The news (perhaps unexpected?) that Indy has renewed its MotoGP contract means that for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will host three MotoGP rounds.
With Indianapolis, Austin, and Laguna Seca nicely scattered across the country, that gives a lot of U.S. fans access to a race in their region. The country may not be motorcycle-mad, like Spain or Italy, which also have multiple rounds, but the sheer size of the U.S. market easily justifies three events.
I have to say that while Laguna Seca seems to put on MotoGP out of a sense of noblesse oblige, IMS has really done a lot of heavy lifting, in terms of raising the profile of the sport in the U.S. They generate a steady stream of press releases about MotoGP all season long, and work tirelessly to get traction with non-endemic media. I don't get the feeling that the MotoGP paddock really appreciates the work IMS does.
So far, that work's been pretty thankless, but IMS deserves a lot of credit for approaching the challenge of building a mainstream U.S. audience for MotoGP in a rational, realistic way. IE, IMS appreciates the fact that this is a multi-year challenge.
Creating a national audience in the U.S. for MotoGP is not like getting a new franchise for an established sport; it was comparatively easy to introduce the Diamonbacks to Arizona, or the Rays to Tampa. Everyone there new what Major League Baseball was; they had winter league play and farm teams already. It's more like the challenge faced by Major League Soccer here.
We're finally at a point where American soccer fans no longer need to plaintively explain to their friends that, everywhere else in the world, 'football' = soccer and it's hugely popular. We're finally at a point where pretty much any sports fan in a city with an MLS franchise can, at least, name his local team. Here in KC, Sporting has become a real hot ticket (although that may reflect the shaky performance of our other major league teams.)
The thing is, it took MLS nearly 20 years to reach this point.
I think -- at least, I hope -- that part of the faith MotoGP has shown to IMS in renewing that contract stems from a recognition of IMS' hard work promoting MotoGP, not just its own event. I hope Austin's organizers are willing to take a page from IMS' play book, too.
In eight years, the U.S. has gone from no MotoGP events to three. If they work as tirelessly down in Austin as IMS does -- and if Laguna Seca improves its media game -- in another eight years, we may not have to explain what MotoGP is when it comes to town.