Between the Motos: Dave Prater

Between the Motos Dave Prater

July 5, 2017 11:30am

Well, they kept us waiting longer than usual, but the folks at Feld Entertainment finally released the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross series schedule in early June. Some new races have been added, some old races are back on the schedule, and we lost a few favorites (one that really hurts me personally). To talk about the schedule, the ins and outs of getting it done and some thoughts behind it is one of the good guys of the sport, Feld Entertainment director of supercross, Dave Prater.

Racer X: The 2018 schedule is out for the Monster Energy Supercross series. It’s funny because you can never make everybody happy. I tweeted this out and immediately got everybody where the series left upset, and then everybody where the series is going to is very happy. So really for yourself, and you get the feedback also, it’s a no-win situation. There are only 17 rounds.
Dave Prater: That’s true. You just have to focus on the positives, like you said. You try to focus on the ones that are happy you’re coming. I’d love to continue to go to all the places we had to vacate this past year, but you just can’t. You’d be racing all year round. You’ve got to pick and choose. We’ll be back to those venues in the future, but needed to take a little bit of a break.

We’ve seen venues come and go off the series. Houston is back this year. Seattle came back last year after a while. How does that even work? Stadium availability, of course, fitting into the schedule. Sometimes is it a matter of you just saying, “It’s time to go back?” How do you determine when and where? There’s staples that have to stay, but how does it go for the races that come and go?
There’s just a multitude of factors. It’s not myself and Todd [Jendro] just making a decision in a vacuum. There’s a routing and tours team [here]. It’s basically a big puzzle. We have multiple contracts with these stadiums and some are one-year deals and some are like Anaheim, who was on a 10-year contract. So, because they vary in length sometimes with it being 17 (races) they don’t always stack up. For instance, we left Seattle, not because we wanted to a few years ago, but because the only dates they had available we were already booked in St. Louis and Indy or wherever the other venues were. So, we locked ourselves out. We were happy to get back to Seattle last year.

Some venues just need to breathe, like Houston. We’ve been going there since 1974 and it seemed to be getting stale. We weren’t selling the amount of tickets we always had, so gave it a few years to breathe. I think we’ll be back strong. Just a ton of different variables that go into it. Then sometimes we want to go into the newest and the best stadiums out there, so that’s why we went back to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis last year and that was a big success. We’ll be back there in 2018. Looking forward to Atlanta, too.

Let’s talk about the new venues on the circuit. So, we’re going to the Raymond James again in Tampa, Florida. We went there once in ’99 and then we were at the old stadium before then. What do you think about that? Obviously, it’s Feld’s headquarters, so maybe that had something to do with it, but why Tampa? Why now?
We’ve considered Tampa for a while. Back in the ‘90s it did well. We haven’t gone for quite a while, but Tampa really wanted us. Obviously it’s here, but that really didn’t play into it. At least maybe in the back of our minds it would be nice to sleep in our beds for that week, but it didn’t really play into the decision all that much. We have a long relationship with the stadium as far as Monster Jam. They’ve been asking for supercross for quite a while. We think it’s time to give it a shot.

We’ll see how we do in Tampa. I can’t figure out why Jacksonville, Orlando, the old days in Tampa—Florida for some reason doesn’t draw massive crowds, and I have no idea why. Daytona has always been good, but it’s a separate beast because of Bike Week and everything. What is it about Florida? Do you have any idea?
I have no idea. You and I have joked about it—I was the one jumping up and down saying we should go to Jacksonville, and you saw how that worked out for us. Jacksonville is five hours from Atlanta. We were selling out Atlanta and then we go to Jacksonville and it was a little less than a sellout. We’ll see. Florida is a huge motocross state. You would think it would draw better. I think Tampa will. I’m excited about it. We’ve got our event marketing staff that market’s Tampa is strong. I think we’re definitely going to be successful. It’s not going to be another Jacksonville, that’s for sure.

