watch it live via online subscriptions directly from the series organizer or on RevTV, a motorsports channel.

Justin Thompson is the owner Jetwerx, a company that promotes professional motocross and supercross racing in Canada. Thompson also is part of the promoter’s group of SX Global and Jetwerx is the North American liaison for the new SX series. Understandably he can’t get into details, but he did say is highly likely that Canadians can expect a supercross in the fall of 2022.

There are some very capable people involved in the new series and funding is said to be on par with Formula 1. It is a pivotal era in motorsports entertainment. The world is opening up and new opportunities are on the horizon. It gives enthusiasts a reason to be optimistic about the future of the sport.

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