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Andy Warhol famously predicted that in the future, everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes. The prophecy may not have been completely fulfilled as of 2014, but the increased mediatization of our lifestyle certainly means that reaching out to more people quickly is easier than ever before, and consequently, those who are able to successfully leverage mass media stand to profit handsomely. Superstars and famous people are the new royalty, of that there is little doubt. So how does mountain biking get its fifteen minutes? Should this sport aspire to rubbing shoulders with golf, football, and tennis, or should we embrace the freedom that comes with still being a grassroots sport and count our blessings every time we hit the trail? Time for us here at Vital to climb onto our soapbox and have our say in the matter - pro and con, we've got something to argue either way. And once we're done, you can get on your soapbox in the comments too!

Mountain Biking in Mainstream Media – It’s A Great Thing

Money Makes The World Go Around

When Wayne Rooney signed his $500,000 PER WEEK, 5-yr contract extension with Manchester United, he was relieved to “finally be able to concentrate on my game and not have to worry about contract matters anymore”. To put that statement in perspective, his previous contract which still had one year left to run provided him with a measly $400,000 PER WEEK, leaving the star precariously close to the poverty line and in no mental state to perform credible injury simulations crucial to obtaining those game-winning penalties on the field.

To further put that statement in perspective, very few if any pro mountain bikers can hope to make that much money IN A YEAR. Without taking anything away from Rooney’s finely honed acting skills, how do you explain such exorbitant amounts of money changing hands over a bunch of divas chasing a ball around, when pro DHers and freeriders literally lay their lives on the line week in week out for a small salary and a couple of free bikes? The answer can be found in mainstream media.

Sports like football (soccer), Formula 1, golf, tennis, football (NFL), baseball, and basketball are followed by millions of people, many of whom never actually participate in any sport whatsoever (tailgating at the game is not a sport, nor is walking around the mall in a track suit). The revenues generated are huge, and thus, so are the payouts to the athletes that make it all happen. Some of the big money behind sports is of course directly linked to the activity itself e.g. Nike, but increasingly, title sponsorship deals are backed by other kinds of brands eager to surf the tidal wave of sports success right into the consumers’ homes and wallets. Or in the case of Russian oil billionaires, eager to buy another little piece of the world.

Ironically, the consumers’ wallets belong for the most part to the working class, people buying season tickets they can’t afford to cheer on their heroes (most of whom will sell out the club at the first whiff of greener money on offer elsewhere). What’s the point you say, well the point is that it’s loyalty that makes the equation work, certainly not on behalf of the mercenaries cashing in but from the fans funding their Ferraris and fancy villas. Supercross stars have loyal fans that have never sat on a bike, which gives Stewart and co their rightful place on primetime TV schedules, even though most viewers aren’t in a market for a new 450. Going back to the Roman times, everybody loves a gladiator.

As mountain bikers, what do we want? Better bikes for less money (although we certainly seem prepared to part with our hard-earned to put a little carbon fizz in our rides these days), more trails, more bike parks, more races to follow, and more content to help us dream. Well that equation too can be resolved via mainstream media. Back in the day, Shaun Palmer famously brought MX to MTB and with it the mega-motorhomes and the million dollar salaries. Volvo Cannondale spared no expense, and Honda built a race bike and funded a world-beating team that developed loads of new tech for years without ever wanting to sell a single bike.

Minnaar rocking the Honda RN-01 at Angel Fire in 2005 - photo by gordo

Mainstream media coverage of mountain biking these days is poor at best. World Champion titles can still go unnoticed, and when there are snippets of our sport on a big cable network, it’s either 3 months late or so cheesy that we’d just as soon not be associated with it. None of that matters though, because in mainstream media, any publicity is good publicity. It’s all about views, clicks, and airtime. The day a World Cup DH race is broadcast live on mainstream TV channels you can be sure it will change the lives of those who live by the sport. The Sony Syndicate, Wal-Mart World Racing, and Toyota Factory Racing could all pay Minnaar, MacDonald, and Gwin ten times their current salaries and it wouldn’t even show up on the P&L.

Pay to Play - Or...?

Today, our sport is directly funded by the companies making the equipment we use to participate, in other words, we fund it ourselves. When we buy a bike, part of the money we pay for it goes to funding race teams and media coverage. If we could change that so the sport would become funded by Joe Blow watching a race on his TV, that would relieve a lot of pressure on the bike industry. Bike prices could come down, there would be more racing, more money being put into building trails and we might even become so popular that we get to sit as equals at the multi-use trail access advocacy negotiation table.

Money isn’t everything, and as a community, we’re quite happy as things stands. But there is literally no downside to more exposure, I’m pretty sure Cam Zink and Cam McCaul won’t mind backflipping over a few more Mitsubishis in Utah if it means they get to ride bikes AND put their kids through college.

Ultimately, big media TV presenters make us smile with their noobness, but really, it’s not THAT bad is it? And if it will get kids to queue up at the local MTB club instead of outside PC World when the new XBOX comes out, everybody wins. - Iceman

Sorry Mainstream, MTB is Not For You

Glorious, Hallowed MTB TV Coverage

I used to think that the end-all-be-all of success for mountain biking would be inclusion in the X Games. I would spout paragraphs on forums about why mountain biking would finally hit its stride and be accepted by the masses if two wheel drifts or flipwhips were book-ended by Mountain Dew and Slim Jim commercials. "If only mountain biking would go mainstream," I thought, then everyone would be happy. Some years later we now know what happened when MTB landed in the X Games (well, X Games Jr. as I like to call the Munich event). It was a slopestyle event that 90% of X Games viewers wouldn't know wasn't a BMX event and the contest was ruined by wind causing the majority of the field to bow out for safety reasons. Was that good for mountain biking?

