AMA

Supercross interview with Jam Sports principals, part II

By Rick Johnson (Supercross.com) - Special to Motorsport.com Part II RJ: So when will you announce your 2003 schedule? Tony: I know that people are waiting. We have already announced our cities and will announce our schedule when we are...

By Rick Johnson (Supercross.com) - Special to Motorsport.com

Part II

RJ: So when will you announce your 2003 schedule?

Tony: I know that people are waiting. We have already announced our cities and will announce our schedule when we are ready, not because Clear Channel has put out yet another release claiming to have an exclusive deal with yet another venue. We will demolish that myth. We'll start in Los Angeles, and finish in New York. Our schedule will show that it's not possible for anyone to control every city in America. Every venue will be top-flight, major NFL type stadiums. They are all top-notch big league stadiums in major markets so apologies in advance to anyone who was looking forward to going to Boise or Des Moines. Although I know for a fact that Jerry promotes a lot of shows in Des Moines and I have personally been to a sell out show in Boise just earlier this year.

RJ: You've been hammered in the press, especially with all the recent Clear Channel releases. Your thoughts?

Jerry: Interesting point. Clear Channel seems to think it's important to announce everything they do now. They've made a big deal out of announcing 'exclusive' relationships with venues. I'm here to say that whenever we approach a venue, we don't need exclusives. We don't need to use a building for a protection period to leverage ourselves.

Tony: They sure seem to be coming out with all these announcements at an interesting time. It's obvious why they announced their 2003 schedule so early. I find it interesting to see a press release about their dirt deal. But yes they are out their trying to stop us getting dirt and even a dirt guy. Hey they even called the people at the Speed Channel and other potential partners to try and find a way to kill our deal. So people should ask themselves why they would resort to these tactics? Are these the people you want to entrust the future of your sport to?

Then look at what they are doing to the AMA. Part of their deliberately passive aggressive campaign has been to paint themselves as the victims of a bad decision by the AMA. The AMA Board are all good guys who care first and foremost about motorcycling. They are not political animals and so far you have not read their side of the story because they chose to take the high road. But seven years ago Clear Channel (then SFX) decided they would create their own sanctioning body but had to back down when the Manufacturers told them their allegiance was to the AMA. Clear Channel pays nothing to the AMA except a sanction fee which barely covers their out of pocket expenses for providing personnel to run the races. They (Clear Channel) have no obligation to put anything back into the sport and it shows. That is one thing I am sure the AMA was unhappy with.

Racing in the same markets year after year will make more money for the promoter, but will not grow the sport. So it costs a few hundred thousand to race in New York. Are you telling me Clear Channel cannot afford that? They are making millions every year from supercross and I am not impressed when a multi-billion dollar company crows about investing $100,000 in their web site but does not race in the city where any major national sport must be in order to grow. Neither do I consider buying up all independent promoters an investment in the sport as Charlie Mancuso called it. I call it getting control so you can make more money. And we know for a fact that long before they knew the AMA's decision to change promoters they went behind the AMA's back and were negotiating to bring FIM to the US to sanction their series. Then they acted shocked and hurt when they heard that the AMA had picked a new promoter. The AMA was the only thing standing between Clear Channel and total dominance and they are going to great lengths to eliminate them.

So I would say, ask yourself how come they were ready within hours of the AMA press release with all those announcements about exclusive deals with buildings and dirt deals and increased bonus funds. And if they are so concerned about privateers why wait so long to do something about it? Right now they are making special proposals to the factories and I am sure they will soon announce FIM as their sanctioning body. The timing is all too suspect for me.

RJ: Part of the initial response from some is that Speed Channel does not reach enough people. Are you aware of that?

Jerry: You have to look at the numbers. How many people actually watch tape delayed supercross under the ESPN/Clear Channel TV set-up? Not enough. The TV package should be a driving force in expanding and growing the sport, and the production should be exhilarating like the live event. I don't think you can say that about their ESPN package. Our ratings will be higher because people are more prone to watch live than tape-delayed and because we will have great production and a TV partner who will promote our sport and our telecast. I can guarantee you more people will watch live on Speed Channel than Clear Channel's tape delay

