Sunday, January 14, 2018

Grassroots Events, Sponsors, And Sanctioned Racing

A Guitar Ted Productions Editorial
The series I posted dubbed "The State Of The Gravel Scene" a while back spurred a lot of positive commentary. Mostly I get the feeling that many of you out there lament the potential loss of the more "grassroots", inclusive events that don't have the "uppity", cliquish feel that maybe your USAC criterium is often accused of having. (Note- It isn't necessarily my experience, because I don't race crits. But it is an accusation I hear a LOT about crits.)  I don't know if any of that matters, I just know that the "feel" a lot of events I go to has is what it is that people are attracted to.

Well, with that in mind I found a parallel instance where the "grassroots feel" is being threatened by change and a change motivated by the need to accommodate sponsors. This is something which I feel is kind of a subtle influence on events and promoters. Of course, having a great sponsor is a wonderful thing for a lot of reasons, but sometimes, perhaps, there are perceived obligations that, maybe, can influence where events go in their futures. Well, I think the following link will take you to an article that paints a good picture of what I am talking about. It is an example from motorsports, a sector of sports I follow, and has to do with an event specifically. It is called the "Chili Bowl" and is a dirt sprint car event in Oklahoma. Here is the article by Jeff Gluck which might help explain how sponsors become influential on the "feel" of an event.

The other thing I want to say here is that sponsors are not a bad thing. It's how promoters and events use those sponsors and cater to those sponsors that can be a reason things get beyond the grassroots level. I know of great events that have excellent sponsors and still retain that "feel". So it isn't like we have to eschew sponsorship totally and refuse to be "influenced" by the monetary or other tangible and intangible factors at play when you get a sponsor. It doesn't have to be the "you sold your soul to the devil" thing that some folks I've talked to and messaged with say that it is.

And, as I stated in my series- some people actually like events where sponsors have radically changed the feel of the event. That isn't crazy talk either. It is a real thing. Just look at the Dirty Kanza 200 as a prime example. They wouldn't be having that lottery they had Saturday for entries if people didn't actually like how that event has changed over the years. So, in the final analysis, grassroots events still exist and serve their purposes, but so do the slick, high end, "bucket list" experiences that many people want. Choice is good, so don't be a hater. Just support the events that you believe in. The rest will take care of itself.

Another point that I wanted to make was on sanctioned racing. This scares the hell out of a lot of the grassroots folks. Here's the thing- there are a lot of folks that believe points, categories, closed courses, and "proper race environments" have a place in competition. Some are saying gravel events should be offered to satisfy this segment of racing. Now, I am not one of those folks, but hey! If they want it, build it and they will come. As a matter of fact, it already exists in many places. Try the Iowa Spring Classic as a prime example. Those events have occurred for several years now and guess what? It hasn't affected grassroots gravel racing one iota. They both coexist in harmony. Again- Choice is good, so don't be a hater. Just support the events that you believe in.

I'm not big on all the categorizations and points and whatnot, but hey! It trips some folks triggers and why not let them have an event on gravel. Ultimately it will be something that flies or not.  Grassroots or "big, slickly produced event", doesn't matter if you just pay attention to what you like and let the rest go. Both ways have their place. I think it is a good instance of "Live and let live".


Steve Fuller said...

Having participated in some of the Spring Classic races the last two years, I'd say that despite the appearances, those events don't have the feel of a typical USAC sanctioned event, other than being run on small loop courses for the sake of keeping things manageable. If it weren't for the fact that there were USAC blue shirts there, it would look like a "run what you brung" race with very few things to keep track of. They are shorter races, so the intensity is definitely a bit higher than normal.

Guitar Ted said...

@Steve Fuller- Thanks for your perspective on that. I added that series as an example that is held up by road racers that are USAC license holders that are gabbing about having gravel events be more structured like a typical crit. (Discussion seen on the Minnesota Gravel page on Facebook, for reference)

MG said...

Good perspective... I don't need the USAC in the gravel scene. It's been three years since I had a USAC license and I'm not itching to get another. I'll simply skip those roadie crits and support the scene that's been building (without the "assistance" of the USAC) for more than a decade now.

Where was the USAC when Jim Cummins and Joel Dyke were lining up with 32 other 'crazies' for the first Dirty Kanza 200 in 2006? Nowhere... And based on my experience, that's exactly where they should still be in the gravel scene.