Supercross heading to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey
(AP) -- Supercross has been making huge inroads over the past few years, locking up new televisions deals, sponsorships and growing its fan base.
But for all the sport has done to increase its popularity, there is one area it's had a hard time cracking, at least on an in-person scale: The Northeast.
That changes this weekend.
For the first time in 23 years, Supercross will hit the big stage of the Big Apple, giving the sport a massive exposure boost in what has been a largely untapped market.
"This will probably be one of the single largest, significant impacts to the sport of Supercross, getting into the New York Metropolitan area," said Todd Jendro, vice president of two wheel operations at Feld Motor Sports, which oversees and operates Supercross.
Supercross has spread across most of the country during its 40 years as a sport, yet had not been to the New York area since racing at Giants Stadium in 1991. The series currently has a stops in Toronto, Detroit and Atlanta, but nothing really close to New York.
Saturday night's race at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will be a huge step.
Not only will Supercross be back in the No. 1 media market in the United States, it will be exposed to an entirely new demographic of fans. The series has spent the weeks leading up to the race trying to educate new fans on what to expect and look for during the races, hoping to entice them out to the track or at least watch on TV.
The race also will be an opportunity for hardcore fans and riders to see the highest level of motocross racing up close. New York City is not exactly a mecca for dirtbikes, but there are plenty of places in the surrounding areas - Upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania - where riders have space to ride.
"There is a great fan base in the New York Metropolitan area, including New Jersey and the surrounding states," Jendro said. "There are hardcore enthusiasts and the casual consumer knows what motorcycle racing and dirtbiking is, but doesn't necessarily follow the sport. It should be a huge boost for the sport."
Interest is certainly high.
Jendro said a near-capacity crowd is expected and the series is anticipating about 33,000 fans for its pre-race pit party, which would set a record. There's also a buzz among the riders and the race teams as they head to the Big Apple for the first time.
"It's a place and area we haven't been in a long time so to get back to this area and bring racing here again, it's going to be big for the sport," points leader Ryan Villopoto said after last week's race in Seattle. "Once we get out there the fans are going to love it. It's a unique sport and it's action-packed. We're going to put on a good show for everybody."
And Villopoto could take center stage.
By winning his hometown race in Seattle last week, Villopoto stretched his series lead to 48 points over James Stewart. That means Villopoto could wrap up his fourth straight Supercross title in the Big Apple or take a huge step toward securing it at the season finale in Las Vegas on May 3.
"If Villopoto pulls it out and is the first champion to be crowned at Metlife Stadium, it's going to be really exciting," Jendro said.
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