Interview: Matt Bates talks 2019 Arenacross UK

Matt Bates has been involved in the sport for a number of years and focuses on the Arenacross UK series at present. 

There will be many changes for the up and coming series which gets underway in January at Belfast and Bates is the man behind those changes. 

At the recent Arenacross press day held in Belfast we sat down with him to get his thoughts on the upcoming series, the rule changes and much more.

Gatedrop: Matt, it’s not long to Christmas now but then after that you will you have six busy weekends with the Arenacross UK series. Are you looking forward to putting the hard work in , you mentioned you will be at each stadium for five days. Are you excited for the hard work that’s just around the corner?

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Matt Bates: Yeah, totally. It’s that time of the year when we stage some incredible events. We also do other stuff too, before we do this, we have six live shows of show jumping events which no one knows that we do. We are in the world of equestrian too so we’ve got that over Christmas and the new year. After that we will be coming over to Northern Ireland and starting here. So, we’ve got a pretty busy few months ahead.

Gatedrop: You’ve been running events for a number of years now. What keeps you motivated in running these events every year?

Matt Bates: God, most people would think it’s money if we are being brutally honest (laughs). But the reality is that I’m a bike nut like most of the guys and I do it because I enjoy putting live shows on. That’s what we do as a business and I feel I am just doing my bit to introduce new people to motocross – that’s what Arenacross does.  

If we fill up an Arena which we do pretty much every single time then I think we are doing a good job. I enjoy it and we’ve got a good group of people, it’s like dining out with your friends every weekend. We are a close knit group and we enjoy it, have fun and just pick the cities that we like.

Gatedrop: For the 2019 season, the first two rounds are going to be in Belfast next year. Obviously, Belfast had it many years when I was growing up and then it took a break away but it’s been back the last 4-5 years now which is good to see. What is it that brings you guys to Belfast?

Matt Bates: Well, we decided that we would take a break from a number of places towards 2008-2010. You know, we have to look at what’s going on in the country, Motocross is kind of in it’s own bubble. We have to look at the economy to see which direction we will go in. That’s the reason we have reduced some of our events now but we came back to Northern Ireland because this is where it all started. You have a good bike audience, you get it.

Days like today and the press days that we do, you get a number of people that come along and excited for it. We can sustain two nights here and all of our shows this year will be two night events. For me, Belfast stands on top of the tree and that’s why we are starting here next year. We need the first event to be the best event.

Gatedrop: In terms of your long term vision, do you see Belfast being on the calendar for many years to come?

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Matt Bates: I do, there’s no reason why we can’t be here for as long as Arenacross runs but we have to be realistic. We have two nights and we must fill up those two nights. The margins are all so very very tight because it’s very expensive to stage so for us to make it worthwhile doing, we have to be here for two nights and we need to see those seats filled. That’s why we are working so hard to do that. To answer your question, we will be here for as long as we can fill those seats for and I see no reason why that can’t be for another decade.

Gatedrop: There’s a number of radical changes to the event for 2019. I feel they’re good changes because in the past there’s maybe been a bit too much freestyle and not enough racing but there looks to be more racing for 2019! Can you talk me through the reason for the changes?

Matt Bates:  It didn’t take us long to realise that we did the same thing for a number of years. When you become complacent then things are going to go downhill so we said, right, let’s shake it all up. We wanted to make the pro class with the 250cc and 450cc being shaken up. Let’s forget about qualifying through the semi finals to get to a final, let’s put that out the window and start again. We will run straight races for the 250cc and for the 450cc. Then what we will do is after three heats, the top six from each class will qualify into the main event. There will be some other races too like LCQ and head-to-head but to get into that final you will really have to be on your A game.

There’s a lot of great riders there and there’s a lot of great riders that won’t even make the main event. That’s one big change and the biggest part of it is that the 250cc riders get the first six gate picks in the main event. That has made every rider think, maybe I should ride a 250? So, that’s an interesting one!

Gatedrop: You will also have the All-Ireland class here at Belfast for the first time ever. I think that’s a smart move as it should really help with ticket sales.

Matt Bates: Yeah, I hope so. Everything we do we kind of have to do it with the coverage we get if we are talking about sales. You’ve got so many good riders over here. You only have to look at the fact we already have a few in the pro class, we’ve picked one for the Supermini race (Drew Mccreanor) and there’s a number in the 65cc class.

For us, we need to keep this momentum going and I just said right, let’s do an all Irish race. Qualify them during the day and get the top twelve to race in the night event and at the end of the two nights you will end up with the champion. It’s really really simple and I’m already getting interest from Philip McCullough, Adam Lyons all of a sudden and now the next door I am going to knock on is Gordon Crockard. I reckon I can bring him out to come and race.

Gatedrop: Last year there was supposed to be a round of the series in both Belgium and Germany but they ended up getting cancelled. Have you looked at that and though it’s not realistic or have you just put those plans on hold?

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Matt Bates:  Yeah, we have just postponed things. We have got a project plan that can go to any country in the world. We have got some news that we are going to deliver within the next few weeks hopefully which will be very different. The reality is that we can’t take the gamble every time we stage the event elsewhere. Our model is more about going to countries that want us to be there, make it sustainable for us and commercially viable.  At the moment that’s just on hold but things will develop over the next few years.

Gatedrop: There’s always at least one new rider to the series every year. This year it was Dan Reardon and next year it’s going to be Greg Aranda. What do you think he’ll bring to the series and do you think he can win it first time of trying?

Matt Bates: He definitely has what it takes to win and I think everyone knows that. He’s a very fast and hard rider, that’s why I wanted him and I’ve actually wanted him here for four years. I’ve tried every year and he’s tough. He’s very much like a Dan Reardon, super talented, very fast and will put his elbow into anybody to make it happen.  We need that and the fans need that as well but there’s so much more than him. For next year in that pro class we’ve probably got six-eight new names which we are just about to announce. Three of which will be from America.

Gatedrop: Just on Sheffield, the last round is usually double points. Is that still the case for 2019?

Matt Bates: Yes, absolutely. Sheffield will be double points at the last night. It always mixes it up, it doesn’t always give the result that everybody wants as in teams and riders. But, it does give the fans something and every final round of the Arenacross championship in seven years has gone down to the last lap of the last main event. That’s what a championship should be, I don’t want to see any of these guys winning a championship with two rounds to go because that’s not entertainment.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Pic: J McCready