Supercross interview with Jam Sports principals, part I
By Rick Johnson (Supercross.com) - Special to Motorsport.com The AMA has chosen Jam Sports as their promoter of supercross starting in 2003. I wanted to know the 'who, what, when, where, how, and why' of Jam Sports. I recently had the opportunity ...
By Rick Johnson (Supercross.com) - Special to Motorsport.com
The AMA has chosen Jam Sports as their promoter of supercross starting in 2003. I wanted to know the 'who, what, when, where, how, and why' of Jam Sports. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with three of the principles of Jam Sports.
Who are they? What are they? What will they offer us the fans? Will they make supercross better? I came up with questions I thought you'd want to see answered.
RJ: First off, tell me about Jam Sports, and the people that run it.
Tony Dimitriades: Jam Sports is a group of people, all successful in different fields, that have known and respected each other for a very long time. All of us have a passion for sports, and for the business of sports.
Two of our principals, Mike Held and Donnie Graves, learned that AMA Pro Racing was soliciting proposals for their AMA Supercross Series. We took a look at the opportunity, where supercross is at currently, and what it needs to be in the future. We came to the conclusion that our collective experience and our varied qualities could contribute to the growth of the sport. We decided to pursue it. That's how Jam Sports itself came about. Contrary to what many people think, Jam Sports is not Jam Productions. Jerry Mickelson runs Jam Productions, and is one of the principals of Jam Sports. Jerry has a tremendous amount of experience promoting live events. In the 25 years I have known him he has done this with integrity and a more than usual amount of creativity. But then you could say that the others share those qualities and also bring their unique talent to Jam Sports as well.
RJ: Give us some background on you and the others.
Tony: I've been in music management for 29 years, although originally I was an attorney. I've had the privilege of managing and working with many successful artists, including Tom Petty (who I have managed for 26 years), Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac including both Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Yes, Billy Idol, The Cars, and others. What does all that have to do with supercross? It gives one the ability to understand what the artists and talent (in this case the riders) need, what can be achieved on their behalf and of course how to achieve it. I want to find out what's needed for the riders. Why is it that Jeremy McGrath is such a huge and unique star, a legend in fact, in motorsports, and yet does not seem to get that acknowledgment in the outside world, well certainly not as much as he should? We want Jeremy and many others of the top riders to be as well known as any baseball, football, or basketball stars. Why aren't the top 15 riders well known like that? What is keeping more riders from attaining that stature?
I've traveled all over the world with the artists I have managed and have overseen the production and marketing of an event in every conceivable situation.
Spencer Churchill. Spencer is in charge of all financial aspects. He has worked with the biggest and most demanding stars in the world and he understands them and they like him. He's extremely conscientious; he gets the big picture and knows how to work well with others to achieve preset goals. He has had financial responsibility for some of the biggest and most extravagant events ever produced and yet he still finds time to be nice to people.
Robert Richards. Robert and I have worked together over 20 years. He has experience in both management and live production of worldwide-televised events. Robert has raced motorcycles, and has a passion for everything he does and a particularly deep passion for motorcycles.
We have Donnie Graves, and I'll let Donnie speak for himself.
Donnie Graves: I have a passion for both cars and motorcycles. I raced motorcycles in my teens, and four years ago started racing Shifter Karts for the joy of it. The services I will provide are taking the unknown or little known riders and helping them become well known, looking towards International growth opportunities for both for the athletes & series ... plus working with the factories & teams to make sure their needs are being met as far as our responsibilities go. We would like to help educate the riders, and help them become even better spokespersons and promoters of themselves.
The public needs to know who these guys are. In music, a star is not made ... they are discovered. Too many times, I see people trying to force an athlete into some unnatural "box" in order to become a better spokesperson ... it's a joke and neither the fans or riders buy it ...you hope, you can help someone play to their strengths and become comfortable being who they are ... a quiet person, should not be taught how to become a talkative person, they should learn how to use their demeanor to get their point across.
What a lot of people don't seem to want to understand is that most racers are focused and quiet by nature ... in this day and age of X-Games "Superstars" beating their chests in victory, there appears to be a marketing movement towards spectacle over competition. Yes, I believe that Supercross and Motocross are the first and the true action sports, but I would not want to see a move to "sell" the sport compromise the integrity. In order for the sport to grow, we need 15 riders who are known like Ricky or Jeremy or Travis or Bubba.
We have not come into the sport to manage the riders, but to work with and help their managers and agents reach their, and the riders goals. We want to make any resource or experience we have available to the riders, managers, agents, teams and sponsors. Additionally, we'll try and bring opportunities to help them with many things, including exposure and media, outside of motorsports. Our TV package, with its 3-hour coverage, will allow us to highlight riders as never before. We have a goal of one day looking out onto the field and seeing twenty, fully sponsored two-three bike teams ... we know this will be a lot of work and are not coming into the sport saying, we're going to be the answers to everyone's prayers.