We lost New York, but Gillette [Foxborough] is back. What’s the reasoning behind that? What’s the thought process behind that? We were talking about it on my show. Six of one, half dozen of the other to me. I think both races are drawing from the other area.
Yup. That’s exactly what we were thinking. So, the thought process right now, and obviously it could change in the future, but is to kind of flip-flop those events every year. They’re three hours apart or something like that, and really you’re drawing from the same population. So, in ’16 when we did Foxborough and then East Rutherford back to back, we definitely were kind of cannibalizing the crowd. You chose. Some people went to both, but others were like, let’s go to Foxborough or no, let’s go to East Rutherford. So, by doing every other year I think it will just be something new and fresh and keep it exciting while still servicing the same fans.

The return to Foxborough means we'll probably see some more of Rob Gronkowski in 2018.
The return to Foxborough means we'll probably see some more of Rob Gronkowski in 2018. Cudby

When you have a new stadium like U.S. Bank last year, I think it was only a year old, and then now you have Mercedes-Benz Stadium [Atlanta], and we went into University of Phoenix—it wasn’t new, but it was the first time for us. Do you have to go there and look at it? Supercross needs more than just a stadium, as far as parking and vending and everything else. How does that work with a new stadium? Do you need a tour? Do you need to look at it?
Yeah, we definitely always go up and look at it. Something that’s interesting and most people may not even know, but what’s happening now, because of our relationships with stadiums around the country, both Minneapolis and Atlanta came to us in their actual build process. So, when they were putting the blueprints out on paper they came to us and asked us for all of our needs. Obviously, we don’t always get everything, simply because the geography of the location that they’re putting it in, but we went to Minneapolis probably I’d say six months into the build, and then again probably two months prior to it opening, just to continue the conversations with the staff and what we saw that should have been beneficial for us that they could change or whatnot. Same thing with Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. So, we’ve been talking to them since day one about what we would need to make the show more efficient. It depends on the staff, really.

The funny thing about Minneapolis, it was almost like we had been there 20 times. The GM of the building was from Indy, the RCA Dome. So, he knew our product well. A few of the people that were employed by the stadium were at other stadiums where we had done supercross. Atlanta’s the same way. There’s a few folks from the Georgia Dome, but then the head of security is from Indy RCA Dome. Another guy, their ops guy is from University of Phoenix Stadium. So, we had those connections even prior to them building the stadium, but it makes it nice. When we went to Dodgers Stadium no one had ever experienced supercross before, so it was like day one holding their hand. But these others have been fairly easy to deal with.

I’m surprised though with the spectacle that is supercross with the vending and the pit experience and everything—we go to Minneapolis, and it’s a great market, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t display supercross like you want to. And even my beloved Toronto, which we’ll get into, you can’t display supercross like you want to. I would always think that those kind of venues would hold the series back from going there, but I guess you guys just look at the benefits outweigh even something like that?
Obviously, we want the pit party or fan fest everywhere we go, so it’s unfortunate that Minneapolis really doesn’t have the area. I’m going to the X Games in two weeks now just to check it out because they’re going to use the plaza area, which we used the last time we went to the Metrodome. But it’s been re-worked. The problem with it is obviously it’s a little colder the time of year that we’re going to be there. So, July works fine because they can utilize the outside. For us, it can be a different story. But we’re going to go check it out and just see if there’s any possibility of utilizing that plaza area for something, if not a full pit party. So, it’s unfortunate. Typically, we have at least two or three where we can’t do an open pit, but this year thankfully we only have Minneapolis. All the others will have pit parties.

Can we talk about Toronto? What happened?
It’s an easy answer, to be honest with you. I’ve wanted to just answer all the tweets I’ve gotten and stuff. So, love Toronto. Toronto’s been great.

