Interview: David Luongo (CEO Infront Moto Racing) talks MXGP
Fortunately, all indicators for the restart of competition are heading in the right direction. And MXGP promoter Infront Moto Racing is due to publish an updated version of the FIM Motocross world championship calendar soon. Still, there are a lot of hot issues in the midst of the biggest crisis in decades. Tom Jacobs just did an exclusive interview with Infront Moto Racing CEO David Luongo.
The timing of our conversation comes after months of uncertainty. There wasn’t a sector or country that wasn’t affected by the global covid-10 pandemic. However, motocross now finally has renewed prospects for a relaunch of the MXGP World Championship. The first international motocross race took place at the weekend (red. Czech championship in Dalcine) since Europe closed at the beginning of March. So at least there’s reason for (cautious) optimism.
Inevitably not all challenges will be solved immediately. In any case, David took plenty of time for our conversation. Some aspects received more attention than others, but the vision of Infront Moto Racing is clear. To what extent the economic consequences will make themselves felt in the MXGP paddock will probably be an ongoing storyline in the months to come.
What have you missed most about not attending MXGP races live lately?
David Luongo: It is a very strange feeling, I miss the adrenaline of the sport, the public, the riders, the excitement of bringing MXGP around the world. Every weekend I am telling to myself, we should be in in such country today, organizing such race.
The British MXGP round turned out to be an exceptional turnaround and also a testimony of the professionalism of the organizer and promoter. In spite of the bad weather, and a freak accident with the VIP Skybox startline grandstand everything turned out perfectly on Sunday, including a solid crowd. Is it harder to accept so many things-related to the COVID-19 health crisis- happening beyond your control when you’ve got so many other elements absolutely nailed to a tee?
Luongo: In the life you always have to do your best for what you believe, when something outside of your will happens, then you need to do your best to adapt to the situation. The beginning of the season in UK has been challenging due to the weather conditions, but I am proud of our team and the Organizer who worked all night long to maintain the venue, because at the end, the event turned to be great. The track was beautiful on Sunday and racing was fantastic. All lights were green for the season before the Covid-19 crisis, then we had to adapt ourselves to the global restrictions and put on hold everything. But, we are ready to start again when the situation will allow us to do so. We are getting closer to this moment.
The FIM Supercross Championship resumed at the end of May, MotoGP will get under way next month, have you been following these developments in other race series? What can be learned or implemented from them to run motocross GP’s in the safest way possible?
Luongo: For sure, we have been in contact with all the parties involved in the sport globally to try to find best practices or advice. But at the end, each sport is different in its way to be managed. For example you cannot compare an indoor sport and outdoor sport in the way of managing this crisis, the same with areas where public can access to grand stand versus on ground floor. Then each country are implementing different rules and regulations for heath, different ways to access the event, number of people authorized onsite etc.. It is very complicated to make one and only protocol as each GP will be managed in a different way depending on the decision of the national authorities. Finally you face the problematic of the traveling from country to country. For sure our will is to implement the safest way of managing the GP when we will start again.
MXGP is not F1 or football and you made it clear that organizing without spectators is not an option. We all wish it were differently of course but staging sports events in front of fans will be very challenging, even in the months to come. While you can envision smaller races with a limited crowd, for example like the French championship to run with less than 5000 spectators, it’s much harder to think of a GP. Let alone the MX of Nations with thousands of fans coming from all over Europe, teams coming from all over the world, a festival-like atmosphere. What do you think? Is this an aspect where you feel better supported with the involvement of Infront and sharing best practices from other sports and insights from around the world?
Luongo: As you mentioned, MXGP is not F1. The sports that may be able to run some races or event without public are mainly financed by TV rights revenues and they are very low number. It is clearly not the case with MXGP. The whole economy of the GP organizers is supported by the ticketing so no public would bring them in a very difficult situation. The cost of a Grand Prix is much higher than a national race because of all the infrastructures, the Live broadcasting TV production and all the high standards of the World Championship.
In stark contrast to other sports organisations -for example Formula 1- you responded swiftly to postpone the Argentinian MXGP round. However an unprecedented crisis like this one throws curveballs all the time and modifying the calendar accordingly to the situation has been tricky. In hindsight, have there been things that you would have done differently knowing what you know now?
Luongo: The postponing of Argentina was very difficult because a lot material was already shipped to the country but at this end it was the best choice. I don’t think that we would have made different ones regarding how we handle the crisis. This situation is very special because you need to take decision almost in real time, then you can prepare 10 different plans and wait for the decision of the governments to adapt to the situation. Everybody is playing by ear right now. Since March, we postponed more than 12 GP, which would have been impossible in the “normal life” situation. I want to thank all the organizers, the teams, the national federation and FIM that are supporting us in our decisions. We really feel that the MX family is united in such difficult time. Now we are getting to the time, we will start again and it will be challenging and demanding but I have no doubt that we will handle the situation in the best way possible.
