TWMX Interview: Michael Holigan

With his successful business background, and experience in NASCAR (both as a sponsor and team owner), Michael Holigan is an interesting character. As the owner of the Team Samsung Wireless, he’s brought the same business savvy to his race team, securing an impressive array of outside sponsorship, and looking at future expansion.

We caught up with him at his race shop in Dallas to talk a little about the sponsorship landscape, what it takes to score (and keep) big sponsors, and more.

How about a little business background for you?

“I started working in the family land development business, back when I was in high school. In the early 90s we got into homebuilding, and fortunately we were really successful at it. We did an infomercial for our homebuilding company and got a lot of response from it, so I made a local TV show called, Your New House , teaching people how to buy and build homes. That went national the next year, and for the last ten years I’ve been the host and Executive Producer of Your New House on about 150 stations around the country. Back a few years ago, we sold our homebuilding operation, and we just do land development now, and produce the TV show.”

How did you get into racing?

“Well, I grew up racing motocross. Unfortunately, I was a really slow Novice, so my career crashed to a halt pretty quick. When I had my homebuilding operation, at one point we started franchising the homebuilding company, and decided to start sponsoring one of the NASCAR Winston Cup teams at Hendrick Motorsports. ”

As a sponsor, spending a lot of time around the race team I got the bug to go racing. There was so much buzz around NASCAR in early 2000 I decided to start a NASCAR team. Then I was over at a dealership where I bought motorcycles, and started talking to them about my NASCAR team and said, ‘Why don’t we do a motocross team together?’ They were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ That was the beginning.

Last year you were also competing in the NASCAR Busch series. What happened to that part of the racing effort?

It was a brand-new startup team, competing against some very very well-funded Busch teams that were actually owned by (Nextel) Cup owners. It was just hard to do outside the Charlotte area. We’re based in Dallas. Our sponsor started having a little slow-up in sales, and that’s when I decided that, “I really don’t want to do this.’ I really enjoy the motocross, and really enjoy what I was doing in NASCAR, so I said, ‘Why not just do what I love, and forget the rest?’

I’ve got no more aspirations to do any more NASCAR. I’ve got sponsor brokers who call me about once a month asking me, ‘Hey, do you want to get back into NASCAR?’ The answer’s always, ‘Nope, I’m done.’

When I first started the teams, it seemed easier to start a NASCAR team than it did motocross, because NASCAR is in the news so much, and it’s hot, and every advertiser thinks about NASCAR. So that’s why I went that way. Once I got the motocross team up and going, people are buzzing about action sports and it’s just become easier and easier to sell. One day I walked into my father’s office and we were talking about 2005. I had a list of 25 potential sponsors for the motocross team that had shown some level of interest, and I had a list of one for the NASCAR team. He looks at both lists and asked me a very basic question. He’s like, ‘Why are you doing NASCAR?’ That was a really good question. I’m not enjoying it, it’s a much harder sell than I thought, motocross has become a much easier sell than I expected. I grew up racing motocross and I love it, why not just do that?

How much time and effort is expended hunting for new sponsorship partners?

That’s really a constant deal. I’ve got a full-time person, James Sullivan—everyone calls him Sulli—he basically works on it 24/7. I probably spend 15 hours a week on it mysel Two things. One, maintaining the current sponsor relationships and exceeding what you promised, and two, is always out there scouting for new people.

Do you add sponsors to the current teams? Or do you expand into more teams in the future?

Right now the plan is to see if we can expand into an additional team for next year. It’s a not a for-sure thing, but we are talking to people about adding a 250 team for next season. We’ll make that decision probably no later than May of this year.

How many sponsorship proposals go out before you get a successful hit? Is there a rough ratio? Or are you more targeted in who you seek as a potential partner?

We’re fairly targeted, but on your first broad approach you may hit 25 to 40 companies before you get one that moves to the next level. Of those that move to the next level, you probably have to go through three or four to get one. It’s like any real sales organization. You start with a very big funnel, and just have to work through that funnel. It’s the only way to get it done.

What does it cost to go racing for a season of SX and MX?

With a 125 team, the way we do it, you’re looking at about 1.5 million.

Sounds like your sponsors are treating you right.

Samsung pays a portion of that, and we’ve got a lot of other great sponsors that are kicking in as well. Sprint’s with the team, Honda Pro oils and chemicals came on. We’ve got Volere watches, Ultra Polish, and Dep Sport, we’re real fortunate to get them on the hair gel side. PowerBar came on in a big way. We’ve got a lot of good companies helping us out.

From what you’ve seen, are outside sponsors getting more interested in partnering with current factory teams? Are there opportunities for more professionally-run teams like yours?

I think so. The only thing with the true factory teams, like when you talk to Samsung, why don’t they go to a factory team, what you hear is, ‘Because it’s a factory team.’ In Formula 1, it’s not really the, ‘Marlboro Ferrari team,’ it’s ‘The Ferrari team.’ I think Makita has done a great job with Suzuki, and Suzuki has really worked on getting the name out there as Makita Suzuki. But most people think of Suzuki as Suzuki, and KTM as KTM. They don’t think of it as Red Bull KTM. So you’re seeing the people that have been involved, like Samsung, in other forms of motorsports, or sports sponsorships saying, ‘We want it to be our identity. When people talk about the team, we want them to be Team Samsung Wireless. We don’t want to be the Ferrari team that has a Marlboro sticker on it.’ I think there are a lot of opportunities for new owners. Myself, Paul Lindsey, MDK, everyone’s got an opportunity.