We are simply saying that we see a need and we want to help and create an environment that is conducive for big time "outside the industry" sponsors to come to Supercross. Mike and I have come from a sport (CART/NASCAR/IRL) that is virtually 100% driven by sponsorship ... we are willing to work long and hard to help teams, factories and riders raise the bar. Right now, there seems to be a tremendous amount of sponsorship lacking, especially at the team level ... We think that the riders and teams should be making and have access to more money.
We will be making some of the inventory of sponsorship available to the riders and their teams. For example, we'll offer TV and commercial time to their sponsors to fit into an overall package that will hopefully benefit their entire racing program and marketing goals. This is something that I don't think has never been done before in the sport.
My work experience was initially in music. And I realized the services I provided in music were needed in motorsports. Setting goals, building profiles, PR, creating sponsorship opportunities, fans clubs, web sites, E-commerce, putting the right athletes with the right team, the whole lot. The prototypical manager in car racing was usually an attorney who negotiated a deal, and once the deal was done went on to finding another driver, another drive. The racers didn't receive any real "services", I simply want to help where and when I can, I'm new to this sport and don't have all the answers, but I care a tremendous amount for the people who risk life and limb in the pursuits of their dreams and the fans that show up to support them.
Above all, our group has one goal - to grow the sport. If the sport grows, everyone benefits.
Tony: Then of course there's Jerry Mickelson. Jerry is one of the originals. His company Jam Productions, started in the 70's and it is the biggest independent event production company in the U.S. Jam Productions produces over 1000 shows per year. They gross over 100 million dollars per year. They are a very successful company. They produce every kind of event from concerts to sporting events to inaugurations. They are a privately held company. I've known Jerry for over 25 years, he is not just a promoter, he is creative and has integrity and really understands marketing and new technology. He started the company that is now Rolling Stone.com. Jam Productions does everything SFX does and more. Jam Productions is the biggest event promotion company to not sell to SFX.
Now Mike Held he's an interesting guy with a weird sense of humor. He has a great deal of experience in motorsports, he has managed drivers, and owned his own NASCAR team with Robby Gordon. He has won awards for designing safety helmets. His specialty is sponsorship and he has an exclusive deal with several major companies including Sony for sponsorship in motorsports. He'll work with sponsors, and make sure they are getting full value for their investment. He'll make sure all the participants and stakeholders in the sport have opportunities. His mission is to bring in sponsors from outside the industry and to make sure they get value for their money. We will be a resource, especially for sponsors outside of motorsports. You'll find we'll use the term 'stakeholders' a lot. That's Mike's term for everyone who has a stake in the success of the sport - the factories, the sponsors, the riders, tech persons, everyone involved in the sport.
Since we are a privately held company, and each one involved is a principal, we don't go for titles like 'Chairman' and 'President' and such. Each of us has responsibilities, and each of us has different areas of expertise. We are a 'team', each person with unique qualities.
Jerry Mickelson: Tony has done a good job of telling you a few of the people we currently have involved. There are also the people that we will hire.
We will bring on-board people that have 'hands-on' experience in all facets of supercross. Let's not forget - we have almost a year to prepare. We will be bringing in people with expertise in defined areas that will help with the production.
My focus will be on supercross. Since our announcement on November 5th, I have devoted my full time to supercross, and it alone is my priority.
RJ: Has Jam Sports ever produced a supercross event?
Tony: No, but when you have produced a thousand events a year like Jerry has and when you have supervised huge production tours on every continent like I have you have probably encountered every production scenario out there. If something new comes along then at the very least you know where to go for the solution.
Jerry: We have produced stadium events for almost 30 years. No matter what the event, in a stadium, many aspects of it are similar. One difference will be building a track instead of something such as a stage. All the other aspects of putting on the event, advertising it, and distributing tickets, are similar.
We've produced live and closed circuit events for boxing, music, tennis, ice shows, circuses, ballet, gymnastics, and an entire range of others. We haven't confined ourselves to just one facet of the entertainment industry. We know how to identify and reach every type of demographic.
Reaching the fans and understanding their needs is something we know how to do. We do it every day. Our experience in producing events, and specifically stadium events is substantial.
RJ: By teaming up with AMA Pro Racing, along with the confidence you have with your own team, why do you feel you will do a better job than Clear Channel? Do you think their experience makes them more qualified than you?
Jerry: First, when we looked at what's currently happening in the sport, we felt that the primary promoter was making decisions for themselves. Not for the sport, not for the manufacturers, not for riders, and not for the teams. They are in the same markets year in and year out. They do that to enrich their pockets. That's definitely one critical issue where we feel we can do a better job. The priority should not just be about how we can make the most money, but rather how we can help it grow.
Our 2003 schedule shows that supercross will be in markets that have not been visited in a long time, more large markets, and will reach more people than in the past. We are not just looking to go to markets that make the most money, but what's best for growing the sport.
Secondly, the AMA has signed a deal to have live television, not tape delayed. Not only is it live television, but Speed Channel will also help promote the events and the TV shows. It's not just that supercross will be on TV, but it will be promoted by Speed Channel. The public will know and will be constantly reminded where and when supercross will be on TV.