I’m very confident that it’s possible to re-start racing for riders and their entourage but I can see the point of organizers who could be very concerned with the response of spectators and how that will affect their club financially. Will they get the same kind of crowds as usually, what’s the impact of a new date and possible worse weather on attendance and VIP guests… This must be difficult to handle for them?
Luongo: It is difficult to really know what will be the answer of the public. I am a positive and when I look around me, a lot of friends want to come back to normal life, have fun, go back to stadium, circuits etc. I have the feeling that if the situation is well managed, the MXGP fans will come to support the GP and enjoy again their passion fully.
Every broadcast schedule is put on its head and sports are scrambling even more than ever to get airtime. Although a different timing could also provide opportunities for more TV coverage. How do you see this side panning out for MXGP?
Luongo: 90% of the sport TV exposure is focused on football, and the rest is shared between all the other sports in the world. The last decade we managed to significantly increase the exposure of MXGP on premium channels like Eurosport, CBS SN for USA, FOX Sport for Asia and some strong national TV broadcasters as L’Equipe for France, Rai Sport for Italy, Band Sport for Brazil etc… The TV coverage bring a sport to the next level, it transforms a great event in the middle of the countryside with a great public to something global, well presented that will attract new fans, new partners and more recognition. We tried in the past to change the timing of the racing of to change the format but what we have today is a great compromise between the roots of our sport especially with the 2-day format and the fact we have 9 hours of live program between the classical TV broadcasters and our OTT channel, MXGP-TV.com. Back in 2012 we were one of the first promotor to believe in the On Demand channel for sport and we see it today as a great success with unlimited potential of increase. Every fan of MXGP, all around the world can watch their favourite sport thanks to MXGP-TV. This is a great achievement and will be improved in the future.
Dealing with the aftermath of the confinement period and scheduling the 2.0 calendar is naturally a daunting task in its own right. Take the economical impact into consideration on the motocross eco-system and I imagine it must be like walking a tight rope. On one hand you’d like to have as many races as possible -for good reason because teams and riders are paid based on the number of events they race- on the other hand sponsors are worried about their 2020 P&L and their future prospects. They might be cautious about their expenses, just as local governments supporting organizers could be, I can imagine. It’s very much like dealing and weighing out short and long-term consequences. I’d like to get your take on this.
Luongo: You are right, but the best way to secure revenues and future investments from all the partners involved in motocross is to deliver Grand Prix and a decent season. The MXGP economy represents easily 3.500 jobs, between the riders, mechanics, journalists, organizers, partners etc… Infront Moto Racing only represent more that 150 jobs and our priority for this year is to preserve all of them. It is a challenging time but I have to say until now everybody is determinate to start racing again. We are in discussion with the FIM to modify exceptionally for this season the regulations regarding the schedule of a Grand Prix. The EMX class program would be dedicated on Saturday while the MXGP and MX2 class would have their program only on Sunday. With the high rhythm we will would get from August to November, it would help the teams to have some more time between the races to work on the bikes and to travel.
The ripple effect of the pandemic is very likely to spread out for a long time to come. At this moment almost everyone is in uncertainty about the outcomes. Some sports pro-actively discuss budget reductions and financial reformation. It’s fair to say that 2020 is an incredibly tough one for motorcycle manufacturers and the entire motocross industry. Has the future of the sport in terms of controlling expenses, number of GP rounds and overseas been a point of discussion with you and the other stakeholders (manufacturers, teams, series’ partners) in world motocross?
Luongo: The success and the development of MXGP go through its development to the global events. In such vision the number of races and number of overseas are not in questions for the future. This is what made its dynamic for the last 20 years. After the crisis of 2008, the strategy of going outside of Europe almost saved the championship because some new countries have brought new markets to the industry. Asia is booming for motorsports right now as South America. On the other hand controlling the expenses is very important as for every company to maintain a logic between the costs and the revenues, this subject is in constant discussion with the different stakeholders of the MXGP.
Knowing that the factory teams in MXGP and MX2 are the best funded it’s clear that riders competing in WMX and the EMX classes will be affected by the economic situation in a different way than their GP colleagues. How do you see this?
Luongo: The situation will be handled in many different ways by the stakeholders. Unfortunately some will face more difficult moment that others but I am very confident that when the Covid-19 will be back of us, we will start again our great dynamic.
Every cloud has a silver lining. What do you see as the positives to emerge out of all of this for motocross or possibly the world at large?
Luongo: I am positively surprise by the unity of all the sport industry and the MX family around this crisis. Everybody is doing their best to start again in the best condition and is very motivated. The last months have been very challenging and a lot of us have been in a kind of restriction of liberty. After such moment I am confident that we will want to live 100% of the moment and enjoy even more our passions.
On a personal note, not traveling professionally has freed up time for all of us. What have you (re)discovered during the confinement period and how did you stay active?
Luongo: (laughs)My wife, just joking. Seriously, it was very strange to stay home for weeks when your life is full of travelling for years. I take usually 200 flights per year and none for the last 4 months. I took the opportunity to spend more time with my family, cooking and doing some more sport, slowing down the rhythm. I miss MXGP a lot!
Interview: Tom Jacobs
Pics: Infront Moto Racing