Yesterday, the Isle of Man TT announced that it had begun “a feasibility study” into holding its own international championship series, tipping the US, Asia and the Far East as potential locations. The Isle of Man is awesome, so any series it ran would just bring that awesomeness to new locations, right? Wrong. Here’s why and here’s how they could do it better.
First, some background.
The goal of all this TT World Series business is relatively simple. Its organizers want to leverage its appeal to further an expansion of tourism to the tiny island tax haven in the Irish Sea. The Isle has some history with World Championships (note capitalization), having lost its role as part of any organized championship back in the ‘70s when killing famous racers on a regular basis went out of fashion. Since that time, it’s established itself as the home of one-off (ok, two-off if you count the Manx Grand Prix) bonkers road racing, holding an annual event that easily eclipses other real road races like the NW200 or Macau Grand Prix.
This feasibility study is simply the earliest possible stage of looking into the possibility of holding some sort of international championship (note lack of capitalization) centered around the TT, but someone’s obviously told MCN some details of the plan they hope to develop.
MCN says, in the Isle of Man’s press release, “it could be a six-round championship featuring a core of 15-20 regular riders supplemented by local racers at each round. The series could open in the United States, with races in the Far East and Asia before the championship concludes at the 2014 TT in the Isle of Man.”
The most interesting part of all this is another sentence attributed to MCN which reads, “the series is expected to predominantly feature all-new venues rather than existing road racing circuits.”
Real Road Racing in 2011.
“All-new venues” plus the TT’s name suggests to us that the people behind all this actually intend to see if they can hold real road races in other countries. The Isle of Man must be even more sheltered than we thought if they think they can pull that off. As a German TT expert we spoke to told us, “If I walked into my local government office back in Bavaria and said ‘Hey, let's race some bikes though town at 200mph - it'll be great!’ I'd get sectioned and ferried off to a mental health institution of my choice.”
That’s not to say real road racing doesn’t occur elsewhere. There’s the aforementioned North West 200 and Macau Grand Prix, but public roads are also closed off for car racing in Long Beach, California, Monaco, St. Petersburg and Nevada and many other smaller events all over the world. Many WRC stages occur on closed public roads too.
Having said that, events like the Grand Prix of Long Beach and Monaco Grand Prix (can someone please find a way to hold a race without “grand prix” in the title?) are able to run in city centers because they turn up with enormous boat loads of cash. Like literally tons of hundred dollar bills. Could a fledgling motorcycle series operated from a tiny island expect to do the same?
Events like Nevada’s Silver State Classic and Targa Newfoundland are obviously way cheaper, but take place in the absolute middle of nowhere and garner almost no attendance outside local populations and very little media coverage as a result.
Fake Road Racing in 2011.
We use the term “fake” in jest, but motorcycle racing on race tracks isn’t exactly healthy right now either. Look at Ducati quitting SBK, the ghost town that is AMA Pro Racing and MotoGP’s barren grid for all the indication you need of that. Fewer participants, less sponsorship and less overall interest is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy of lower budgets creating lower-quality coverage meaning fewer and fewer and fewer eyeballs and then less of all of the above. Anyone watch the Daytona 200 last weekend? Speed turned it off to show NASCAR truck qualifying.
Is there room for a startup series in that environment? Sure, they’d be at “all-new venues” but it’d be the same bikes and same riders chasing the same disappearing sponsors and same vanishing audience.
It’s not that we don’t think leathered-up motorcycle racing doesn’t have a future, just that someone seriously needs to recast it into something that’s relevant to someone besides greasy old bikers. That’s probably a larger task than a tiny island nation can take on.
Tourism and the Isle of Man.
There’s one big problem facing motorcycling right now. We, as a pastime, hobby, group leather fetish, industry, passion, whatever, are unable to attract new initiates. The number of motorcyclists is aging and shrinking every year.
Yet another motorcycle racing series would serve only to appeal to that diminishing group of existing motorcyclists, not a mainstream audience.
Promoting Isle of Man tourism to existing motorcyclists means one thing and one thing only — they’re going to want to visit the TT. But, you know what? The TT already fills accommodations on the Isle and its travel infrastructure to capacity each and every year. Try booking ferry tickets or a hotel room just a week ahead of the TT, you’ll be laughed off the phone. All this money and effort to promote tourism which is already overflowing capacity? Unless there’s plans to build some mega hotels and put in a jet catamaran service that we’ve somehow missed, then we fail to see the point.
If the Isle of Man would like to pursue tourism during the rest of the year, then we humbly suggest it does so through something with more appeal than loud, scary bikes.
There’s an easier way to do this
You know what’s awesome? The Isle of Man TT. You know what’s impossible to watch if you don’t visit? The Isle of Man TT. There’s virtually no TV coverage of the existing racing at all and what does exist exists in the form of lame, action-free recaps on British television that you and I download via Bit Torrent, then fast forward through to the parts we care about.
Instead of creating yet more motorcycle racing that will receive virtually no TV coverage and will be impossible for publications like HFL to cover effectively, what about making the most of what you’ve already got?
It’s not just a case of getting it on TV screens across the world. A race around a 36.6-mile course, against a clock, doesn’t currently make exciting viewing. Find a way to make it more viewer friendly — WRC has been trying this for years — then put that footage on teh Internets for everyone in the world to watch. We want live or virtually live on-board footage, exciting racing, informative cometary and insightful racer interviews. Just make it feel like we’re there, make the coverage live up to the event.
Not only would such a plan foster TT enthusiasm across the planet, but it’d provide far better exposure for existing sponsors and, gasp, maybe even new ones.
There’s an audience for TT racing in place, you don’t need to organize a whole new series to reach it.