Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tour de Media: Ups and downs

Honda takes on title sponsorship of Pikes Peak hillclimb

I see that American Honda will become the official sponsor of Pikes Peak, entering a bunch of cars, bikes, and a quad. The entries include an electric car but no electric motorcycle. (I guess they couldn't arrange to borrow the Mugen bike that will race again at the TT in June.)

The driving/riding duties seem to be handled by a Honda's American R&D staff. Jeff Tigert, a 'known fast guy' on the West Coast, will be riding a CBR600 in the 750 class.

I didn't see a Honda motorcycle entry in the big bike class, so I guess we won't see a Honda-Ducati showdown for the outright course record. I have to wonder, though, what this means for Ducati. For the last few years, they've done a great guerrilla marketing job at Pikes Peak. They've been the de facto title sponsor, without paying for official status, just on the strength of a well-managed PR program. They may not manage to 'own' the event this summer, if -- as I expect -- Honda backs its title sponsorship with a soup-to-nuts PR program.

I think that my friends at Faulkner-Livingston Racing did too good a job managing the Ducati Pikes Peak program; they proved that racing there could generate great exposure for a relatively small investment.

Barring a high-profile PR disaster (read: fatality on the all-paved, fast, and as a consequence more dangerous course) Honda's involvement signals a quantum jump for the hillclimb, in terms of returning it to past glory as one of America's highest-profile motorsports events.

Fisker proves Christensen's theory again

I've written before about the way disruptive change comes up from the bottom of the market, not down from the top. And now, I read that Fisker -- the high-dollar electric sports car -- is about to fold. I suppose the guys who now run Mission Motors are looking at Fisker and thinking, at least we didn't do that.

Every now then I try to arrange an interview with the people at Vectrix, who have partnered with Daimler's Smart unit, and are developing a cheap & cheerful low performance electric scooter. That's where I expect real success for an EV two-wheeler. (But somehow, Vectrix senior management seems to be avoiding me. I guess I've got a reputation as a bushwhacker.) If I ever get them to return my calls, you'll hear about it here first.

AMA Pro Racing finds its long-lost Superbike TV deal

Last but no means least, AMA Pro Racing just breathlessly announced that the rest of this season, and all of next season's Superbike and DSB-class road races will be broadcast on the CBS Sports cable network.

That's a lot better than no TV deal, and most of the series' stakeholders are probably eager to trumpet it to existing and potential sponsors. But don't kid yourself; the racing's not on CBS, it's on CBS Sports, a cable channel that is, like, Channel 521 out there in far reaches of obscure cabledom.

Actual audience figures for CBS Sports are hard (read: impossible) to come by. The channel is not a Nielsen subscriber, so I could not get an independent estimate of viewership. The network coyly says that it is "available to over 100 million households" [my italics].  That does not, however, mean it's available in 100 million households. It means that it's carried by cable providers that serve that number of homes. A better guess is that about half that number of homes actually subscribe to a package (i.e., a 'sports tier') that includes CBS Sports.

If you want a working figure, you can say that somewhere between a third and half of American homes currently subscribe to a cable package (or something like the Dish Network) that gives them access to CBS Sports network, although most American households could get access to the network if they were willing to spend an extra few bucks a month.

That's a lot of potential viewers, but it hasn't translated into many viewers for most of the content carried on the channel. I've read estimates in the advertising trades (the ad industry, of course, makes audience estimates its business) suggesting that even popular CBS Sports shows measure their audience in the tens of thousands. This is not a return to the days when motorcycle racing occasionally showed up on Wide World of Sports and was exposed to millions of people who weren't even looking for it. No broadcast of this year's AMA Superbike series will even be seen in 0.1% of American households.

I don't want to be a 'Morose Mark' on this topic. Like I said, this deal's a lot better than no TV deal. But my message to AMA Pro Racing is: You can not -- and must not -- assume people will find, and watch, the Superbike series now that it's 'on TV'. It's available to a wide audience. Now you have to convince that wide audience to watch it.

What I mean is, now that people can watch it, we need to tell them where they can find it, and why they should go to the trouble. AMA Pro Racing needs to develop a social media campaign that leverages everything all the many stakeholders, especially riders and sponsors, are already doing on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. They should be advertising online, where a lot of the young action-sports enthusiasts they could capture already spend a lot of time. There should be beer coasters in sports bars, telling patrons to ask bartenders to switch one of the televisions to our network. There should be ads at every AMA race and handbills in every motorcycle dealership, telling people in that particular market what channel number they need to program into their remote. Because the only way we'll build an audience is by telling people how to watch us, and why they should bother.

We've got a TV deal. Big whoop. Now, let the audience outreach begin.

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