ASK THE MXPERTS: HOW THE FIM GOT CONTROL OF AMERICAN SUPERCROSS
No one involved in the Supercross wars in 2001 was fighting for the sport, the riders, higher purses or safer tracks. They all wanted the dollars that came with the butts in the seats. The FIM was just a way for the promoters to keep the money.
HOW THE FIM GOT CONTROL OF AMERICAN SUPERCROSS
Why is the American Supercross series sanctioned by the FIM? The Euros have nothing to do with Supercross, but they bring their rules, not to mention WADA, to a country that was doing fine without them. How did they get control of Supercross?
Where there is money, there are people willing to play for keeps. Back in 2001, the AMA and Clear Channel, then the promoting group of Supercross, engaged in a civil war over who would run Supercross. The AMA had been the sanctioning body for the vast majority of Supercross races held in the United States since the very first one on July 8, 1972. As the sanctioning body, the AMA was the ombudsman for the riders, rule book and sport. Its job was to look out for the best interest of the sport, ensure fair competition, protect the riders and run the races. A sanctioning body should act as the middleman between the spirit of the sport and the realities of the business aspects of the sport.
Clear Channel was the promoter of 15 of the 16 AMA Supercross rounds (albeit under names like Pace Motorsports, SFX and Live Nation over the years). A promoter’s job is to hold the races. The race promoter makes the majority of his money by selling sponsorship packages to energy drink bottlers, motorcycle manufacturers, software developers, tire companies and automobile firms. They also reap the benefit of selling tickets, souvenirs and concessions to live audiences.
The sanctioning body makes its money by charging sanctioning fees to the promoter, collecting gate money for rider entries, charging for AMA Pro licenses and selling title sponsorships (in competition and conflict with the race promoters, who also want to do the same thing). It is in the area of title sponsorship that sanctioning bodies and promoters most often come to loggerheads.
THE 2001 CIVIL WAR
The 2001 Supercross civil war came about when the AMA and Clear Channel were unable to come to an agreement on a future contract (the then-current contract expired at the end of the 2002 season). The sticking points were profit sharing, sanctioning fees and sponsorship rights. Clear Channel said that it didn’t need the AMA and would run its own Supercross series. In response, the AMA declared its intention to run its own Supercross series head-to-head against the Clear Channel-promoted series in 2003.
Clear Channel’s advantage in the battle was that it had agreements with most of the major stadiums and arenas in the country and experience holding Supercross events. On the AMA side of the war was a big club called “fiduciary rights.” This legal term became very important because, as interpreted, it said that the motorcycle manufacturers who were members of the AMA Board of trustees could do nothing that would harm the AMA—because as board members, they had a “fiduciary responsibility” to support the organization that they governed.
On one hand, you had a promoting group that had the stadiums wrapped up, and, on the other hand, you had a sanctioning body that had the riders and factory teams caught in a legal conundrum. One thing that everyone who was involved on the rider and team side of things in 2001 knew was that promoting group should not be the sanctioning bodies. Why not? If a decision had to be made that meant more money for Clear Channel or an improvement in the riders’ well being, the promoting groups would always look out for their bottom line. It’s no secret that previous Clear Channel management teams abused their power, brow beat privateers, banned the press and were anything but benevolent to the sport. Their heavy handedness eventually culminated in the 1995 Las Vegas rider strike and their attempt to have Jeremy McGrath banned from the sport. Nobody wants absolute power in the hands of a corporation.
By the same token, sanctioning bodies should not promote races. Their job is to look out for the welfare of the riders, integrity of the sport and long-term future of all involved (and that includes race promoters). They can’t do that when they are money hungry.
THE PRE-PRE 2001 CIVIL WAR
The 2001 Clear Channel-versus-AMA civil war was not the first time the AMA and a promoting group got in a battle. Ten years earlier, the AMA tried to take over a road race series from the promoter who developed it. They got tagged for $3,000,000 after the promoter’s lawyers were through with them (and the circumstances were remarkably similar to the 2001 Supercross spat).
On the Supercross legal front, history shows that arguing is part of the deal. In 1984, the Supercross promoters broke away from the AMA to form their own series. The hastily assembled Insport series and its AIR sanctioning body only lasted for a short time—but the record books are a mess because of it. In 1984, Jeff Ward won the AMA Supercross title (a two-race series), while Johnny O’Mara earned the 15-race Insport crown.
THE AMA SUES THE RACE TEAMS IN 1982
Additionally, the Big Four manufacturers were sued by the AMA in 1982 when the factory teams pulled out of the AMA Trans-USA series to race the non-AMA sanctioned CMC Trans-Cal series. The factory teams lost that lawsuit because as members of the AMA Board of Directors, they were bound by “fiduciary responsibility” to support the organization they directed. The manufacturers had to pay the AMA a settlement.
Back in 2001, Clear Channel started locking up long-term exclusivity deals with several major stadiums, including Anaheim, Dallas, Phoenix and Minneapolis. The goal was to keep the AMA out.
THE BATTLE THAT GOT THE FIM INVOLVED
As for the AMA, it signed a contract with Chicago-based entertainment group Jam Sports to become the promoter of the proposed 2003 AMA Supercross series. Jam Sports took the job seriously and began rounding up whatever venues were possible Supercross sites. The AMA and Jam Sports’ plan was to hold as many 2003 Supercross events as possible on the same weekend as Clear Channel’s events—with the knowledge that the factory teams would have to race with them. Psychologically, they also knew that the Japanese corporate bosses saw the AMA as the one-and-only motorcycle organization in the United States and, most important, the official federation of the FIM (International Motorcycle Federation). Since the Japanese manufacturers field more than just American motocross teams, the AMA was their one-stop shopping association.
No sport, no matter how strong and powerful it thinks it is, is immune to collapse. The AMA/Clear Channel discord smacked of the CART/IRL fiasco. And, if you know anything about championship auto racing, you know that both series were demeaned by their bitter fight. The powerful CART turned out to be the surprise loser, but Indy Car racing never returned to the glory it had before the nasty breakup.
THE SUPERCROSS PROMOTER’S LATERAL ARABESQUE
It didn’t appear as though the AMA and Clear Channel could resolve their differences without going to court. But, Clear Channel had an ace in the hole. An outside promoter, who worked for Clear Channel, told his bosses that the solution to their problem was to skip over the AMA and sanction the 2003 Clear Channel Supercross series with the FIM. Since the FIM was the world-wide sanctioning body of all motorcycle racing (and the AMA was an affiliate of the FIM), if they became an FIM-sanctioned event, the Big Four manufacturers could race with Clear Channel without violating their fiduciary responsibility to the AMA—because the AMA was under the FIM umbrella.
And that is how the FIM became the sanctioning body for the AMA Supercross series. Beaten by the FIM trump card, the AMA had to return to sanctioning the Clear Channel Supercross series and give up its Jam Sports plans. Clear Channel had outsmarted the AMA.
However, Jam Sports didn’t take it lying down. Jam Sports accused Clear Channel of illegally using its entertainment industry might to scuttle Jam Sport’s bid to promote Supercross racing by intimidating stadium owners (and Jam Sports had Clear Channel memos to prove their case). In January of 2005, the jury awarded Jam Sports a $90 million judgment against Clear Channel for anti-competitive behavior. And that’s the short version of how the FIM got involved in American Supercross.