Channeling MotoAmerica: How To Watch America’s Premier Motorcycle Road Racing Championship

MotoAmerica CFO Richard Varner watches the action with Suzuki’s Pat Alexander. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

When MotoAmerica announced its new TV package, the breadth of the entire deal was a big surprise to pretty much everyone. Not only are MotoAmerica Superbike races going to be broadcast on network TV, but also an entirely different network is going to feature a weekly lifestyle show about MotoAmerica. And, for those fans wanting a MotoAmerica experience that’s the next best thing to being right at the track, MotoAmerica Live+ is a third option.

That’s a lot of different choices, which raises a few questions, For the answers, we talked with Richard Varner, CFO of MotoAmerica and one of the men responsible for putting together one of the most comprehensive and customer-centric TV packages in motorcycle racing history.

MotoAmerica is going to be featured on a couple of different television networks – two competing channels, in fact – plus the MotoAmerica Live+ streaming service. That’s three different ways for people to watch MotoAmerica. How did you pull that off?

First of all, Chuck (Aksland) did a great job putting this entire TV deal together. The structure beneath this whole thing is pretty interesting. We had to make a big investment from our side, but we control the product and we’re doing all our own broadcast production this year.

We tried to do something similar to this back in our first year of MotoAmerica. Our general thinking was – and still is – that the more platforms we could be on, the better, and the more households we could be in, the better. The first year we were in business, we had to put everything together in just a few months, and none of us had really been involved that much in TV before. So, we paid to produce our own tape-delayed show, and we hired Greenlight Television to handle the production.

In our second year, we went to live programming because we thought it was a better solution, and we joined up with World Superbike and MotoGP. We felt that, with everything together, that would be better for us, and beIN Sports invested in the production, which was a huge thing for us at that point in time. Also, we looked carefully at beIN Sports’ viewership numbers, and they were in a lot of households.

In our third year, we reached more people, and we also started focusing on other things in our operations. For instance, we increased the schedule from nine events to 10, and that was a big thing, financially. It was a lot of money for us. It was a lot of money for the teams, too, because they were racing one additional weekend. So that was a big deal. We increased our events by 10 percent.

Also, in our first year, we had six events that were revenue shares and one event where we had to pay to be there. By that, I mean we rented the track, promoted the event, and so on. But now, we’ve got a whole different business model where we control the product and the promotion, and we’re able to create a better, more consistent brand, better events, and ultimately, better racing.

This past year, we had some issues when beIN Sports lost a lot of their viewership. There were some things going on with them that were out of our control. So, for this year, we all agreed that it would be better for us to produce our own events and find a different place or places to distribute them.

On the TV side, we went from needing to put something in place very quickly, to being live the next year, to this year where we’re doing our own production and branching out in more directions. Also, by owning our own content, we’re able to shape what we present.

We felt like we hadn’t had a live product that was genuinely free until now – which is the FOX Sports 2 product. But, we also want to promote our riders, who are our stars, and cover more of what goes on during race weekends. We can’t really do that during live race broadcasts, so we decided that we also needed a specially produced lifestyle show to accomplish those things. That’s what the NBC Sports Network show “Inside MotoAmerica” is all about. It’s a curated program that will represent the best of our racing, showcase our riders, and promote our events.

And then, we have a core group of fans that like to see everything. So, we thought, well, we’ll have a third offering, which is a paywall where the coverage will be almost like going to our events. With MotoAmerica Live+, fans have the ability to see some practice sessions and qualifying along with all the races. We’re going to show a lot of what goes on in the paddock, too, and we’ll have well-known racing personality Dylan Gray as the host.

Now, as for the events themselves, we’ve brought those along, too. At first, it was just the bare bones, and then we started doing some of our own events. Now we’re doing almost every one of them on our own. We’ve gone from being just racing to now, each race weekend is family-oriented entertainment.

Beyond that, we’re looking to possibly find some additional distribution channels to highlight our other race classes, Liqui Moly Junior Cup, Supersport, Twins Cup, and Stock 1000. There’s a lot out there that we can do differently. I think it will help us not only with the awareness of our brand and the reach, but it will also help us financially because we’ll be able to produce more content than we ever have before.

