Friday Feature: A Christmas Day Supercross Present on TV

What do you get the Supercross fan who has everything? How about a network TV show that introduces the 2006 Supercross season on CBS on Christmas day? That sure beats nodding off during a generic bowl game, or trying to feign interest in a conversation with “holiday” relatives (you know, the ones you only see on holidays).

We talked with Ken Hudgens, the VP of Marketing and TV for Clear Channel ¿Motorsports to learn more about Sunday’s program, as well as his early take on the shows from Toronto and Vancouver, as well as what’s going on with the TV package for the 2006 SX season.

Is the Supercross pre-season show short of a gift to all the riders and fans out there?

Everyone here is really tickled to be able to put Supercross front and center on CBS on Christmas Day. Where we’re normally just in the business of covering a race, and whatever we get on is pretty much dominated by race footage, this is one of the first chances that we’ve had to paint a picture of what Supercross is. To tell the story of the riders, and try to get a real true essence of what it’s all about. I think between the action, and some of the documentary feel of it, I think certainly the core Supercross fan will be pleased with what they see. I think that even someone who doesn’t know that much about Supercross will be interested, just based on how visually exciting it is. I think this is the best hour of television that we’ve done in my 14 or 15 years here.

We heard that Troy Adamitis (known for his work on The Great Outdoors series of DVDs that annually chronicle the National series) helped out on it?

The work that Troy did was absolutely spectacular. His work is at the core of most of what you’ll see on Sunday. He is certainly an amazing talent. The quality of work that Troy did, really blew me away.

You said this one will be more of a documentary style?

I think it’s a little more documentary style in the sense that I think you get a better feel of who the riders are, and what motivates them, what the sport is, and what drives it. There’s only four or five minutes of recap of what happened in Toronto and Vancouver. It’s much more focused on what the essence of the sport is. and the essence of the riders. There’s a good focus on the top four or five or six guys. but there’s also a very good sprinkling of other people that are involved in the sport. I think it does a good job of giving people a sense of what the sport is. That’s difficult to do when you’re just simply putting a race on television.

Is the Christmas day time slot a good one?

I think it has its upsides and downsides. From a homes using television standpoint, Christmas Day is epic. Nobody’s really going out, there are not a lot of other things to do, so there are a tremendous amount of people in the U.S. who are using their televisions. Certainly we’re going up against some football. My Bears I think are playing at the same time. So there’s some good competition. But CBS is making a commitment to the sport, and part of that commitment is to introduce their viewers to it before we get to Anaheim. So while I think there’s certainly some good sports competition that we’ll be going up against out there, I think it’s great we’re certainly happy that CBS is a broadcast partner, and certainly very happy that they’re interested in showing the sport in other ways besides just putting the Anaheim main event on.

How would you describe how big a jump forward this year’s TV package is compared to previous efforts?

For my money, it’s a great jump forward, just because of the focus of the broadcast partners. ESPN, although for 20-plus years they were great and have things that Speed Channel doesn’t¿the number of homes it gets into number one¿they never really demonstrated much care for how it was presented, and they certainly had no care at all about promoting it. Th’s probably understandable, because they didn’t own the television package like they do in some other areas that they really put a focus on. Supercross got bounced around, it was never at a consistent time period, and it never got promoted. It’d be hard to grow the sport because of that. Also, we were limited to only be able to take it to ABC from a network perspective, because they were aligned with ESPN.

The new Speed/CBS deal kind of counteracts both of those. Speed is totally engaged. Anyone who watches the network regularly knows they’ve run probably five or six hundred promotional spots in just the last couple weeks, promoting Toronto and Vancouver. All of their wraparound programming has a focus on the sport, whether it’s having people on Wind Tunnel, or some of the bridge programming they have, like The Motocross Files. They’ll do a much better job of promoting it themselves on Speed Channel.

CBS takes care of the eyeballs, because anything that we may lose with the number of homes Speed reaches, I think that we’ll get back because CBS picks up the rest by having seven hours on their network in the next three or four months. The number of eyeballs that’ll watch just the CBS shows will dwarf what we did in the total package last year. I think that the two broadcast partners, Speed and CBS, are a great complement to what we’re trying to get done here.

We’ve seen the Canadian rounds, with the new on-air crew. What else is new? What changes can we expect new in the shows this year?

Obviously the talent is the most visible. Ralph Shaheen is the signature motorcycle voice on Speed Channel, and he’s certainly a prominent motorsports voice and talent on CBS, so he gives us that credibility. Denny Stephenson’s a former champion, and Krista Voda’s a very accomplished reporter and has done this for NASCAR, amongst other things.

Did Denny have a cold that first week in Toronto? That didn’t sound like his usual voice.

(Laughs) Denny needed to bathe himself in tea that first event. I think he stayed home and stayed off his voice for seven days until we got to Vancouver, and he certainly sounded great there. If you listen to what Denny says, the analysis and his ability to read what’s happening on the racetrack, in my opinion, is a dramatic step up to what we’ve had recently here. I’ve watched that main event from Toronto maybe 10 or 15 times, just trying to catch whatever. he was really very good, right out of the gate there. I think that the broadcast team is gelling, kind of right off the bat.

Can we get Krista to quit calling the riders drivers?