Tony: Fox Entertainment has just bought Speed Channel. Fox is very aggressive, and on an expansion course right now. By 2003, when the numbers become relevant, Speed Channel will reach over 60 million homes. That might be a little less than ESPN2. However, as Jerry has said you'll have to look at whether people will want to watch live supercross with great cutting edge production, or would they rather watch a tape delay a week or two later? That to me is the most relevant question. The other thing to realize is that our deal with Speed Channel is just phase one of our plan to revolutionize supercross TV coverage and production. As I have already said the Speed Channel deal gives us the ability to take up to eight events elsewhere. This opens up many exciting possibilities; from network to niche stations and we will make sure that whatever we do will improve upon the coverage we are already guaranteed by Speed Channel. As the sport grows the possibilities we have are unlimited. And unlike Clear Channel who made their TV deal without speaking to any of the stakeholders in the sport we will discuss with all relevant people what we intend to do with the eight events and will solicit their opinions and do what's right for everyone including the sponsors, manufacturers and riders.

RJ: Is Jam Sports looking at making a larger presence in motorsports by doing other events and series as well?

Jerry: We are concentrating on supercross right now, but it's only the first motorsports venture we are in. Others are in the pipeline.

RJ: If there were two series starting in 2003, will it hurt the sport?

Tony: If they are really competing, yes it's possible. But ask the question 'Why would there need to be a series without the factory riders? What sort of series could it be? And what sort of sanctioning body would it be? I find it interesting that one of Clear Channel's press releases stated that they will be running a supercross series no matter what in 2003. I know they don't have a commitment from the factory teams. Also, I've heard that they plan to put tickets on sale to their 2003 events soon. If that's true, what are they going to tell the public about who will be racing? That's the kind of stuff that in my view can hurt the sport in the long term.

RJ: When you started to build your 2003 schedule, did you look at venues, cities, and markets, or did you look to go up against Clear Channel?

Jerry: We looked at past history. We saw some weaknesses. One of the weaknesses we saw was that 50% of the races are west of the Rockies. We said to ourselves 'This is a National sport, why is it not in all parts of the country?' We looked at what's best for growing the sport, not what's best for promoters.

We then looked at the top 50 markets in the country, and then analyzed what was best to do. We thought about what and how we can do things better.

RJ: I'm a privateer that's trying to break into the sport. I'm trying to get from place to place. I'm trying to earn a living. What do you say to me and guys like me that are trying to make it into a main event? What series should I go to if there are two?

Jerry: The privateer issue is a big issue for us. We have to make sure that those without the luxury of being sponsored by a manufacturer or team can be a big part of the sport. We feel the privateers have been abused for too long. As I said, the promoter has been keeping as much money as possible. Now it's time for others to share in the rewards.

Tony: We are working on a privateer fund and were doing so long before Clear Channel rushed out their proposal. We want to make sure ours covers every situation it needs to and we are speaking to a lot of people for their feedback to make sure we get it right. We have only had six weeks to do this and Clear Channel has had many years. Why did they wait until now to rush theirs out? I don't think I need to answer that question. Riders are not stupid they can figure it out. We will make every stakeholder a part of the process.

We are going to create what we are calling the 'Dirt Board'. Everyone who has a stake in the sport will be represented on the Dirt Board. It will be our advisory board, and everyone will be encouraged to speak their mind about anything they think. Any injustice. Anything wrong. Anything that needs to be improved. There will be a continuous dialogue.

RJ: Will this board have power? Will it have teeth? Can it bite back?

Tony: We are good listeners and the board will not be a puppet board. They will need to be persuasive first amongst themselves and when they speak with one voice we will have to listen.

Donnie Graves: One of the first things we learned is that everyone in the sport does not feel like their opinions are being heard. And certainly not acted upon. The goal is to give everyone a voice. The bottom line is that no one entity, including Jam Sports, the AMA, or Clear Channel, should be allowed to dictate what happens with racing.

What happens on the racetrack is the AMA's responsibilities. Outside of that, we are open to hearing and having conversations with everyone.

RJ: Has anyone from Jam Sports been in contact with Clear Channel since your announcement with AMA Pro Racing?

Jerry: Yes. Charlie Mancuso and his lawyers have been in contact. They have contacted us via letters threatening us. They want to make sure their position is very clear. And we have to respond very clearly as well.

RJ: You want long-term growth. How?

Tony: Sometimes you have to say 'No' to something's that might make money immediately. You have to think about the long-term plan and adhere to it.