 MotoAmerica’s premier race class and number-one product is Superbike, but some people have asked, “What about the other classes?” You mentioned that you are looking at some additional distribution channels going forward. But, for people who want to see Liqui Moly Junior Cup, Supersport, Twins Cup, and Stock 1000 this year, where do they go to do that?

Right now, if they want to see any of those races live, MotoAmerica Live+ is their best choice. However, if they’re happy just to see race highlights and that sort of thing, they can watch Inside MotoAmerica on NBC Sports Network. From time to time, they may be able to see some bits and pieces of those other race classes on the FOX Sports 2 live broadcasts, but it won’t be as in-depth. It won’t be as comprehensive as it will be on MotoAmerica Live+.

So, if you want to watch flag-to-flag race coverage of, say, the Twins Cup class, you choose MotoAmerica Live+?

That’s correct.

Was there any pushback from FOX Sports 2 or NBC Sports Network, since they’re obviously competitors? The product is a little bit different on each network, but it’s MotoAmerica on those two competing networks. Were any concerns expressed by either of the networks?

Yeah, I think there were some concerns. But I think we satisfied everyone that the FOX Sports 2 show is going to be more about live Superbike racing. The NBC Sports Network show, Inside MotoAmerica, is more about the riders and the paddock, with unique, in-depth feature stories that you can’t include during the live race coverage. Several other sports, like football, baseball, and NASCAR do the same thing. They have different kinds of programming on different networks. The main thing for us was to ensure that the programming is unique on each of the different networks. And, it will be.

For NBC Sports Network, it’s more about the faces beneath the helmets. Would you say that’s accurate?

That’s exactly right. You might see an interview with JD Beach where he talks about racing in both MotoAmerica Superbike and flat track. You might see in-depth information about the bikes or about the track. You might see more about the events themselves and what we’re doing at those events like the family-oriented activities. You might see something about the people behind the scenes, like the individual teams, the mechanics, and that sort of thing. The training regimens that the riders follow, what goes on during practice, how young riders can get started in the sport, and interviews with the team owners. We’re going to create a deeper product on NBC Sports Network whereas FOX Sports 2 is live race coverage that’s in the moment and focused on the Superbike races.

Last year, we had synergy with MotoGP, World Superbike, and MotoAmerica all together on beIN Sports. But this year, due to circumstances with beIN Sports and some of the cable and satellite companies, we had to go our own way. MotoGP and World Superbike, for the time being, are still on beIN Sports, and we’ve had a couple of comments from fans who said, “Just when I finally figured things out with beIN Sports, MotoAmerica is no longer going to be on there.” But, it’s more important for us to be seen than to just be part of the group with MotoGP and World Superbike, wouldn’t you say?

MotoGP produces their own shows, and they broadcast on different networks in different countries. So, in the United States, they broadcast on beIN Sports, but that’s only one small sliver of their global broadcasting strategy. For them, the reach that beIN Sports provides in the U.S. isn’t as critical as it for us because the U.S. is obviously MotoAmerica’s biggest market. This is where we have to succeed. We have to be on a bigger platform to really reach the U.S. market.

We hate not being connected to MotoGP and World Superbike because, on some weekends, they were a great lead-in for us. You could watch all the MotoGP races, all the World Superbike races, and all the MotoAmerica races. By the end of last year, our total viewership on beIN Sports was actually larger than what World Superbike’s viewership was. In fact, after soccer and MotoGP, MotoAmerica had the third-largest viewership on beIN Sports. We made big strides with them, and I think they hated to see us go. But we still have a good relationship with them.

This year, we will be in four or five times more households with FOX Sports 2 and NBC Sports Network than we were with beIN Sports. It’ll be a combined total of well over a hundred million households.

One of the things that happened a few times last year is that the telecasts of our races would get pre-empted by soccer or some other event. Is that going to happen with our Superbike races on FOX Sports 2? Will there be any pre-empting?

Right now, to the best of our knowledge, no. We’ve got a general idea of the viewing times for each race. I would only expect that we would get pre-empted or delayed by something that was very topical. You remember the “Heidi game” with the NFL? I don’t think we’re going to get any “Heidi moments,” where they take our race off the air and bring in Heidi. There might be something like that if, say, LeBron James suddenly decides to play football. An announcement like that might pre-empt us, but for the most part, we don’t anticipate anything like that. If it does happen, it’s going to be for reasons that we will all probably understand.