My initial dreams of mainstream MTB were seeing DH racing during a prime time slot on a major TV network, not slopestyle. While pure DH racing remains off the mainstream radar, Red Bull Rampage has emerged as MTB's golden child of super stardom and a fantastic display of what mountain biking can be when compared to slopestyle. Long live Rampage. When your mom forwards you a clip of Kelly McGarry's Canyon Gap crash which was forwarded to her by a co-worker, mountain biking has hit the mainstream. When Rampage is on NBC on a Saturday afternoon for anyone with a television and an aerial antenna to watch, mountain biking has hit the mainstream.

While there's no real control over a crash video going so viral your mom forwards it to you, the content doesn't really do anything special for mountain biking. Brett Rheeder's GoPro run didn't go viral, the carnage went viral. A crash video is sensational and scary, but in the long run, it probably doesn't get anyone new into the sport. My mom (and any non-mountain biker who saw the video) can't tell the difference between Kelly McGarry's Diamondback DH bike with exploding wheels and the spandex-clad XC dude with a 130mm stem going over-the-bars in Moab in 1996. All this mainstream exposure really does is re-enforce the stereotype of mountain bikers being weird, fringe, "gonzo" people out in the desert wearing post-apocalyptic clothing.

The NBC Signature Series of Rampage should have been MTB's media highlight of the year. Was is amazing to watch? Hell yes it was. There's nothing better than watching those kids blitz the cliffs of Rampage. Was mainstream, major network broadcast a slam dunk that would bring MTB to the masses in a way they'd never forget? Probably not. As an MTB superfan, even I thought the show was a little long in the tooth. Many of my peers felt the same way and we all felt incredibly guilty for having such thoughts. If diehard MTB dorks grew a little weary of witnessing our friends and heroes skirting knife-edge Rampage lines on the brink of death, what did the non-MTBer think of the show? Would they watch the two-hour broadcast that featured about 13-minutes of real actual riding? Would they say, "holy shit, I want to do THAT!"? I'm going to say no.

Additionally, within the diehard MTB community the Rampage broadcast caused some major strife with the "mainstream-ification" of the event. If you're a commentator, watch out. One slip of the Norbies and you're crucified online. MTB's potentially greatest moment in the limelight was turned into an argument over a nickname. As a result, in the grand scheme of things, MTB is no better off because of the mainstream broadcast of Red Bull Rampage.

I realize Pro riders (some of whom are friends of mine...at least until they read this article) benefit in the short-term from the mainstream exposure via contracts, bonuses and sponsor perks. I want them to cash it in and run. I believe the best riders in the world should be paid handsomely for the risks they take. Ironically, I think mainstream interference can have an effect on how riders get paid. Considering a mountain bike event aired on network TV, does money from company X now go to buying commercial time or on-site branding when it would have normally gone into rider salaries or a grassroots program? I'm not an international marketing manager, so I don't know for sure, but the money has to move around somehow.

Mainstream Marketing Using MTB

I could just play the Maverik's Mother of All Burritos commercial below and say, "I win," but it's not that simple. MTB being used in commercials like Cam McCaul's Mitsubishi ad is pretty freaking sick. McCaul ripped it, the whole project made MTB look rad and I hope he was able to buy plenty of diapers for his daughter with the paycheck. Keep that shit alive, make MTB look rad and keep taking the money!

The problem is with the 98% (this is a made-up statistic) of commercials borrowing MTB for that "extreme" factor and lately, that "green" factor. The extreme offenses, once again, hark back to that "gonzo" spandex-wearing guy crashing in Moab in 1996. There may be a couple good clips, but there's always the standout crash clip that is the most memorable visual of the commercial and that's why mountain biking is used. For crashes. As a result, all you'll hear from friends and family once they learn you mountain bike is, "wow, do you crash all the time," or "no way I would ever do that." Some riders and media may make some bucks from these commercial stints (whether the commercial is good or bad), but does the mainstream exposure really help mountain biking? I say no.

MTB is Our Sport

Mountain biking, by nature is difficult. You have to have a bike. You have to have a trail (or you're just "cycling") and you have to be ready for adversity. You can't just grab a bike and go in your back alley and kick it against the wall. It's a huge chore compared to playing catch. The equipment required is more than a $100 piece of wood with urethane wheels. Mountain biking competition can't be contained in an arena for thousands of couch potatoes to consume. Mountain biking is just not an activity for the masses and as much as some of us hope, MTB will never have the image or popularity of baseball, skateboarding or football. I think that's that's why so many of us love it. Mountain biking is our sport, it's our passion and we've embraced the uphills to rip the downhills. We participate in order to love it. We found it and pursued it because it filled a void in our life. As a community, we're healthy and thriving like a slow-growing giant Sequoia, weathering the storms along the way. We don't need Mountain Dew and Funyuns to turn us into fast-growing Bamboo only to be cut down and used up, forcing us to grow again from scratch. Mountain bikers, not TV and mainstream exposure, are why we have deep roots that will take us to towering heights for decades to come. -gordo

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