How important is it to outside sponsors that they get more than their logo on the hauler, bikes and jerseys? For example, in the pits you have the Samsung Wireless trailer with giveaways, product info, etc.

Extremely important. Nobody that I work with wants a sticker on a motorcycle, or a logo on a jersey. It’s all part of a sales program or a marketing program of some type. When you get the primary sponsors, it includes naming rights, and things like that. How they activate the team is based on that name being their company name.

Your presence has expanded with the Samsung and Sprint trailer and Hummer with giveaways and product info. In the future do you think the pit areas will look like part race effort, part consumer expo?

If Clear Channel would allow it to happen. Right now they’re very restrictive, and it’s very expensive to do that. It’s cheaper to do things like go to NASCAR events and do it there. Per person, it’s much much cheaper. The only way for that to really happen is Clear Channel has to come more in line in pricing.

At some CART and NASCAR events that we’ve been to in the past, it has looked like there was a corporate party, and a race broke out. Will we start to see more corporate hospitality (and accompanying rigs) in the future?

I think Supercross is prime for that, you’re seeing Monster and Red Bull do more hospitality. We’re doing a little bit, but I think the more professional way, and we’ve got the right venues for it in the stadiums, is to actually use suites in the stadiums. Someone who’s not a serious motocross fan doesn’t want to come for the whole day. But they would like to come through the pits and see the bikes. Then they’d like to go up into a nice environment and be able to eat and everything. I think using the suites themselves at the stadiums is more the future in hospitality in Supercross.

We saw on one of the message boards that you had some rather interesting ideas on how to rename the classes. Can you lay that out?

I was doing something at work when that hit me. I started thinking about Yamaha having a 125 out there, and Honda had given me some 125s this year, and we’re doing a lot of promotions with them. The manufacturers do want to sell 125s, and have a lot of investment in them. I’m sitting here looking at guys coming into Supercross for the very first time and it’s not like racing outdoors, it’s a very big struggle to make the transition. So why not build them a class that makes sense, where manufacturers can continue to sell 125s, and you’ve got some sort of ladder system where a guy can get into Supercross at the professional level. So I say put an age limit on it, maybe 20 is the oldest you can be. That would give you a couple years running as a pro in the 125 class.

The 250F class, just call it 250s from now on, that’d be like the Busch series in NASCAR. That’s your guys who want to race professionally, and that’s the level they want to do it. You also eliminate the problem of a Brock Sellards or Nate Ramsey who wants to live in the 250F class forever…that’s fine. Let ’em stay.

Then you have an Open class, where guys are running both the two-strokes and four-strokes 250cc and up, and that’s your premier class, much like a Nextel Cup. You put your very best guys, and very best equipment in there. That’s the premier show.

Run them all during the night, drop out the 250 semis…those are wasted races anyway. Put everybody on the same program. Two heats, one LCQ, and a main. Get everybody in by 7:00, and out by 10:00.

How has reaction been to that idea?

On MotoTalk it’s been great. It got a good response, and I’ve had a lot of people coming up to me at the races and they love the idea. I’ve not talked to anyone at the AMA. I don’t know if anybody will listen or not, but it’s just an idea that I threw out there.

Contact:
www.teamsamsungwireless.com

Will we start to see more corporate hospitality (and accompanying rigs) in the future?

I think Supercross is prime for that, you’re seeing Monster and Red Bull do more hospitality. We’re doing a little bit, but I think the more professional way, and we’ve got the right venues for it in the stadiums, is to actually use suites in the stadiums. Someone who’s not a serious motocross fan doesn’t want to come for the whole day. But they would like to come through the pits and see the bikes. Then they’d like to go up into a nice environment and be able to eat and everything. I think using the suites themselves at the stadiums is more the future in hospitality in Supercross.

We saw on one of the message boards that you had some rather interesting ideas on how to rename the classes. Can you lay that out?

I was doing something at work when that hit me. I started thinking about Yamaha having a 125 out there, and Honda had given me some 125s this year, and we’re doing a lot of promotions with them. The manufacturers do want to sell 125s, and have a lot of investment in them. I’m sitting here looking at guys coming into Supercross for the very first time and it’s not like racing outdoors, it’s a very big struggle to make the transition. So why not build them a class that makes sense, where manufacturers can continue to sell 125s, and you’ve got some sort of ladder system where a guy can get into Supercross at the professional level. So I say put an age limit on it, maybe 20 is the oldest you can be. That would give you a couple years running as a pro in the 125 class.

The 250F class, just call it 250s from now on, that’d be like the Busch series in NASCAR. That’s your guys who want to race professionally, and that’s the level they want to do it. You also eliminate the problem of a Brock Sellards or Nate Ramsey who wants to live in the 250F class forever…that’s fine. Let ’em stay.

Then you have an Open class, where guys are running both the two-strokes and four-strokes 250cc and up, and that’s your premier class, much like a Nextel Cup. You put your very best guys, and very best equipment in there. That’s the premier show.

Run them all during the night, drop out the 250 semis…those are wasted races anyway. Put everybody on the same program. Two heats, one LCQ, and a main. Get everybody in by 7:00, and out by 10:00.

How has reaction been to that idea?

On MotoTalk it’s been great. It got a good response, and I’ve had a lot of people coming up to me at the races and they love the idea. I’ve not talked to anyone at the AMA. I don’t know if anybody will listen or not, but it’s just an idea that I threw out there.

Contact:
www.teamsamsungwireless.com