The other thing that some people have asked about is whether the MotoAmerica Live+ subscription offering will enable fans to “DVR” the races instead of watching them live?

Yes, there’s going to be a Video On Demand feature with MotoAmerica Live+.

So, we’re heading towards a race season where there is going to be a lot of broadcast coverage of MotoAmerica, and a lot of different ways for fans to consume it.

What you’re going to see is that, from April through October, there’s going to be a MotoAmerica show on every week. It’s either going to be live or tape-delayed, and then, it’s going to be re-aired, too. So, first, we go to Road Atlanta, and you’ll see Road Atlanta on FOX Sports 2. The next week, before COTA, you’ll see Inside MotoAmerica on NBC Sports Network. Then you’ll see COTA on FOX Sports 2. Then you’re going to see the re-air of Road Atlanta on FOX Sports 2. And then, the following week, you’re going to see Inside MotoAmerica on NBC Sports Network. Then it just goes on and on throughout the season. MotoAmerica is going to be on all the time. Having the ability to do this, it just cascades in terms of awareness and gets people to start watching us. Because, once you watch it, you’re hooked.

This is going to be great for all three of our stakeholders. We have the fans, of course. We have the teams who we’re supplying with the product, and we have our sponsors. Plus, the teams have their own sponsors. So, anything we can do to get more reach and more awareness to our sponsors and the teams’ sponsors will make it better for the fans, too. By creating this much awareness for our sport, it helps every one of our stakeholders in the process.

We had an interesting conversation with Eddie Lee, who is Andrew Lee’s father, the Stock 1000 champion. Eddie said that now, when they work on sponsorship deals, they can leverage our TV package during the negotiations. That’s exactly what we wanted to happen, isn’t it?

That’s right. And also, now that we produce, control, and archive our own content, we’re able to provide tailored content that’s specific for each team. So, if Andrew Lee has a content request, we can provide him with content that is relevant to him. For Dunlop, this is something we can do that they can’t do for themselves. We can provide content that showcases Dunlop at the track. Enhancing our delivery of specific content is going to be a big push for us this year.

MotoAmerica, the staff, the officials, the teams, and the riders are all like a big family, and families are important to MotoAmerica, wouldn’t you say?

Yes, if you look at our events themselves, they’ve gone from being basic race weekends to now, they’re something that entire families can enjoy. We truly feel that, if we can get more families to attend our events, they’ll keep coming back. If our fans bring their families with them, and the kids are introduced to our sport and they enjoy themselves, then they’ll come back. The whole family will come back. We love to see the kids there. We’re going to help them get to know our sport. We feel like, long-term, that’s where our growth should be…with the kids.

One of the things we talked to Wayne about when we had him on a recent podcast is that, from the very beginning, MotoAmerica has always listened to its customers, and strived to give them what they want. As you mentioned, MotoAmerica’s customers aren’t just the general public, but they’re also the riders, the teams, and the sponsors. This TV package is a perfect example of MotoAmerica listening to its customers and giving them what they want. Would you agree?

Yes. The people said they wanted to see MotoAmerica on a good broadcast TV network, and we’ve gotten there. So we listened to them. But there are also a lot of people who have cut the cord, and they prefer to watch and consume their television on a streaming service that they don’t have to pay a cable or satellite company for. We’ve created that option, but we feel like, if we charged a hundred dollars for it, we weren’t listening to anybody. So, we priced it so it isn’t out of line.

If you think about it, the price is about the same as buying a ticket to just one of our race weekends, and you’re going to get 10 events out of it. You’re going to get 20 days of racing.

We tried to listen to everybody. We’re putting our sponsors on network TV, putting the riders and teams on network TV, and we’re putting the teams’ sponsors on network TV. Our core fans want to watch more than just the races so, with MotoAmerica Live+, they can watch some of the practice sessions and qualifying in addition to all the races. I don’t think they’re going to mind the out-of-pocket costs. And, for the more casual fans who are doing other things during the weekends but still want to watch MotoAmerica, they’ll be happy with the FOX Sports 2 race broadcasts and/or Inside MotoAmerica on NBC Sports Network.

In other words, however fans want to consume it, MotoAmerica is providing it.

Yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing.