By Larry Lawrence
When I went to work for AMA Pro Racing as communications manager in 1995 I was relatively new at media relations work. My experience was limited to a couple of years doing media work for the WERA Formula USA Series and in pro tennis for the RCA Championships, an ATP Tour event, and the Jell-O Championships, a lower-level WTA Tour event.
When I came on board at the AMA, Pro Racing was paying big bucks to a PR agency. This was the start of Paradama and the AMA was actually getting into promoting, or co-promoting races. The agency’s job was to pitch racing to media for these events. After just a few weeks on the job I realized that I did a better job pitching racing to the media than this big agency. I recommended to then AMA Pro Racing head Tom Mueller that we drop the agency and let me tackle the task myself.
I came in with ambitious plans for the communications side of Pro Racing and I think Mueller thought I should move into the job slowly and get my feet wet before taking on too many tasks. He was right under most circumstances, but I’d moved to Westerville, leaving my family temporarily back in Indy, and I had nothing to do but work. Either Bill Amick or I were the last out of the building every night and it was usually around eight or nine at night, sometimes later.
Mueller kept the big-buck agency for the rest of the year, but I went ahead and took the bull by the horns and told the agency I would be “working with them” and basically took over the show and pitched the media myself. The bottom line was I loved the sport, I knew the personalities well and I could pitch story ideas with more enthusiasm than some slick L.A. agency. After all, to them AMA Pro Racing was just another one of their hundreds of clients, and probably a lower-priority one at that, staffed by the least senior members of the agency.
I don’t mind saying that our little PR crew (Connie Fleming and myself) kicked butt and took names. Every year I worked as a staffer, and later a contractor, for the AMA, we got progressively more media for motorcycle racing in America. We tracked our progress with clippings, TV and radio time. After a few years I was on a first-name basis with sports editors, TV producers and radio directors in every market we had races.
There are no tricks in getting placements of motorcycle racing stories in radio, TV and newspapers (and now internet media). It simply takes hard work, friendly persistence and solid follow up. You’ve got to work the phones, email, go meet and greet folks in person, take them lunches and dinners, go to the nation’s media centers and meet with news agencies and other major media outlets. You’ve got to send t-shirts, coffee mugs, nice pens and other swag so they remember you. All this stuff works over time.
Outside of the excellent outreach done in Supercross, I don’t currently see that kind of effort being put into most forms of pro racing, with the possible exception of motocross. Some of the roads racing promoters do a good job with their local media without help from the AMA, but I’ve been told by a few of them that they’re not getting the level of support from AMA Pro Racing (DMG) that they’d received in the past.
By far the biggest gap in media work is in the AMA Grand National Championship. This lack of communications work for the Grand Nationals has been the case since R.J. Reynolds left the sport in the early 1990s.
There is no more exciting form of motorcycle racing than pro flat track. The racing is close and many events are decided with exciting last lap passes. Bikes are going two and three abreast into turns at triple-digit speed. The series’ riders are accessible, friendly and more than eager to do media work, yet very little is being done to promote the sport, even by some of the promoters, who depend on ticket sales!
As always the excuses are the same when it comes to strong media support of the Grand Nationals, the economics of the sport can’t support it. I understand that argument, but I also understand to sell sponsorships (especially outside the industry) there must be media coverage in place. Does the chicken or egg come first?
After covering the series for a year and a half now for Cycle News, I truly believe the AMA Grand National Championship is not only the most traditional form of motorcycle racing, it’s more than that. It’s a valuable property that should be treated as such. The DMG should put the resources into the sport to let more people know about it.
We’ve already built it. They will come. We just have to ask.