Between the  Motos: Ken Hudgens

Between the Motos: Ken Hudgens

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On Monday, Feld Motorsports announced a new five-year-deal with Fox Sports for expanded coverage of Monster Energy Supercross, AMSOIL Arenacross, the Monster Energy Cup and Monster Jam. For more details on it, we arranged an interview with Feld Motorsports Chief Operating Officer Ken Hudgens.

Racer X: Congratulations on the deal. We knew there would have to be some changes considering the rebranding of SPEED and FUEL into Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, but its sounds like there is a lot more to this, it’s a significant step forward for the sport.
Ken Hudgens: Thanks for asking. There were several circumstances and lots of timing at work here. Our deals at SPEED for arenacross, Monster Jam and Monster Energy Cup were all expiring in December of 2013. So next month. Supercross, our deal was through the 2014 season. This past summer was our window to negotiate with SPEED, which turned into Fox Sports 1, and it seemed like as we got deeper into the discussions that it would just make more sense to make the deal now on everything instead of one for the other properties now and then making a separate supercross deal. So we’ve been in serious discussions with Fox Sports 1 since May, and we wrapped it up last week. For us, we’re thrilled. We go from a motorsports dedicated channel in SPEED, which certainly had its pros and cons, to a multi-sport channel that in a very big way will expand the reach and help supercross and our other properties reach people that wouldn’t normally be exposed to it.

We’re going from lead in shows on SPEED that were at best very shaky—like a “Cannonball Run” movie—to having live sports lead ins for every one of the rounds. For example, you look at January 4 for the Anaheim opener, you have five live events during the day on Fox Sports 1 between college basketball and UFC. So we’re going from lead ins and lead outs that weren’t very strong, traditionally, which didn’t help the ratings, to now we have college basketball, UFC fights, and later in the year our lead ins will be Major League Baseball, and so you take that, you take the multi-sport channel, you take the fact that in the first few months that Fox Sports 1 was on the air, it’s a significantly younger channel than SPEED was. All of that is going to great for supercross, arenacross, Monster Energy Cup and Monster Jam

There are a lot of things in our sport and our industry that have helped move the ball. Whether it was Jeremy McGrath breaking through to mainstream sponsors, like currently having Monster Energy help us, the athletes helping the sport reach a bigger audience, and television, moving from ESPN to SPEED to this current Fox Sports 1 deal, these are all steps that will bring the sport to a bigger audience and a higher level.

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Every round of Monster Energy Supercross will air live in 2014.
Simon Cudby photo

Internally, will changing to Fox Sports 1 from SPEED result in some changes? Different production or staff? Will the shows feel differently?
It will come with some changes. On the production end, Jason, we’re working through talent and production personnel right now. One of the realities is if you put the same product on even a different network, you’re going to get the same result. Our intent is to get better results. So we want things to feel different. Will we be making wide sweeping changes? No, I don’t think so. Will we make some changes? Yes. Not ready to really detail those, yet, but there will be changes I think you will see in the production in general. We’re still finalizing that, whether that’s talent additions, but I guaranteed you there will be production elements of the show that will look and feel different from the past years that we’ve been on SPEED.

So the existing supercross deal still had one year to go. Did other networks look at getting involved in this, or did you talk to anyone else? Or did you exclusively negotiate with Fox?
Yeah we didn’t talk to anybody else. Both because our obligation was to talk to Fox Sports first, and there wasn’t a need to talk to anyone else. From our end it was clear that’s where we wanted to be. There’s a big wide landscape of sports lined up out there, you have ESPN and ABC, you have NBC and NBC Sports, you have Fox and Fox Sports and CBS and CBS Sports. There’s always a network affiliate and a cable affiliate. Based on the lay of the land, the audience we were trying to reach, and based on time slot availability for supercross, all of it lined up and there was no place else where we wanted to be.

Reading through this press release, it appears that every race will be on live, correct?
Yes all of them air live. The majority of the races air on Fox Sports 1 live, and any that aren’t will be on Fox Sports 2 live. The races will be on the authenticated Fox Sports Go app, which is basically like watching the television broadcast on your tablet or computer or whatever. It should be really good, yes, everything is live. Our intent, and Fox Sports’ intent is that everything that can be on Fox Sports 1 will be.

