Motorcycles' inside story

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A growing number of sponsors are hitching a ride with the hot sport of indoor motorcycle racing, which combines young men's love of motorsports and extreme competition.

Clear Channel Communica-tions' SFX Motor Sports Group, Aurora, Ill., the nation's top organizer of indoor motorcycle competitions, says the races are breaking attendance records so far this year, and new sponsors are showing interest, with major packages starting at $100,000 and topping $1 million.

What started as a fringe sport more than two decades ago has turned into a series of heavily attended events. SFX-owned competitions include the Speed Stick Arenacross series; all but one race in the EA Sports Supercross series; and the International Freestyle Motocross Association's Freestyle Motocross series, featuring wild races with competitors judged on speed and motorcycle acrobatics.

"The rise of interest in extreme sports has really heightened interest in indoor motorcycle racing, and there's a huge crossover between these spectators and our games," said Jillian Goldberg, director of marketing at videogame company EA Sports.

EA Sports, in the second year of a three-year contract as title sponsor of the Supercross series, uses the races to help promote its motorcycle racing videogame titles targeting males 12 to 35 years old. At races, EA Sports hosts a fan challenge where one spectator plays a motorcycle videogame on the big screen.

Las Vegas is the "official destination" of the Supercross series, with the championship races there pumping $25 million into the local economy, said Scott Mendel, director of national sales for SFX.

SPEED STICK AT ARENACROSS

Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Speed Stick, title sponsor of the Arenacross series since last year, also does heavy on-site promotion of its deodorant brand at the events, including sampling and sweepstakes, a spokeswoman said.

How extreme is indoor motorcycle racing? Well, each event requires 500 truckloads of dirt, and the competitions include three-story-high motorcycle jumps inside the stadiums. Supercross' 16 events each year average 50,000 spectators each; Arenacross will have 33 events in 2001, each averaging 12,000 spectators, Mr. Mendel said.

Other sponsors of SFX competitions include Vans shoes; motorcycle manufacturers American Honda Motor Co., American Suzuki Motor Corp., Yamaha Motor Corp. USA and YTM Motorcycles; and tiremakers Dunlop Motorcycle Tires and Maxxis Truck Tires.

SFX owns most indoor motorcycle races nationwide, and controls the events' marketing and ticket sales, allowing broad integration of a sponsor's name into the event and its on-site and on-air promotion. Races air on ABC-TV, ESPN2, Speedvision and pay-per-view.

"Our sponsors become branded into the entire event," Mr. Mendel said, "starting with the marketing process and progressing to telecasts."

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