Don't worry Torontonians, there is still a chance the series could return to your city after the renovations to the stadium have been completed.
Don't worry Torontonians, there is still a chance the series could return to your city after the renovations to the stadium have been completed. Jeff Kardas

Attendance has climbed every year it seems like. Fans have really embraced it.
But it really came down to just one simple thing and that is they’re doing a bunch of renovations. They actually had started last year when we were there with the outside. I don’t know if you were there, but a lot of the gates and sidewalks were ripped up. They’re not available during that timeframe. They wanted us. We wanted to go back, but just couldn’t.

Do you think it will be back on the schedule at some point?
Yeah, potentially. I don’t know. We haven’t gotten that far yet. Like I said, if it wasn’t for that renovation it would have been there this year. Just couldn’t make it work.

Of course, Detroit went away also. What was behind that a little bit? Again, Canadians saying, we lost Toronto, but we can go to Detroit. What kind of goes behind that? Obviously, it’s not something personal by you guys or anything.
No, again just trying to let it breathe a little bit. Attendance hasn’t been very strong, so just trying to let it breathe and hopefully come back when we can and get people excited again.

To me, year in year out, I love going to these stadiums because I’m a sports fan. I follow all these teams, and I watch these teams on TV. It’s cool to go into all these stadiums. Still to me, Jerry World (Dallas) is the best. It’s the best stadium we’ve been to. Maybe this Mercedes-Benz will be better, but I still get amazed at Cowboys Stadium every single year.
I think you’re right. Arguably I would say that AT&T Stadium is the premier stadium in the world. Hopefully none of my other stadiums are reading this. I’d say it’s a fairly easy argument to say that’s the premier stadium in the world at the moment. I would probably have to agree with you. I love all the others—don’t get me wrong. Minny is amazing. All the new ones are amazing. Even the old ones are great. It’s just AT&T Stadium.

How much does the teams yelling at you for the travel schedule affect the series schedule itself? Obviously, you look at that. It’s a lot better than what it was when I first started being a mechanic and I was driving to these races in a box van, so I can vouch for that. It’s pretty good now. There’s a couple long hauls that get the guys upset of course, but you guys work pretty hard on it. How much work goes into that to try to help these teams out?
A lot. It’s a huge undertaking, obviously with these teams for having to travel and get to the race and then prep all the bikes and make sure that their trucks and their drivers are safe and can get to the venues on time. That’s definitely a big part of it. I won’t tell you the last-minute change we made in ’18, but literally the day before the schedule was released we were with PR and stuff having to flip-flop two dates. The only reason was routing. It was going to be much worse. The one venue’s date opened up, so we were able to flip-flop it last minute and fix it. Not only the teams, obviously we care and we want those guys to have the most efficient routing possible, but most of the teams have one, if not two, semis, and we’ve got 15 that are going down the road, plus two television trucks. So, if the routing is no good for them, it’s even worse for us. We’re trying to make it as efficient as possible. It goes back into that puzzle and it’s got to fit within availabilities and everything else.

If you could wave a magic wand and pick a city that you’d like to go to, is there one that you talked to, you have your eye on, you want to go to, you hope to go to one day? I’ll give you mine. Attendance was never that great, but I’d like to go back to New Orleans. Pits weren’t the greatest. The dome’s been redone. What a cool city. I’d like to go back.
I agree. I think New Orleans was great. There’s one or two. Nashville comes to mind. I’d really like to get to Nashville. The others, there’s a ton. Any stadium we’ve never been to. Pittsburgh, I’d love to be in Pittsburgh. To anyone reading this, they aren’t necessarily on the radar (for the series), but for me personally. I love going to new stadiums. It comes with headaches sometimes just because we’re unfamiliar with them and they’re unfamiliar with us, but it’s just nice. It switches things up and it keeps things fresh. That’s the goal.

Anything else you can tell us about supercross format, supercross rules, supercross things that are happening? I’ve heard some rumors, but anything you can tell us?
Nothing’s set in stone yet. I can tell you that there will be some new things coming out, but they’re not solid yet, so I can’t really comment on them. Should be coming out hopefully within the next couple months.