By Steve Matthes and Chase Stallo
Moto X Racing for the boys is back at the X Games! You may or may not remember when this race debuted six years ago, it was a big, big deal for the fans and industry. After that, though, it seemed like interest waned. Now it’s back, but does it matter? And where does it fit within the confines of the traditional Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross?
We’ve once again raided our inter-office email server and stolen this X Games exchange from Online Content Manager Chase Stallo and Editor-at-Large Steve Matthes for your perusal.
Matthes: Chaser, this weekend is off in terms of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross but we’re pretty busy the entire week in terms of being in the media. First off, the Tim Ferry Nationals are happening down in Tennessee (two for two so far. Duh.) and then this weekend the annual X Games go off in Los Angeles (for the last time as next year the event heads off to Austin, Texas). I’ve long lost the enthusiasm for X Games because, well, it’s pretty cheesy. It’s incredible to me that the industry preaches on and on about the TV ratings, the brand awareness, the fact that more people watch X Games than all the outdoor nationals put together and whatever, yet none of the facts they spew have ever really helped us out as a sport. I’m not denying the ratings and exposure, but have you seen bike sales? What about teams folding? Riders riding for free are everywhere out there. It’s not like we can look back at the day X Games started doing this race and can draw a straight line up the charts for this sport’s popularity.
We’ve had motorcycles featured for years and yet we don’t have Taco Bell, Speed Stick, Gillette or any of these huge corporate sponsors that all these industry people tell us LOVE the X Games come in and want to be part of our sport. Nope, we just have the energy drink guys. Year after year.
What are your thoughts on X?
Chase: I will agree that X Games has lost its luster over the years. I think it began to die off shortly after Travis Pastrana began to transition away from freestyle. Although, with an off-weekend in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross I’ll still be tuning in to see some of the action—especially with Moto X returning and the possibility of a J-Law sighting.
In terms of helping out the sport, you’re right, it doesn’t help the sport of motocross and supercross per se. The typically person associates dirt bikes with freestyle and the X Games. Ask any random person in the streets and I guarantee they recognize the name Pastrana, or even Twitch, at this point, before they do Ryan Dungey. That’s what the global branding of X Games and ESPN can do for a sport.
My question is; how do we, as a whole, use ESPN and the X Games to translate that same exposure over to supercross and motocross?
Matthes: We don't. We just enjoy the experience, I think. It’s awesome to see the guys get those eyeballs on them and I’m sure the companies that help them like it but in the end, it doesn’t do much for the sport of supercross and motocross. I mean, just look at the “events”. You have step-up, which changes drastically year by year as far as the run, ramp design, landing, etc. And one year, because things were running late, the ESPN people just declared it a tie! That was amazing. Riders and sponsors gear their entire year around this thing, not to mention all this money is at stake, but if its time for SportsCenter, ah screw it, it’s a tie.
The Moto X portion of the games is ridiculous. One year the gate didn’t fall right, one year is was so dusty it was very unsafe. The riders on one half of the gate almost always got pushed off the track. All this work and effort into the event and the ESPN folks just don’t seem to care one way or another. Feld Motorsports and MX Sports, this ain’t.
Best whip? Don’t even get me started on that. It’s a text vote! Again, all the money on the line for the riders and it’s a text vote. Wow! This year’s Moto X event will be on the floor of the Staples Center with a metal ramp. Yes, you read that right. It’s basically an arenacross minus any real obstacles. And we’re supposed to freak out over this and actually care who wins?
So, you ask how can we use ESPN and X Games to translate the exposure to the sport that we love? Well, in short, we can’t. ESPN doesn’t give two craps about what happens to “our” sport (you know, the one Weege is ruining every weekend with his TV broadcasts) as long as someone crashes and it doesn’t go long. That’s the real truth. Here’s one way ESPN could help our sport: Televise one of the 29 rounds of Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross which are run by, you know, people that know what they’re doing.
But after all this, yes I’ll be watching, too. Help me.
Chase: I agree, ESPN and X Games have done little to nothing to help grow the sport of motocross and supercross. It seems it’s all about highlight crashes they can run on loop later in the night on SportsCenter. That garners their attention and thought process … and for that matter most Americans. See NASCAR.
I just find it hard to believe that with freestyle, seemingly, on its way out the door with the exile of Best Trick and so on, the racing side of the sport can’t capitalize on this. I bet the respective sponsors of Chad Reed and Justin Brayton (both are scheduled to compete in Moto X on Saturday) are ecstatic on how many eyeballs will be on their riders—which are a lot more than tune in to supercross or motocross on any given Saturday. Do I ever think it will happen? Probably not. Do I wish ESPN would right the ship and build a respectable race that brings in more star athletes like the Ryans, Stewart, Barcia, etc.? Yes, because in the long run it brings our sport more in line with mainstream media and television viewers, which equals more sponsorship dollars, hence more teams that these struggling privateers can join.
Let’s transition away from how ESPN (and Weigandt) are ruining our sport. Does X Games, even for freestylers, still hold value? It doesn’t seem long ago that every motocross magazine, including the one we both work for, were drawn to the mystique of the riders and sport. But that same mystique has seemed to wear off over the years.
Matthes: Without a doubt its mystique has worn off and ask the MX media who go there to cover it, they don’t care much about helping out “our” guys to get coverage. If I hear another agent tell me about how many people watch and how much it helps our sport I’m going to hit them with one of the extreme burritos that Taco Bell likes to talk about while asking them what exactly outside Fortune 500 company they’ve brought into the sport because of the X Games.
Is that extreme enough for you?
Chase: Point taken. Although I think we would be remiss not to mention that X Games does still provide a living for a lot of high-profile athletes. Guys like Ronnie Renner, Twitch, Mike Mason, Nate Adams, the list goes on, have all found their spot on a grand stage. And with Summer X Games expanding outside the United States this year (Brazil, Germany, Spain and France) they will continue to hold relevancy to many worldwide—even if the hardcore motocross fans have tuned out.