By Mike Garrison
A Moment with Mike is a weekly opinion column where LiveRC’s Mike Garrison gives his take on hot-button issues, general topics, and conversations within the RC industry. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of LiveRC.
This week is host to the 2018 ROAR 1/8 Electric Off-Road Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska at the Hobbytown HobbyPlex. While the 1/8 Electric Nationals aren’t known to be nearly as heavily attended as other off-road nationals, this year has a pre-entry count of only 61 entries. This is the lowest entry count for this event since 2014, which had only 80 entries. Looking back over the past five years, the ROAR 1/8 Electric Nationals using the current classes of 1/8 Electric Buggy, 1/8 Electric Truck, and 4wd SCT peaked in 2015 with an entry count of 201. It has since steadily declined by 40-60 entries each year after.
Looking at the stats over the years, this is not the only National Championship event and/or classes that have seen a decline in participation over the years. The question is, why?
I love all motorsports, but the only motorsport that I know as well as R/C is motocross. Naturally I began comparing it to motocross, and analyzing the differences. When did motocross and supercross really begin to take off as a household name? The answer is when the sanctioning body/rule makers were no longer trying to double as the promotors, and became strictly the sanctioning body to run and referee the events. AMA Pro Supercross is an AMA sanctioned event in which the AMA runs the event, provides timing and scoring, and acts as the referees, however, the actual promotor of the series is Feld Entertainment (the same promotors of Monster Jam, Disney on Ice, and the Barnum & Bailey Circus). AMA Pro Motocross is similar in that the AMA sanctions and referees, the tracks provide and maintain the facility, and a company called MX Sports is that actual event promotors.
The job of a promoter is to “sell the event” to an audience, create a show worth watching/participating, and market each event to draw racers and spectators in. The job of a sanctioning body is to provide rules, regulations, and create a fair competition for all participants. The job of a track is to provide a national caliber facility, race track, and racing conditions. These are three entirely different jobs, and trying to combine the three would be like asking your payroll accountant to design a logo for your new business cards…I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it just doesn’t make sense.
ROAR is a sanctioning body designed to create rules, regulations, and referee races. Whether you want to admit it or not, they are the only sanctioning body still alive in North America, therefore despite their mistakes from time to time, they have done something right or they too would be extinct alongside the others that have tried.
ROAR is not a promotional group. While they have done well promoting some things from time to time, promotion is not their primary role in R/C – nor should it be, as we need them as group of individuals dedicated solely to creating and enforcing rules and regulations.
Host tracks of National events essentially provide a place to race, as the races are actually run by the ROAR Race Management Team. Therefore, it is not the track's race, it is ROAR's race. The track crew has more than enough on their plate to keep up with prior, during, and even after the event without having to juggle the job of promoting a race that really doesn't even belong to them.
In my opinion, seeing that HobbyPlex's track winter series has had more entries in 1/8 E-Buggy alone than the National has signed up for the entire event, clearly this is a sign our National Championships are not as prestigious to racers as they once were. For years there has been talk of new sanctioning bodies starting up, new world series races, etc. Whether or not creating a new sanctioning body is a good idea is an entirely different topic (which I will discuss another day), but a sanctioning body, regardless of who it is, isn’t what will make R/C grow to the masses. We need promotion, and a dedicated promotion group or committee to make it happen.
Traxxas is arguably the most well-known brand in R/C. Why is that? The answer is promotion and marketing. Using promo videos, collaboration with other companies and sports, and general marketing ads, press, etc. - people get excited, they get hyped up, and they suddenly want to buy a Traxxas vehicle. The same theory applies to racing events.
When referring to our most prestigious events in North America, if no one knows about an event, let alone have a reason to get excited about, there is no reason for racers to attend. Even moreso for potential spectators and newcomers in our sport. The most highly attended R/C events in America are not necessarily the most "prestigious", but more often than not, they are the most highly decorated, highly promoted, and most enjoyable events year after year.
I’m not saying we need laser lights and firework shows, but if we truly want R/C racing to be viewed professionally, continue to grow, and the prestige brought back to our National Champinoships - our professional level events at minimum need consistent designated promotion and promotors to build the excitement, awareness, and desire to attend that they too often lack.
Rather than put the heavy role of marketing and promotion on the plate of whoever will take it, we need someone designated to do it. Everything from event flyers, social media updates, and sponsorship coordination, all the way down to designing a trophy that racers dream of having on their mantle at home.
We have a National Championship sanctioning body, and we need to let them do their job of sanctioning races. We have National Championship tracks, and we need to let them do their job of providing national caliber facilities and race conditions. Where we lack is the promotional group to to do their job of attracting new and existing racers, outside the industry sponsorship, and re-building the prestige of these National Championship events.
Regardless of whether we are talking off-road or on-road, nitro or electric, 1/10-scale, 1/12-scale, or 1/8-scale - there is a big difference between sanctioning bodies and promotional groups, and we need both in order to bring back the prestigious National Championships we once had.