The Birth of Supermotocross And a New TV Rights Deal With NBC

Monster Energy AMA Supercross
Monster Energy AMA Supercross / Jeff Kardas/GettyImages

Let's kick things off here with a quick history lesson. Motocross, also known as off-road motorcycle racing, has been around for nearly 100 years. The first race was held in England in 1924, although back then it was known as a scramble race. Motocross eventually made its way to America, and in 1974 someone wondered what would happen if the races happened inside the L.A. Coliseum instead of on an off-road track. They called this sport Supercross. For the next few decades, Motocross and Supercross operated as two separate leagues; Supercross' season ran from January to May and Motocross ran from May to August.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020 and things had to change. Supercross and Motocross had to evolve to survive. Their way of doing so was to create a whole new league-- one that appeals to the modern sports fan without losing the individuality of each similar, yet different sport.

That's how Supermotocross was born. A revolutionary step for motorcycle racing, a league that features (for the first time) a postseason and a battle for a championship. As with most revolutionary steps, it came from necessity and originally wasn't even the plan at all.

"In 2020 when COVID hit, Supercross was still in the middle of the season," Supercross VP Dave Prater told The Big Lead. "We had to figure out a way to finish those last seven rounds we had yet to complete. Motocross starts in mid-May and we knew we were going to need a little bit more time and creep into their season. So we started talking to them and that’s how it all began.

Our initial plan was, let’s go to market with our media rights together. As we took it to market, one of the things we kept hearing from different media partners was that the modern sports fan expects a postseason playoff and a world championship, Super Bowl, World Series at the end. A championship event. That’s what spawned the idea and it grew quickly from there."

Logistically it wasn't a huge leap because the two leagues shared athletes and teams even before they merged. But combining media rights was significant. Prater said they took Supermotocross to market in late 2020 and early 2021. The financial landscape was still very much coping with the ramifications of the pandemic. Instead of trying to sell networks and potential rights partners on a five-month league with relatively little drama in a tough economy, Supermotocross had nearly a year's worth of content along with a playoff bracket.

"Everyone was extremely enthusiastic about the combined rights," Prater said. "Exponentially, it increased our value across the board. Not that they weren’t excited previously but when you can take to market 10 months of content and one overarching championship it definitely moved the needle for us. By working together, all pulling in the same direction with a common goal, I think we can stay in front of our audience longer and continue that storyline throughout the year. For those 10 months of the season but also postseason and preseason leading up. We’re really going to have a year of content for folks."

Supermotocross ended up landing a rights deal with NBC and Peacock. Prater explained that familiarity played a big role; Supercross had been with NBC for the previous four years and Motocross was with the network for most of the last decade.

As always, the goal with the new league and a fresh rights deal is to grow audience numbers. Prater thinks Supermotocross is well-positioned to capture both the action sports demographic and the younger motosport demo, which presents a great opportunity.

"These guys are daredevils and incredible athletes. This appeals to a younger audience. It appeals to a younger male audience but we also want to increase the female viewership. It’s in that X Games, extreme sport action sport genre that crosses into motorsports. I think we’re unique there, in that action sports tend to get those younger viewers. But we’re a motorsport. The other motorsports, like NASCAR, look at us and think that's the place we want to be. NASCAR’s demo is aging out. I think our demo can really serve well and get those motorsports fans in at a younger age."

The Supermotocross season kicked off in Anaheim earlier this month and the early returns are positive. Peacock viewership was up 40 percent compared to last year's first Supercross event. Linear viewership increased by 15 percent. The international Supermotocross Video Pass, an internally-operated international stream, increased subscribers by 20 percent heading into the season. During the first race on January 7, Supermotocross was USA Network's No. 1 rated program among the male 18-49 demo. Fans always get excited when a fresh new thing begins, but there's hope that the looming postseason will give it staying power.

Innovation is required to survive in any business. By going to market with combined media rights, Supercross and Motocross created a whole new entity they didn't even consider when they first began to collaborate. Now they have a rights deal with NBC and the sky is the limit. Funny how things happen sometimes.