Unsung Hero: The Business of Motocross

Unsung Hero The Business of Motocross

September 5, 2014 2:50pm

If you’ve looked at Racer X Online in the past weeks, you’ve probably noticed quite a few posts titled “Company X is now accepting rider resumes.” Sponsorship in our sport is not only beneficial to the rider, but to the company. It’s more complex than giving away product, though. There are strategies behind every pair of gear, boots, gloves, helmet, etc., that are sent out. In part one of our mini-series “The Business of Motocross” we dive into the sponsorship aspect from the point of view of a smaller company. As you’ll see, there’s much more strategic planning behind marketing and sponsorship than you might realize. 

Life-long moto heads Bryan Oliphant and Eric Nester started Novik Gloves in 2009. Based in Colorado, Novik has grown to become one of the preferred gloves amongst privateers in pro motocross and amateur riders throughout the country. To get a better understanding of how riders are selected, and what they look for in a rider, among other things, we talked with co-owner Bryan Oliphant. 

Today, social media plays an important role in sponsorship decisions. The more likes or fans you can provide, the better brand awareness it brings to a sponsor. But companies such as Novik are looking for more than just “likes”—they also want a good representation of their brand. 

Bryan Oliphant: “Social media is becoming bigger and bigger, obviously. There are certain kids that present themselves well and really make an effort to provide good content. Regardless of what an amateur rider’s goals are, they need to pay attention to how to effectively advertise themselves as a business or a potential branding partner. Companies really need to know what they are buying into. Companies typically don’t want to be associated with people that are posting pictures of things they shouldn’t be—as far as drugs and drinking and all that stuff—because it’s not marketable throughout our community. But that does depend on what the company is looking for. For us, we are trying to promote and support the hard core racing community and athletes that fit that category. There are some companies that aren’t necessarily looking for that. They are looking for the kind of edgy kids. It’s just a matter of what you’re looking to promote as a brand image.” 

Matt Lemoine is one of fifty-two pro riders in Novik's program. 
Matt Lemoine is one of fifty-two pro riders in Novik's program.  Photo: Simon Cudby

Social media is not as centered as it once was. With Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and start-ups trying to become the next Facebook, it’s hard for a sponsor to track it all. That’s why Novik and other companies rely on Hookit. 

Oliphant:Hookit does a good job with that [social media]. Pretty much everyone’s Instagram’s post are put on their site. Also, myself and Tucker [Saye, who now works for Novik] spend a lot of time on social media sites to keep up with everything. It’s not like we are being nosey or anything, but we’re trying to pay attention to our team rider’s progress. Kids will be kids, and we love that, but there are some things you may catch sight of that is straight up not cool, and we’ll put a note in our heads for the next sponsorship renewal season.  Sometimes it’s not personal stuff; sometimes it’s against the brand or something. It’s not too often this happens, though. Our sport makes it pretty easy. It’s just not very common to be super into partying. It’s an athlete-based sport, which makes it easy for us. If we were in the skate or snowboard industry, it may be a different story. Then again, that is marketable in that world.”

This time of year thousand of applications pour into companies inboxes. From the weekend warrior to a top-fifteen supercross rider, companies have to make tough decisions. Again, Hookit provides a platform that helps.

Oliphant: “Things are very different between amateur and pro—the pro side is completely different. Any pro that races the nationals or supercross I’ll deal with directly. Typically, I work out programs with them individually based on what they’re doing, and what team they may be riding for. You have to do that on the pro side, because it is so much different from rider to rider. On the amateur side we like to direct as much as we can through Hookit. Everything is really organized there. A rider sets up a profile on Hookit—race results, classes they won, accomplishments, etc—and then adds profile images, video, basically whatever they want to run. It’s like a little social community. It’s basically like looking at a profile on Facebook, but it’s all geared toward racing. You get a real quick view as to how they are promoting the companies that are backing them. When you look at enough resumes, you can see real quick who is doing it right and who isn’t.” 

Novik got a big boost when Fredrik Noren secured a fill-in role with factory Honda. 
Novik got a big boost when Fredrik Noren secured a fill-in role with factory Honda.  Photo: Simon Cudby

The old adage “win of Sunday, sell on Monday” still plays a major role in our sport. But, with the rise of social media, a rider doesn’t necessarily have to win to bring exposure to your company. There are a lot of variables that come into play.

Oliphant: “We’re all trying to make it fun and all that stuff, because it is cool getting new product and such, but the bottom line is: every company is looking to sell more product. When it comes to sponsoring a rider, we have to be more strategic than saying, ‘This kid is an expert rider; he should get x-amount off as a discount.’ We’re trying to combine our brand with someone who we think would be a good representative of our brand name and fits our company image. So, when you go through someone’s profile, we evaluate their results, their social media presence, their relationship with sponsors, friends, family, and fans. We base it on a lot of different variables. For example, in their hundred-word description of themselves, sometimes we’ll see five misspelled words, run-on sentences, etc, and we take note of that. Does that really matter? Well, you have to look into their profile a little deeper. He may be the nicest guy ever. So, it’s hard to sit at our desks and quickly evaluate a person because they may be the kid at the races that is real funny and twists the throttle hard and has thirty people around him, and that’s the guy you want representing your brand. You really have to look a little deeper than their profile sometimes. 

