Combining two historic series provide a watershed moment for SuperMotocross

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Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. But often, they are not as simple as it appears on first glance.

What began as a conversation about media rights for Monster Energy Supercross and Pro Motocross developed into a playoff for the combined series. Many sports have playoffs, so the concept was not unique. The execution of a combined playoff for two distinct series already with a protocol for naming their champion made it a little more challenging.

With that challenge, there were unique ways to change and grow the sport in substantial ways. At the start of the 2023 season in January, no one was quite certain how that would evolve.

One of those changes has been how television coverage might change – the initial push when this journey began last year.

“People on the outside keep saying it’s so great that both series are on Peacock, but to be honest they’ve been on the same network a lot,” Jason Weigandt, lead broadcast announcer for the Pro Motocross series told NBC Sports. “We weren’t (together) last year and even the year before that. But we’ve been on Peacock with Supercross and Motocross.

“The real difference is what’s behind the scenes. Our television production is now being run by Feld, who also owns the Supercross series. What that leads to in coordination and promotion are that the same people are at the same meetings all year. A) that is massive and B) the resources they have are just better than the resources we had for Motocross before. We’re getting the same level of production behind the scenes as Supercross has always had.”

The truism that two heads are better than one applies. But what about when there are dozens of heads, each with a unique perspective. With Feld Entertainment taking over the production, new ideas have been incorporated into the coverage.

“There’s no doubt it’s brainpower and new ideas,” Weigandt continued. “We’re in meetings constantly and always tweaking and always trying to gain. It’s just maybe six more people in every meeting who are in the promotional business we didn’t have last year. It’s the same crew we had, plus a couple other people. Monetarily, it’s a big investment as well. There is going to be $5.5 million paying out these playoffs. They’re going to do everything they can to make sure it’s produced right.

“The whole crew is just a little more well-funded. With that, you not only can do the job easier but it allows us to do other things because the rest of the job is easier. (You ask) what else can we do now that we have more time or more organization. It’s been a much bigger difference than I even thought.”


A Room with a View

One of the biggest little changes was a rolling broadcast studio. In previous seasons, Weigandt and his guest announcers set up operations wherever they could find in the pits along in and around the television production units and the media center.

A Feld executive looked around and decided there was a better way to do this. Supercross is held in stadiums where real estate comes at a premium. Those stadiums also come with broadcast facilities that simply aren’t found at most motocross facilities.

It’s impossible to find a spot at the track that is both readily accessible to the production trucks and the pits, but during each race, the addition of this mobile unit has allowed Pro Motocross find a position that shows part of the track and connect the viewers with the action.

It was a simple idea.

“Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ideas,” Weigandt said. “They wanted us to be able to see the track. Not like you would ever really announce looking out the window; you always announce to the television monitor. But the theory was that we would at least feel the atmosphere if a rider is getting cheered by fans or if it’s raining or something like that.

“It’s just a regular trailer but it’s expensive; several thousand dollars for this very special window we have so the lighting is perfect. We don’t get the reflection from our big lights in the background. But still, to have a trailer with a window on it – it’s probably an idea that in five minutes you could have come up with this concept.

“It’s a very simple idea. The other great thing is, we don’t have to go out on the racetrack to shoot our own camera stand ups to show that atmosphere. We literally just turn 180 degrees. Now the track’s at our back, the camera’s right there, we can bring guests in and out of the booth in 30 seconds.”


Birth of a New Series

The SuperMotocross World Championship has its own challenges in combining two historic motorcycle racing series.

Motocross and supercross are unique disciplines. The confines of a stadium necessitate tight corners that include extremely technical portions of the track.

A motocross track is typically more than twice as long with natural elevation changes. Speed is a defining feature of this style of racing.

Each series wanted to preserve their identity. Both crown a champion and then seed their superstars into SMX, which essentially acts as both a third series and a unified championship. SuperMotocross tracks will be designed to highlight the best elements of stadium and outdoor racing.

In its inaugural season, there has been a lot to figure out.

“One of the hardest things there is to try to explain to everybody what is going on,” Weigandt said. “We feel internally like we’ve explained it on a lot of shows, but even here in August, I’m hearing plenty of people say, I’m not sure how this works.”

MX Thunder Valley 2023 Ty Masterpool face.JPG

Ty Masterpool began his 2023 Pro Motocross 450 season with three top-10s

Highlighting the difference holds its own challenge. In our visual age, telling someone a thing is not the same as helping them visualize it. The increased production budget and brain power includes produced enhanced graphic capabilities that help.

“A lot of that is going to be graphics,” Weigandt said. “A lot of it is putting our heads together. What graphic do we need that actually explains what people need to know? And even at Washougal, we’re showing a graphic now that shows the riders rank 17th through 23rd, because that’s the bubble.”

The SuperMotocross World Championship guarantees a starting spot for the top 20 riders in combined points between the two series. Riders who ended their year with the final Supercross race at Salt Lake City in May have slowly been overtaken by riders running both the indoor and outdoor seasons.

Motocross only riders have steadily moved their way up the ranking and displaced some of the less productive Supercross only riders.

For the past several weeks, the media’s attention has been on this cutline.

“When it comes to playoff seeding, first is not as important as who’s in and who’s not,” Weigandt said. “In past years, we were struggling just to have graphics that were accurate and stats that were accurate. We’d have problems on the track where the lap times would go down. You’re scrambling to do the basics. The basics work every week now. So now we get to tweak the program.”

The combined championship has also changed the way riders have approached the series.

Ty Masterpool saw an opportunity to move up to the 450 class this year because of injuries to several marquee riders. He is now inside the top 20 in points and will have an invitation to the SMX playoffs. The same is true for Club MX’s Garrett Marchbanks, who applied motorsports’ version of sabermetrics to the problem and moved out of the 250 class. He too is in the top 20 in 450 points.

“Playoffs in motorsports are love hate,” Weigandt said. “Some people think it’s cool and exciting, and some people do not. The cool thing about the concepts here is the regular championships are still a fact. It’s not like Chase Sexton winning the Supercross title has not been celebrated. Every fan out here is talking about Jett Lawrence being undefeated in the motocross series.

“Those things are still as important as they always were. So the playoffs haven’t taken anything away, and then what we’re gaining now is these riders coming back, (Shane) McElrath and (Colt) Nichols, Kevin Moranz, all fighting for that bubble spot. Those guys wouldn’t have raced, they wouldn’t have been here, so I can’t see anyone, any fan, thinking it’s a bad thing to get three or four more talented riders back on the track that they wouldn’t have (seen).”

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