The experts have weighed in: Laguna WSBK was a complete and utter failure because the ticket sales were too low.
Okay, ticket sales were slow--for a variety of reasons--for Laguna's first WSBK race in a decade. However, I wonder if that is confirmation of a bad decision or, instead, a real opportunity?
It's a good thing none of these experts seemingly remember the first WSBK race at Laguna Seca in 1995. Promoted by Dan Murphy and his backers (one of which was the television network Speedvision) that race was an absolute financial bath for the track and Murphy. Back then, World Superbike, like it is now, was virtually unknown in the USA; its previous visits were in the confirmed fish shanty of Brainerd, Minnesota.
|Thankfully, Dan Murphy, one of the smartest promoters to ever put on a motorcycle race, didn't listen to the experts who told him that after the 1995 race, and because the first event had been a ticket sales snooze, that WSBK was dead in America. |
Very few casual fan spectators came to Laguna Seca WSBK in 1995. Of course, the hard core fan, as they always do, traveled to Monterey and had a great day. Aside from the racing at Laguna WSBK '95, the hard-core fan probably saw two WSBK teams pass the time away one early evening by repeatedly smashing two golf carts together, head on. Away from that chaos, riders like Frankie Chili stood in the paddock and talked to fans, for hours. On track, great racing took place, and when it ended and those fans went home, they started telling friends and neighbors about what they'd seen, and how fantastic it all was. While at Laguna WSBK they'd drank beer and told racing stories late into the night.
Before the 1995 WSBK event, the very best a Grand Prix at Laguna had done was to lose "just" a million dollars. Kenny Roberts lost a big corner of his shirt promoting a USGP one year in the pre-MotoGP era.
Thankfully, Dan Murphy, one of the smartest promoters to ever put on a motorcycle race, didn't listen to the experts who told him that after the 1995 race, and because the first event had been a ticket sales snooze, that WSBK was dead in America.
No, Murphy looked at the broader picture. On track, WSBK racing was very good, and fans had access to the riders and the teams in the paddock. No roped off areas of exclusion, or riders reacting like they smelled a terrible stench if a fan asked for an autograph. People left smiling, sun-burned and happy.
And even though every expert told him repeatedly that he was out of his mind to promote Laguna WSBK event ever again, Murphy and his backers held on. They actually promoted the Laguna WSBK event. That effort was bolstered by the '95 Laguna WSBK fans going home and telling their friends that they'd had a great time. Those fans came back in '96, and this time they brought those friends with them.
1996 was an explosion for Superbike racing in America, and Laguna Seca WSBK led the way. 1996 was the first time in recent memory that a motorcycle race at Laguna had out-sold the event the year before. And that momentum carried. The racing remained great, the fans enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the riders and everybody had a wonderful time.
And after '96, the Laguna WSBK event began powering itself every year to even bigger attendance heights; more fans hit Laguna every year. I remember officially announced attendance figures topping 100,000 over the weekend for WSBK Laguna.
All from that very humble start in 1995, where there were few casual fans and an excess of parking spots.
Sure it's a different world now. Now, in some metrics, events have to explode from day one or they are immediately termed eternal and obvious failures. "Billion" is now a semi-common number. Also, there isn't just one world championship motorcycle event in the US like there was in 1996.
Still, the same fundamentals that were in place at Laguna in '95 are still there in 2013. Hard core fans were happy when they left Laguna WSBK and will probably spread the word via verbal and social media about how much fun they had at World Superbike Laguna. They had much to talk about. On late Saturday afternoon, at least 40 minutes after the post-race press conference, I saw Tom "Big Balls" Sykes sitting on his scooter in the paddock; he was signing autographs, talking to and posing for photos with fans. If I squinted I bet that scene looked a lot like Frankie Chili and the boys in '95.
But the experts have weighed Laguna WSBK was a defeat. It was a failure, man. It's over.
I wonder what Dan Murphy would think about those experts and their opinion? I wonder if Murphy would view Laguna Seca WSBK 2013 as a failure or would he see it as an opportunity?