“For example, not to put anyone on the spot, but Travis Sewell is not blowing away the social media world, but at the local races or the nationals, he is as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned. We’ve helped him for a long time, and I can’t say enough good things about him. If you were just to look at the social side, he only has 1,000 followers or something on Instagram, where Brett Cue has 60,000 or something. But he’s loved by his local fans. So the point is that an athlete’s value can not be evaluated only by their social marketing activity.”

On the amateur side, sponsorship is a little tougher. Regions, dealer relationships, and more come into play. 

Oliphant: “That’s one thing both myself and Tucker put a lot of time into. We really look at regions that we may be lacking in as far as sales and brand awareness goes. We also have to factor in what dealerships we have in place in certain regions. You kind of have to walk a fine line between building brand awareness and not saturating that market. For instance, take a region like Georgia and Florida. That’s an area we need help in. So we’re doing certain things in that region to build up the name, so in effect more shops will starting carrying it and riders will start buying it, so essentially you are building more demand for your product. Then you kind of have to stabilize and decrease sponsorship and direct more traffic toward you point of sale—which are the shops.

“For instance, if you look at Colorado were we are located, everyone knows who we are, and almost every shop sells Novik. So we have less than ten amateur riders in Colorado that we support. It’s a strategic thing. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the support that is given to us here, but we have to support our shops as much as possible. Even though we are really supportive of riders that support the brand, we can’t really offer sponsorship because it affects our brick and mortar stores. These stores are the ones that random people come into, and they have paid employees that sell our brand and build up the product face to face. We really appreciate our Novik dealerships, so we have to be conscience of that. If we just offered [rider] sponsorships, we would be eliminating that entire side of sales and upset a lot of people that really put a lot of faith in us. Also, gloves are something that are purchased often. I know myself, I’ll go through a few pair a year. So you end up going to the shop pretty often to replace them, so gloves bring people to the shop and then they may purchase oil or a new helmet or whatever, so it really brings business to the shops. We know that gloves get people into shops, but if they are getting them online through sponsorship discounts with us it eliminates sales. A lot of kids don’t see that, they just think we ditched them. Well, a lot of time there is a lot more happening on the sponsorship side and like I had mentioned before, we have to be very strategic with sponsorships. 

Cody Gilmore is another privateer that uses Novik. 
Cody Gilmore is another privateer that uses Novik.  Photo: Simon Cudby

“Sometimes we have to send a decline letter to a person, and it’s really not [a] personal [problem with them]. Sometimes we have to do it based on what numbers look like in your region potentially, or you have a close connection with a shop that really does a good job promoting our brand. Well, we can’t cut the shop out of the picture, so sometime we have to decline applications.”

As a smaller company, Novik sometimes has to be more selective than larger companies. 

Oliphant: “Since our company is smaller, we have to really tune into every person that is representing our brand. Not to say the bigger companies don’t, but it’s something we take a lot of care in. We are very prideful of our riders and are proud to have them represent our product and brand. We really try to provide as much exposure and support to the people that support us as possible but as companies grow in size, it becomes difficult. 

“We probably do have a tighter budget than most of the bigger companies. We don’t necessarily have a huge budget to work with, so we do have to be on point with what we have. We are always watching our numbers when it comes to sponsorship budgets. For promo product we have to restrict free product to top forty on the pro level. There are obviously exceptions to that, too. If someone is helping us sell product in their shop or whatever the case, we help those riders out as well. Because they’re working for our brand, the least we can do is throw them some shirts and gloves as a way of saying thanks. We also have some award programs that are put in place through dealerships. That’s Erik’s [Nester, co-owner] department, though. So I can’t delve too much into it. 

All of this can be hard to remember for any parent or kid. Oliphant has a few tips on how to make your resume better:

  • Present yourself well upon introduction.
  • Create a well-designed and organized race resume and/or profile that has all the important information at a quick glance: age, race class or classes, current sponsors, past results and career highlights, and future plans.
  • Include quality imagery and don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars on hiring a local photographer to take photos of both on-bike and off-bike to build a resume around. Show yourself without a helmet on, bikes and transport vehicles, good on-track pics of mixture of turns and jump shots. 
  • Don’t be too wordy or sound desperate in your resume. Keep in mind that team managers are extremely busy this time of the year, so if you have a life story that is worth mentioning quickly get to the point.
  • Remain humble and appreciative. If you seem to put off the vibe that the company you are applying to “owes you something” right off the bat, they may classify you as “high maintenance” and avoid sponsoring you.  Always show appreciation by saying thanks and letting the people around you know whom your supporting sponsors are. 

For more information on Novik, visit novikgloves.com, or visit your local dealership.