Racer X: Okay Scott, give us some background. You’ve always been a motocross guy, correct?
Scott Tilton: I got into BMX when I was really young, about age 6, then I started racing motocross when I was 11. I continued to race motocross through college, I got a degree in Sports Medicine at a school in North Carolina. Then I got hurt and had to take a break from racing during college, I finished my degree and then immediately went back for another degree in Sports Marketing, and I got my masters in Internet Business Systems. During that time is when I made the original business plan for Sponsor House.
So you were studying Sports Medicine, and ironically enough you got injured while racing at the same time!
Yup! And that typical battle with my parents, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to go to school for, and they wanted me to get a degree with some value, so I did the medical side because I knew it from being in and out of rehab with riding injuries. But I didn’t even like it. I did one course during my undergrad called Starting a Small Business, and that’s how I got hooked on the entrepreneurship side.
Before he was a star, Ryan Dungey used Sponsor House--now known as Hookit--to get support.
Simon Cudby photo
Yes, Sponsor House was around for a long time, and now it has been rebranded as Hookit. Just explain what it does.
Yes, so our true intention was to be a great tool and platform for amateur riders to post resumes online. When we first started out, we only did motocross. We later expanded into bicycle racing and board sports and those things, but we soon outgrew the name Sponsor House. It was more about getting the athletes exposure, and ranking and organizing that exposure. So we changed the name once and got into a trademark dispute, so we changed it again and ultimately became Hookit at the end of 2009.
It allows the athlete to put a platform together. Explain that.
Yeah so in addition to that original component of getting sponsored and getting deals, we’ve tried to incorporate more tools that are unique to Hookit. It’s a service for the athlete to be able to create a time line and track their progression, show how they performed at a race, or to just show the sessions they’ve done, when they’ve gone riding or practicing. We can then create a lot of interesting stats, and that allows us to rank the riders against themselves so they can compare to other athletes their own age and in their region.
Right now you’re just measuring exposure, but it sounds like you have a plan to start adding actual race results into these rankings?
Yup. We’ve just partnered up with a major manufacturer to complete their entire contingency program on the motocross side. So we’re working with most of the major race promoters from around the country so they can use our platform to post the results, which will then trigger the contingency awards for all the racers using our platform.
That also means if someone wants to look the rider up and decide to offer sponsorship, they could find all of that rider’s results from races around the country.
Yup. We’re trying to utilize that information to make it easier for the riders to post their results, and for the brands to get more verified information about how well these racers are performing. It makes it easier to identify who are the top performing and most talented racers in the country.
Is this still just a way for riders to get sponsors and sponsors to get riders, or with all of these new components, is it just fun? It would seem cool to have metrics like that if you’re a kid.
Yeah, ultimately if you’re competitive in the sport, you have to have access to these brands. So that’s still probably the number-one driver in the motocross community as to why riders and racers are using our site. But, it is extremely interesting. There has not been an easy way to keep track of, literally, every race you’ve been to in the last five years. So now you can track it, and because there is a social platform you can go back to a race you were in three years ago and see what other racers were there. We’re trying to make it a really interesting timeline of these athletes’ careers, and it also helps connect them to the brands that want to support the racers so they can pursue their sport.
On the brand side, how do the sponsors get involved?
The September Athlete Index results for social media were just released.
Yeah our team here is relatively small in terms of employees, but we just brought on Mark Fieore who is now heading up sales and marketing for us. We’ve had good people in the past who have helped us establish good relationships with these brands. They use our tools as a way to make the management of their rider support programs more efficient. Back in the day, when we started Sponsor House, the only alternative way was mail or fax or email for some companies that had it at the time. Now all of that can be managed online, even through your phone or iPad. We provide a screening tool so they can log in and specify filters, so they can choose what sports they are into, be it motocross or off-road or ATV, they can choose specifics such as how often a rider rides or races, and then we provide some of our other interesting metrics such as how much exposure a rider gets, and that helps them qualify how much support they want to provide.
Are there some success stories about this coming together?
Yeah it's been amazing. Travis Pastrana was maybe a year out as a pro when we started. I knew him as an amateur and he was the first person that helped launch it. We’ve had everyone from Blake Baggett, Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac and Ryan Dungey. At one point in time they all had an active account on Sponsor House.
And once they turn pro, they’ll have their team or their agent handle that. But even though these kids were really well known, they used this.
Yes, Spy literally found Jason Lawrence on Sponsor House. Ryan Mills, we had a great relationship with him, and he was the very reason and the idea where Sponsor House came from. I had called his dad to buy a motorcycle, and they said they needed a resume and a website. So for whatever reason, through that process, we started getting hit up by a bunch of riders, and six months later we had Sponsor House up and running.
The other cool thing—and this applies to the pros—is the Athlete Index. Talk about that.
Yeah to your last point, there’s a certain point in time where riders turn professional and their sponsor relationships become much more personal. We’ve been searching for a way to help professional athletes do more to prove their value to their sponsors. So the launch of this Athlete Index was a way to score how much visibility a rider gets in social media. We picked social because it’s the most relevant channel right now. This Athlete Index has taken on a life of its own, where every hour we’re tracking how much exposure and ongoing fan engagement a rider is getting. It’s an automated system we’ve created, and now we’re launching monthly rankings to see how much exposure each athlete gets every month. Then we can categorize it by event, so for example we could determine at the Lake Elsinore National, which rider had the most engagement and exposure on social media from that race.
And that stuff matters! I don’t know about the bike manufacturers, but I know other personal sponsors, gear deals etc. really look at these things when deciding which riders to support.
We definitely took it a step further. It’s not just how many followers you have, it’s how engaged they are. So if you look at Ryan Dungey, Ken Roczen might have only half the fan base, but he’s getting way more engagement from his fans.
Before companies were knocking on his door, a young Justin Barcia had to reach out with Sponsor House.
Simon Cudby photo
Yes looking at the August results, this is so surprising. In the moto field, Roczen, Jeremy Stenberg and Carey Hart are one, two, three. And in Hart’s case, he’s not even competing!
Carey has a little bit of an unfair advantage with Pink as his wife. But even if you compared racer versus racer, like Ken Roczen and James Stewart, Ken’s score is so much higher because he is so much more interactive with his fans. Granted, he has a larger international appeal because he’s won in Europe and in America, but you can keep seeing this in the data. Adam Cianciarulo is the highest-ranked Kawasaki rider right now in terms of engagement on social media. And he grew up in a different age; he grew up with a phone in his hand. He got significantly more engagement on social media than Ryan Villopoto, and Villopoto won two championships! It goes deeper, too. There’s so much information we can get from the stats on an Instagram photo. In Adam’s case, let’s say he posts a photo, and then mentions Monster Energy and Pro Circuit. We can pin point that specific photo and how many likes and mentions it created for those brands.
We have great relationships with the companies that really provide a lot of help with rider support, companies like Dunlop, Spy, Scott, Acerbis, all of these companies that have great rider support programs. We’ve launched a sponsorship guide which will help riders get prepared to promote themselves to brand like that. And you can just check out the Industry News section on your site and you can find our sponsorship guide on there.
This is a critical time, right?
Yes absolutely this is an important time. Most brands, they consider the season to end around Loretta Lynn’s. So now they’re all preparing for the next season in those weeks after that race. We work with over 200 companies in motocross, and most will open in late August or September, and they will close by November. So this is an important time to make sure you content is organized and you’re pursuing these opportunities.
For the latest Athlete Index results, go to www.Hookit.com/ai