I'll give New York as the classic example. It's expensive to put on an event there. It definitely will have an effect on our bottom line. But, we have to do it for the growth of the sport. The media capital of the world has to have a supercross event. Every decision must be made for the long-term as well, not just the short-term. When you are trying to build a brand such as supercross, and many people's careers are involved, it requires short-term sacrifices for long-term growth. When our series goes to New York everyone in the biggest market in the country will see race highlights on their local TV station. The New York Times and the Post and the New Jersey papers will write about supercross and the riders and New Yorkers will see the races live either at the stadium or on TV. That is a huge step forward towards taking the sport and its stars into the mainstream. That is growth. Without a plan for growth the sport will stagnate. It is not enough to play the same markets over and over again, even if you sell them out, and it is not enough to accept a TV package based on tape delay and no guarantee of promotion from your TV partner. You have to fight and, if necessary, sacrifice for growth.

In the corporate world today, that is not so easy for big corporations to do. A big corporation must show every quarter that they have made their financial numbers. When you are a privately held company such as Jam Sports, and the individuals come together with an understanding about what we are going to do, then it's easier to implement that policy of long-term growth.

RJ: It appears as though Clear Channel and the AMA have not had a 'good' relationship over the past few years. How will your relationship be any different?

Jerry: It's hard to comment on that, since we are on the outside looking in. The AMA would probably be best to answer that. However, if the relationship were better, Jam Sports wouldn't be in this relationship with the AMA today. Again, everything has been run in the past for the benefit of the promoter, not the benefit of anyone else. Now that the AMA has taken a stand things will be better. But I wonder what would have happened if they hadn't taken that stand.

Tony: When we initially discussed things with the AMA, it was apparent that the relationship between those two had spiraled out of control. I cannot speak to that exactly, since we were not involved. However, our relationship with the AMA will be a partnership. We produce the events, and they create the rules and sanction the events. As to the marketing of supercross, the television, and sponsorship, we will do that together.

We feel it's important that the AMA have more say in what happens in supercross than what they've had recently. We are happy about that, as we've found a lot of common ground in our discussions. Scott Hollingsworth (CEO of AMA Pro Racing) cares passionately about the sport. He cares about doing the right things. People need to understand that every penny AMA Pro Racing gets will go back into the sport. It doesn't go to shareholders like in a public company - it all goes back into the sport.

Jam Sports is still a company that needs to make money and so we can put our egos aside and say the body that has been a part of more motorcycle events than anyone and which is required to put back into the sport every penny it makes should have some say about the marketing of the sport. Logic says they will be a rational and objective voice in the decision making process. They cannot be excluded as Clear Channel has tried to do.

Every sport must have a strong and respected sanctioning body. For everyone out there who is asking the question, why would the AMA make this big move, what was wrong with the existing situation? Ask yourself one more question. Where would the sport be right now had the AMA not stood up to Clear Channel? The sanctioning body stood up to the biggest promoter in the country and within 45 days you have all these advances: Improved TV, higher bonuses, privateer funds, bigger markets for the live events. Even Clear Channel is scrambling to create the appearance that their series will be better and improved. None of this would have happened without the AMA and a courageous board who decided to speak up and do something about it when they did not agree with Clear Channel's methods or lack of vision. Everyone who loves this sport should realize that the AMA has done their job and opened the door to a much more exciting future for the sport. What you have seen in 45 days is just the start. Everyone should have the courage that the AMA has and everyone should stand up to be counted.

RJ: How is your history in music and managing music stars going to help supercross?

Tony: It has certainly taught me things that we do not want to do - have a noble endeavor (supercross) be ruined by 'Corporate America'. We've seen it happen in the past ten years when business takes over artistic or talent driven endeavors with lawyers and accountants making decisions for big companies. It's all about profits on a short-term basis. Prices go up and not enough is invested for the future of the business. In live entertainment ticket prices have doubled and tripled in just a few years, and guess what? Attendance has been affected and CD sales have gone down. Those things have done immeasurable harm.

This should not be allowed to happen in Supercross. I have learned to fight the status quo. If you are representative of talent in the music industry you learn to do that to survive. We will make sure the talent (the riders) are heard loud and clear. They are not the sideshows, and they are not there to make sure the show goes on so that some big company with an anonymous board can make all the money from their talent. They are the ones that the public pays to see. They don't pay to see Jam Sports or Clear Channel or anyone else for that matter. They are there to see the riders.