Yes everyone who loves this sport tends to think of the sport by itself, but when you’re putting a deal together, there are other sports going on that you have to compete with for time slots.
Quite frankly that’s one of the biggest challenges of going from SPEED to a multi-sport channel like Fox Sports 1: the schedule. You have college basketball, UFC, Major League Baseball, for the Monster Energy Cup, it’s college football. You’re trying to navigate those waters just to get your consistent time slots, which means when the races are held live for supercross, and for arenacross and Monster Jam, it means having a consistent time slot situation. You also have all of these live sports, so instead of knowing the “Cannonball Run” is going to finish at 10:30, you have a live game extending into overtime or extra innings. So all of the good is overwhelming, but there are challenges to being on a quote-unquote real sports network. That’s some territory we’ll have to navigate, but it’s all good stuff. Real good stuff.

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Feld and Fox Sports have a five-year deal for Monster Energy Supercross, Amosil Arenacross, Monster Energy Cup and Monster Jam.
Simon Cudby photo

Will you get some cross promotion on the multi-sport stuff? In terms of getting on SPEED Center or Wind Tunnel in the past, they have a much broader show in Fox Sports Live. Is it possible that supercross can be promoted to fans of other sports?
Yes, that’s one of the drivers to doing the deal. We don’t just want to expose the stars of the sport through the sport itself, we want to take advantage of Fox Sports 1 promoting tune in, Fox Sports 1 programs having the stars of supercross on other properties, there’s a transitive property that goes on, hopefully you’ll see UFC stars or other Fox Sports 1 stars come to supercross, and if you see supercross stars going to other Fox Sports events, that cross pollination and the promotion of the stars of this sport was a big driver in the deal. It goes without saying that this is a key element in this strategic decision. This is going to be proven out over the long term, it won’t happen overnight. It will be consistent pressure and promotion to help make this happen.

What about CBS? Will there still be a role for them in Monster Energy Supercross?
Post 2014, no. We had a deal with CBS that carried us through the 2014 series of events for supercross. We had some obligations there that we are happily fulfilling.

So all of the races are on Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2, but CBS will still have an element?
There’s a preview show and a wrap-up show like we’ve done traditionally. We’ve hired Troy Adamaitis to produce a series of behind-the-scenes programming that will have the feel of the one we did with Ryan Villopoto last year.

Amsoil Arenacross is a part of this Fox Sports announcement. They had a big step forward in their TV package last year and it looks like that continues.
Yes and one of the important components was to find a good home and good time slots for arenacross to continue the development and focus that we put on it. We’re still working with Fox to solidify the air schedule, but I think we can confidently say that all of the arenacross events will air on Sundays on Fox Sports 1. We’re just working out the timing of all of that. Currently, I’m not expecting in 2014 for any of them to be live, at the moment it’s most important to have them air on Fox Sports 1, which currently has double the audience of Fox Sports 2, in a consistent time schedule. I think over the term of the five-year agreement we’ll work back to doing some arenacross live. It was easier on SPEED but it was also more difficult. Our priorities are to have Fox Sports 1 have it consistently slotted so it can be promoted consistently.

Is there a growth plan for the reach of Fox Sports 2 over this five-year deal?
Absolutely, that’s the play. I haven’t seen specific estimates, but I think the plan is to grow Fox Sports 2 as quickly as possible, not unlike what ESPN did with ESPN2. The plan is to have Fox Sports 2, at some time, not sure that time is, to be as fully distributed as Fox Sports 1.

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You will be able to watch Ryan Villopoto defend his 450SX title on the Fox Sports Go app, as well as Fox Sports 1 and 2.
Simon Cudby photo

Is there an international component still in the works?
Yeah we’re continuing to really work on our international distribution. We had some great wins last year, most significantly with supercross airing live in Australia. We’re putting a big push on trying to get more countries to air it live. Australia works just because of the time, it’s Sunday afternoon over there, which works out nicely. In the next three or four weeks, by the beginning of December, we should be able to produce a pretty definitive international distribution list. It’s a priority, we still retain our international rights, and we’re responsible for distributing those rights. We have, for the past several years, had IMG, who is the world’s expert in that field, distributing supercross on our behalf. You know, it’s chopping wood. Every year it gets a little bit easier, and we suspect this year will get better as well.

I think that sums it up well. I know you folks work hard every day trying to make this better, and a lot of the troops, so to speak, the folks around these races, they’re the same people who have been around a long time. You have to be pretty proud to see where it started and where you’ve gone, and where it’s headed now.
Well, yes, and I appreciate you saying that. When any of us have a chance to sit down and reflect on where the sport of supercross was 20 years ago, to be honest, there’s two feelings. There’s a lot of pride about where the sport is today compared to, say, 1993, for example. But there’s the feeling that, jeez, we haven’t pushed it far enough and there’s an awful lot still to do. Maybe that’s just natural, but, we need to take bigger steps and move the ball bigger chunks of yardage. Hopefully this Fox Sports deal will help us do that.

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