Riding Out: Supercross Takes on the Northeast
It wasn’t the events in the arena that made the Monster Energy Supercross Championship event special on April 26th. Sure, there were racers flying to amazing heights, gnarly crashes and a 50-foot tower of flames shooting into the air. And, yes, there was the spectacle of riders charging through sloppy mud pits caused by the intermittent rain. There was even the historic dominance of Ryan Villopoto, who cruised to a record-tying fourth-straight season championship.
Beyond all of that, what made the event truly remarkable was its location. The race at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., marked the first such event in the New York City metro area since 1991, and it was the first step in Monster Energy’s plan to capitalize on the sizable, yet underserved, Northeast motocross market.
“Obviously the fans in the northeast are hungry for Supercross,” says Todd Jendro, the VP of two wheel operations at Feld Motor Sports, the company that planned the event. “We've been working on trying to get in MetLife Stadium for over two years now. We recognize that there was a void in the schedule in the Northeast.”
For decades, the Supercross schedule has played out primarily in the Southwest with occasional trips to the Midwest and South. Nevertheless, there is still a large and passionate audience for the sport in the Northeast.
“At one time, the Northeast market was second only to that of Southern California, where the sport was born. I would say at the very least we are a strong third place or still in that second place,” says Dave Olcott, a host for the motocross broadcast, Holeshot Radio, who was raised in New Jersey.
That audience was on display when more than 62,000 fans, the vast majority wearing rider jerseys and sponsored caps, braved the unpredictable weather for the rare chance to see their favorite sport in person. Until this year, the closest opportunity for diehards in the region to see Supercross was an annual event in Atlanta.
“Supercross fans are hardcore,” says Jendro. “[The race’s turnout] was a gigantic attendance figure for an inaugural year.”
A migration to the Northeast is not without its challenges. The primary concern in planning is the region’s unpredictable weather. Most of the signature venues in the area are open-air stadiums. Though long-track outdoor motocross races can be enhanced when things get sloppy, a soggy course in Supercross can limit the speed and towering jumps that make the sport so appealing.
The logistics of taking the sport across the country are a big concern as well. All of the bikes, gear and equipment must be transported by truck. Asking riding teams to drive 3,000 miles for an event only to turn right around and head back to the West Coast is a tall order. There is also the task of creating a proper Supercross course, which in this case required 550 truckloads of dirt to be brought into MetLife, in between other scheduled events. Angel Stadium in Anaheim, on the other hand, leaves its course intact between its three scheduled events each year.
For the organizers of Supercross, these costs are outweighed by the benefit of tapping into the Northeast market. Though the sport’s absence from the area may have shrunk the fan base, organizers are confident that the spectacle of events like the one at MetLife will create a new generation of Supercross fans.
“Bring a friend. Introduce somebody to our sport. I guarantee you they'll be mesmerized because there’s so much going on. And if that turns somebody into a fan, that's how we grow our sport,” says Olcott.
Any question of the fans’ hunger for Supercross in the area was answered by the night’s biggest ovation, which didn’t come when Villopoto, who’s from Seattle, sealed his historic victory in the night’s main event race. The loudest cheer of the night was heard an hour or so earlier when local product Justin (Bam Bam) Barcia of Monroe, N.Y., won a qualifying heat.
“This past weekend was really special for me,” says Barcia, who finished fourth in the main event. “I almost had to pinch myself because I was just a kid growing up in a small town in New York and now I have this career as a professional racer and am able to come back to my old stomping grounds and race in front of true fans."
There are no immediate plans to expand beyond the New York area into other venues in the region, but dates in Foxboro or other nearby arenas may be no more than a few years away. The folks in East Rutherford can expect to see more mud-filled trucks next year. Monster Energy Supercross will be back at MetLife Stadium on April 25, 2015.