(Chuckles) She almost says it in the preview show, but she kind of caught herself. It kind of comes out as driders. She’s on top of that, I think.

Speed Channel’s really committed to really getting more in-depth in covering the racing. I think that for the hard-core Supercross fan, there will be less “other stuff,” and more attention to showing an analyzing as much racing as possible. Everything else, from the promotion to all the bridge programming, I think there will be more of a feel like it’s important on the network.

Our goal is to make Supercross the signature motorcycle property on a network, and it is on Speed Channel. Speed made a major announcement a couple weeks ago by extending their NASCAR package, and actually taking a step up. They’ll have the NASCAR All-Star race from Charlotte on live. By them taking a step up, it’ll help the “rising tides lifts all ships” theory by having more people watching their network. More people will have the ability to get Speed Channel in their homes, and that’ll be good for Supercross.

I know the AMA considers the Lites to be a stepping-stone class. From your perspective, is it a development class? Or a product with equal value?

That’s a good question, and a tough one to give sort of a standard answer to. I think it’s somewhat both. The level of what’s happening on the racetrack is extremely high in the Lites class. But as marketing and television people, it’s very hard to build what used to be called the 250 class¿it’s very hard to build the elite class and the elite riders like Carmichael and Stewart, Reed, etc., without a focus. It would kind of like be in NASCAR, them focusing as much on the Busch Series as they did on the Nextel Cup. From a marketing perspective, that’s a hard message to get out. I want to be really clear that it’s certainly not a huge step either way, from a marketing perspective it’s just a matter of focus.

ESPN for example, would put the Lites back-to-back with the 250 class. While that’s an enthusiast’s dream scenario, where you could just plop down and watch for two hours, it didn’t really delineate between the two. You were kind of building both simultaneously. From a television perspective, that’s one reason why you won’t see them back-to-back. There’s only a limited amount of focus and resources that everybody¿us, the networks, the sponsors, etc., can focus on. That’s not to say we want less of a focus on the Lites, we just want more of a focus on the Supercross class.

Again, I want to be careful that I don’t make it seem like we’re taking a lesser approach to one or the other. It’s just that based on where we are in building the sport, I think we have to somewhat prioritize where we’re going to try to get to and bring up everything. But we can’t do it all at one time. You’re still going to see the Lites the same amount of time as the Supercross class, just at a different time.

What do you hope to accomplish with this year’s TV package?

One goal we’ve already accomplished. That’s to put it on a network that it’s vitally important to. We have that with Speed Channel.

It’s just to put Supercross in front of as many eyeballs as we can, which we’re going to do with the Speed, and certainly the CBS package, and to keep growing the sport. Also, to expand the number of people and households that get a chance to see it, enjoy it, sample it, embrace it, and then ultimately become really true fans.

Check your local listing for the Christmas Day showing on CBS, and check out the full schedule below.

2005-’06 Amp’d Mobile World Supercross GP/Amp’d Mobile AMA Supercross Series Television Schedule

Air Time
Date
City
Class
Network
Airdate
6:00 PM ET
12.3.05
Toronto
Supercross
SPEED
12.4.05
6:00 PM ET
12.3.05

ESPN for example, would put the Lites back-to-back with the 250 class. While that’s an enthusiast’s dream scenario, where you could just plop down and watch for two hours, it didn’t really delineate between the two. You were kind of building both simultaneously. From a television perspective, that’s one reason why you won’t see them back-to-back. There’s only a limited amount of focus and resources that everybody¿us, the networks, the sponsors, etc., can focus on. That’s not to say we want less of a focus on the Lites, we just want more of a focus on the Supercross class.

Again, I want to be careful that I don’t make it seem like we’re taking a lesser approach to one or the other. It’s just that based on where we are in building the sport, I think we have to somewhat prioritize where we’re going to try to get to and bring up everything. But we can’t do it all at one time. You’re still going to see the Lites the same amount of time as the Supercross class, just at a different time.

What do you hope to accomplish with this year’s TV package?

One goal we’ve already accomplished. That’s to put it on a network that it’s vitally important to. We have that with Speed Channel.

It’s just to put Supercross in front of as many eyeballs as we can, which we’re going to do with the Speed, and certainly the CBS package, and to keep growing the sport. Also, to expand the number of people and households that get a chance to see it, enjoy it, sample it, embrace it, and then ultimately become really true fans.

Check your local listing for the Christmas Day showing on CBS, and check out the full schedule below.

2005-’06 Amp’d Mobile World Supercross GP/Amp’d Mobile AMA Supercross Series Television Schedule

Air Time
Date
City
Class
Network
Airdate
6:00 PM ET
12.3.05
Toronto
Supercross
SPEED
12.4.05
6:00 PM ET
12.3.05
Toronto
SX Lites
SPEED
12.10.05
6:00 PM ET
12.10.05
Vancouver
Supercross
SPEED
12.11.05
6:00 PM ET
12.10.05
Vancouver
SX Lites
SPEED
12.17.05
5:00PM ET
N/A
Various
Season Preview
CBS
12.25.05
12:30 PM ET
1.7.06
Anaheim
Supercross
CBS
1.8.06
6:00 PM ET
1.7.06
Anaheim
SX Lites
SPEED
1.14.06
6:00 PM ET
1.14.06
Phoenix
Supercross
SPEED
1.15.06