Isn’t It Time for US Motorcycle Racing to Evolve?
Sometimes, I feel like AMA ProRacing needs a bonk on the head. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan. Huge! From March to October, time stands still just about every Sunday for me as I get my fix of more adrenaline than any sport has a right to incite. But the more things seem to be changing in professional sports, the more things seem to stay the same in motorcycle racing here in the US. Sure, that’s not entirely a bad thing; you don’t hear too much about doping or tantrums or perverts in our sport. When it comes to implementing strategies to build a bigger fan base though, (something that has helped other male-dominated sports leagues strike paydirt) AMA Pro Racing seems to be plodding along at a primitive pace.
Nothing proves my point like last week-end’s history-making, pole-sitting, top-ten performance by Danica Patrick in the Daytona 500. If you think Danicamania is a self-limiting mutation, you really are a dinosaur. Danica’s first NASCAR race last year set an ESPN record for auto-racing when 4.2 million viewers tuned in to see her suit up and take on this good ol’ boys club, a whopping 33% increase from the previous year. Her impressive pole position in last week-end’s season opener helped jack ratings up another 20% this year. Almost a quarter of all TVs in the US were tuned in to watch that race. Blather on about a fiery crash drawing viewers, and I’ll promptly point to every other fiery crash in the history of racing and ask you to explain further. The fact is, we love seeing women race. Our daughters love seeing women race. Even other drivers’ daughters love seeing women race: Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, and Carl Edwards all brought their daughters to pit row to meet the woman who might just wup daddy’s ass last week-end. And do we care that she didn’t? No, we don’t.
So why isn’t AMA Pro RoadRacing hyping it’s femme phenoms? Elena Myers, the doll-blonde teenager who bested a grid full of guys at the season opener in Daytona last year got all the attention of one-hit wonder. Melissa Paris, wife of Superbike champion Josh Hayes, will be racing in the Daytona 200 in the middleweight Daytona SuperBike class (again). You can see her modeling jackets for Joe Rocket, but you won’t see much of her on the league’s website. Other women, like Shelina Moreda and newcomer Danielle Diaz, compete as privateers, and new to the grid this year, British Superstock star, Sandra Stammova suits up for the Vance & Hines HD 1200 class. Every one of these women could (I mean can…and they do) turn heads. And before you start getting all high-and-mighty on me with your looks-don’t-matter crap, go look at your daughter’s toys. Watch a Disney movie. Turn on your TV. You don’t have to like it (and I don’t), but you can’t ignore it: our culture is obsessed with beauty. So here we have these living, breathing, girl-heros…and you don’t want anyone to notice??? Who cares if they’re not on the podium at the end of the day? The audience you want doesn’t, and the audience you have is already there.
There’s too much trepidation here, as if giving attention to gender were somehow selling out to some imaginary scruple. C’mon guys…you’re good with cleavage and 5” heels on umbrella girls, but don’t want to make gender an issue to promote the sport? Gimme a break. You’re making NASCAR look like the wiz-kids at MIT.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that AMA Pro Racing is only getting it half-right. According to their 2012 Season Demographics & Attendance report, 79% of their fans are male. SEVENTY-NINE PERCENT! That’s twice as lop-sided as NASCAR or the NFL, both of whom have managed to get us girls shod and out of the kitchen to come out and drink beer with y’all and cheer on our favorite teams. Even the freakin’ UFC boasts a near 50-50 ratio of male to female fans. Then again, all of these leagues have made a concerted effort to make their sport more female-friendly. The NFL hit the jackpot with a line of women’s fan-wear in (gasp) sizes and styles just for women, then partnering with the likes of Vicoria’s Secret. Guess what came next? Women became fans. In 2011, the league launched NFL.com/women, the number of women participating in fantasy football doubled, and sales for women-specific NFL merchendise increased by double digits.
And why? It’s simple. When we come to the party, we spend money. In 70% of US households, the Consumer-in-Chief is a chick. This is not lost on sponsors, who know we tend to be brand-loyalists, too. Which fuels the engine of deeper-pocketed, non-sport-related sponsors (M&Ms, Cheerios, Target…all those NASCAR cars). You’d think Revlon or Maybelline or Subway (you know, “fast”, “fresh”) would be all over any one of the women racing AMA Pro…if only there were any women watching!
So, if damn-near 80% of AMA Pro RoadRacing fans are male, how come their wives/girlfriends/daughters/gal-pals tune out when the ol’ man tunes in to racing? A whole hell of a lot of them tuned in to NASCAR last week-end. It’s time to come out of the cave, guys. Time to tone down the T&A, give us more face time with compitent female commentators like Cristy Lee, slap the AMA Pro RoadRacing logo on something we’d actually want to wear, and for godssake, yes…make a big deal out of the women riders. The racers, male or female, will do the rest!
YES! MORE PLEASE!
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