That commitment for promotion is just as important as the live TV. Our three hour show gives us the time to profile the riders and the production by The Indianapolis Motor Speedway production company will take the quality of the telecast to a whole new level.
Third, if you look at what's been going on in the sport, the riders have been underpaid. Clear Channel keeps most of the money.
Now that we've come on the scene, all of a sudden Clear Channel has increased bonuses. Suddenly we are reading about availability of money for all sorts of increases. That just happened, that did not happen when there wasn't any competition.
Those issues will always be part of our game plan. We don't need competition to do the right thing. Compensating the participants, growing the reach of the sport and television are three critical issues that I can say with confidence we will do better.
Tony: You should not forget the AMA. The AMA has been a constant in the sport since supercross started, long before Clear Channel and the other companies they gobbled up came along. All the AMA ever needed was a partner they could work with. Clear Channel was not that partner because they had a different agenda. The AMA makes the rules, they've been the sanctioning body from the very beginning, and they are our partners. No one should underestimate the contribution they have made to supercross.
Because of the experience of our partners we bring many different skills to the table. Being a promoter of an event or series is one thing. Knowing how to grow the sport, knowing how to grow the brand, and knowing how to grow careers are all very critical requirements if you are going to take things to a whole new level. That's what our experience has taught us to do.
Jam Sports shareholders (and by this I mean the people we feel responsible to) are the stakeholders. They are the essential ingredients of the sport itself, the participants, the manufacturers, the sponsors, everyone involved in the sport. We believe we share a common interest with them, which is the future well-being of the sport.
As a result of our game plan more people in the entire United States are going to be exposed to the great spectacle of live supercross. More media will be exposed to supercross. More people will know about Ricky, Jeremy, Travis, and eventually Bubba, the manufacturers, and more. That's a big part of growing the sport.
RJ: How about major networks? Will you be able to get supercross on one of them?
Tony: That is part of the deal with The Speed Channel. We have eight events that can go on network TV or anywhere else for that matter. Our deal with Speed Channel gives us flexibility to take the sport to a whole new audience.
This is one of the reasons we brought in Indianapolis Motor Speedway and their production people. To get the sport consistently on network television takes growth. To do that takes great TV production and vision. If you look at the Indy 500 or the Brickyard 400, you'll see the production that we hope to introduce to supercross. Secondly, you need people that have 'been there and done that' with the means to do it. We are not reluctant to bring in people that add something of value that we might not have. The IMS relationship is a good example of that.
RJ: Doesn't Clear Channel's experience in motorsports make them more qualified?
Tony: You can have experience. It's how it's used that's more important. Sometimes, when you've been doing something for a long time; you can get complacent in the way you do it. When someone new comes along, they can have a different and better perspective. They can have more incentive to do things better. The Clear Channel TV package is a clear example of that. All tape delay, some ABC but little or no promotion, and no apparent new ideas for production judging by the production company they are locked in to. They cannot be compared to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway production people.
And who has more experience than the AMA? They've been sanctioning and helping produce motorcycle events for 75 years. They also negotiate more motorcycle related TV programming than anyone else in the country including their Superbike series. Their TV package for motocross is every bit as good as the new TV package Clear Channel has just announced for supercross. Clear Channel's apparent experience has not, in my view, served them very well when it comes to TV.
Donnie Graves: The promoter's responsibility is the first row of the grandstand to the top row of the grandstand. What happens on the racetrack is the AMA's responsibility. Is competition balanced? Is the track safe? The AMA has done a great job to make sure what happens on the field is correct. That is not going to change in 2003.
RJ: Word is Clear Channel controls many venues, partly in leveraging Monster Trucks and other events. How do you get around that? Can they close you out of markets?
Jerry: Can they close us out of markets? They are definitely trying! They are trying to control as many venues as they can to keep us out. They are trying to restrain others like us from competing. They are trying to leverage different buildings via their other properties. That is clearly 'restraint of trade' and anti-competitive. And they have threatened us with lawsuits.
Jam Productions fights Clear Channel every day in the music business. We refused to sell our company to them. We don't like the message or business plans they use. It's all about them, nothing for the fans. And it's not about the stakeholders in the sport. So yes, I expected them to try to keep us out whether by fair or unfair means. They are even trying to make exclusive deals with two venues in one market.
However, our schedule shows that we are in markets they have tried to close out plus the new markets we are going to are far better.
Tony: Our schedule will be in major cities, in major stadium venues, across the United States. Comparing the 2002 schedule vs. our nearly finalized 2003 schedule, we are in seven of the top 10 markets in the United States, while Clear Channel is in only five of the top ten markets in the United States.
Yes, Clear Channel has been very busy recently making deals with some venues. Last time I checked, America allowed for fair competition and we think that's a good thing. Clear Channel seems to have a problem with that concept.
See Part II
Anaheim: Season opener - round one report
San Diego: Pre-event press conference