Dean Wilson has been in the news lately, for the best and worst of reasons. On the good side, he continues to operate as a pioneer for athletes building a brand through today’s internet and social media channels. He’s had years of great goofs on Twitter and Instagram, and now a real focus on building his YouTube channel. Last week’s Grandpa Earl sketch now sits at over a million views. That’s a ton for our little sport, and Dean got it not from a race, but from a goofy (and funny) skit at the track.
But Grandpa Earl is only half of the reason Dean is in the news. He’s also a topic in all of the 2019 silly season discussions, because for the second time in three years Dean finds himself without a ride. The world keeps telling us that brands think differently now, and they want exposure on social media and YouTube and all of these platforms. But isn’t it odd that the rider who might do the best social media work also doesn’t have a ride? Maybe, maybe not.
Dean is doing yeoman’s work to get his remaining sponsors some love (the Rockstar Energy plug at the end of Grandpa Earl is obvious) but this sport still sits at a crossroads when it comes to weighing exposure versus pure results on the track. Ultimately, there isn’t much proof that anything outside of winning races and getting on podiums really matters when it comes to getting a factory ride. That might not be a bad thing, either. As long as motorcycle brands chose to spend money to promote the ultimate performance of their machines, they’re likely going to spend well beyond any sort of actual marketing return on investment. If teams wanted to look at racing as a purely marketing investment, we might be in trouble, because then the numbers have to justify the means, and this sport isn’t very big. In the case of motorcycle racing, it’s often corporate pride and a desire to win at all costs that justify the budgets. Things have gotten a little more complicated now that most teams have outside sponsors, but it’s not like those companies don’t like podiums and wins, also.
Wilson’s promotions have helped him with individual sponsors, but a rider is never worth nearly as much unless he’s on an actual factory team. In fact, several riders through the years have taken rides for free just to activate their gear sponsorship deals. The gear companies and personal sponsors love their guys, but even they need to know their guy will be on a bike all season to net his true worth.
All of this makes sense, really, but there’s an additional, biting problem for a rider like Wilson. While funny YouTube videos might endear him to fans, it can cut the opposite way up top. It’s probably not fair, but the moment an athlete in this sport is seen doing anything outside of normal riding and training, it doesn’t always reflect well unless he’s completely dominating the results. (By the way, this doesn’t apply to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team, which has proven very loyal to riders over the years, but ran out of room with Zach Osborne moving up to the 450 division.) Dean has been around a while, has never taken himself too seriously, and has been in trouble trying to get rides time and time again. Injuries have been his biggest issue, but once you can’t get into a race because you’re hurt, you have to rely on your reputation to keep a ride. Some only see Dean’s personality as a reflection of someone that doesn’t “want it” badly enough, if only because he doesn’t only show himself grinding on the daily. Fair? Nope. True? Yep.
Odd as it may sound, showing the world you can be funny can be a serious problem if you’re not winning races. Dean can do a lot for his brand off the track, but the real pot of gold around here, the factory bike, still only comes through results.