Then lets take New York as an example one more time. It is the media capital of the world. Media opportunities exist there that are not available anywhere else. So apart from the coverage of the races I have already spoken about there will be the opportunity to make sure that the foreign press and non-sports media such as VH1 and MTV and lifestyle magazines that have a compatible demographic are exposed to the excitement of the sport. Jam Sports principals have a lot of friends and contacts in these areas and we fully intend to take advantage of that.

RJ: Where is Jam Sports located?

Tony: Jam Sports currently has two main offices. The Chicago based Jam Productions will be the eastern home for Jam Sports, and we have new offices in Los Angeles starting January 1.

RJ: When did you get in contact with the AMA to start dialogue? I heard there were many companies in the negotiations with the AMA, including other big names like IMG.

Tony: We initially had contact with the AMA, I believe, in May of 2001. All of us had been to supercross events, and we wondered 'What can we do to make this better?' We submitted our proposal to them in June. We waited a while, and then we knew we had made the first round of cuts because we were sent a series of detailed questions that the AMA required we answer in writing. When I saw all the questions they asked, I felt comfortable with our presentation and confident that our approach was the right one.

The AMA did not just give the AMA Supercross Series to the highest bidder. They made it very clear they cared about a lot more things than that. They asked for proposals from many companies. I do not personally know of all those companies, but there were some big name companies, including Clear Channel.

RJ: What are you doing now?

Tony: What we want to do is reach out to as many folks as we can. We did not do that immediately - we wanted to put our TV package together first, and then complete our 2003 schedule. Now that those are in place, it's time to go out and speak with people. We want to let people know whom we are, and that we can do the job, and do it very well.

Internally, we are finishing up a bonus structure for privateers, completing our Championship bonus figures, and finalizing sponsorship programs.

Jerry: My main focus has been venues and production related issues.

RJ: Why should anyone choose to attend the AMA Supercross Series produced by Jam Sports over others?

Jerry: We analyzed the entire sport and it's history. We have a better schedule. We have live television. We have great TV production with Indianapolis Motor Speedway's production company. That will bring up the production value of television tremendously. It won't compare to what's being done today.

We will rely on input from everyone in the sport through our Dirt Board. This board will be people in the sport people that know the sport people that want to improve the sport. We listen. Instead of thinking we know it all, and doing everything for our benefit. We'll make it a better sport for all of the stakeholders.

Tony: The most important reason will be the riders. We believe we have more to offer as Jerry has said and therefore the riders and factories will come with us. The other reason is the AMA. The AMA has been involved since 1927 supporting everything to do with motorcycling in this country. They help make laws that benefit motorcyclists on the local, state, and federal levels. They sanction and help produce thousands of events in every different discipline of motorcycling. They are the heritage of racing, and the sport.

Look at corporate attempts to break away from the sanctioning bodies. Look at the XFL. It doesn't matter how much money you throw at something, you need the heart and soul of the sport. That's what the AMA is to supercross.

We want people to know we care about the long-term. We want people to know we care about what they think. We want them to know we are fair and hard working people. We believe that will make a difference to people.

RJ: Should anyone even care who promotes a race?

Tony: Don't confuse promoting a race vs. sanctioning. Some promoter's feel their job is done because they put people in the seats. What's more important, and what they should care about is who sanctions the race and who cares about improving and growing the sport.

Rules are important. That constant needs to be there. Safety and fair competition is important. You'd be surprised how much communication there has to be between the participants and the AMA to make sure one team does not get an edge over another. That's a huge job that doesn't make anyone very popular. If one entity controls all aspects, then they control the sport. That's not healthy if it is a company that needs to make a profit.

We don't see ourselves as just promoters. We are one of the custodians responsible for the growth and success of the sport and for the well being of all its stakeholders. We take that responsibility very seriously and everyone, the factories, the teams, the riders, the sponsors and the fans should care who they entrust with that responsibility.

RJ: Any last comments?

Jerry: We are always up for a challenge, especially with a sport where there is so much opportunity for improvement. As much as it has been a lot of hard work, it's also been exciting, challenging, and it's helped to make me a better person.

Tony: Supercross has a tremendous amount of potential growth and everyone should benefit. Greed must not be allowed to take over. Greed needs to be taken out of sports for it is affecting too many great sports. Everyone needs to fight against that happening to supercross. That takes passion and hard work.

See Part I

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