The monster truck Zombie lets its freak flag fly during a Monster Jam competition. (Courtesy Feld Motor Sports)
Steve Yaros cringes when someone calls Feld Motor Sports’ two divisions “dirt shows.”
“These properties are sports properties,” said Yaros, senior vice president of global public relations for Feld Entertainment. “Athletes compete. There’s no scripted outcome. The perception that Monster Jam and Supercross are just dirt shows is wrong. Sure, they happen on dirt, but they are real sports with winners and losers.”
Feld Entertainment bought into the motorsports world when it purchased the properties 10 years ago from Live Nation.
Since the purchase, attendance is up, TV ratings are up, product sales are up. It’s not a fluke; the Feld team has spent 10 years changing the perception that Monster Jam and Supercross are staged events on a par with the likes of WWE.
Today’s Feld Motor Sports events are real competitions, with athletes who train and bring more than the ability to act for the audience to the table.
“Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, bought the divisions because he saw the potential growth and he had a vision that the properties were more than just spectacles,” Yaros said.
“Live Nation looked at these events as one-off events and didn’t see the big picture: that these could be tours and seasons. Instead, Kenneth saw them as franchises and brought in innovation, technology and storytelling. It was a major cultural shift in how the fans looked at the sports.”
“We’ve really been pushing the message that Monster Jam is a sport that entertains,” he said. “When you look at WWE, it’s a scripted event. We focus on the fact that our drivers are true athletes and are truly competing to win.” The result has been increased sales, increased attendance and increase awareness.
INCREASED FOCUS ON MARKETING
PR has played a significant role in changing the fan perception about Monster Jam and Supercross, Yaros said.
“There’s a point system that leads to the world finals in both sports,” he said. “We focus on our athletes and the training that they do. We talk about the research and development that goes into building these huge machines.”
“It used to just be monster trucks crushing things. We don’t crush anything anymore. It’s about the truck and its ability to race and perform stunts,” he said. “Now there’s people competing; it’s serious and nothing like the old days,” he said. “For Supercross we’ve been trying to elevate the sport beyond its endemic fanbase and bring it into the mainstream and the popular culture.”
“It’s a total mind-shift on how these sports are marketed” he said. “Supercross is a league sport, and you can think of it like you think of NASCAR.”
Yaros focused on getting the word out by placing articles on auto technology in auto bibles Car & Driver and Road & Track. He attracted popular cultural programming like the “Today” show and “Nightline,” ABC’s late-night news program.
The real message is that Feld’s motorsports brands live and breathe in their fans’ lives well beyond the shows, he said.
“All the markets have PR teams to get the word out that we’re coming,” he said. “There are promoters in every city. We go to local publications, the drivers do radio and TV interviews, and there’s a dedicated day for the media to come see the track and trucks.”
The No. 1-selling ride-on 24-volt truck at Walmart last year was Monster Jam’s Grave Digger. The two-seater retails for $398.
Feld Motor Sports has placed increasing importance on licensing; this truck is a leading seller at Walmart. (Courtesy Feld Motor Sports)
“The whole goal with licensing is to make the properties a 365-day-a-year, 24/7 live performance, whether it’s in somebody’s basement, bedroom, backyard or on the playground,” said Jeff Bialosky, vice president of licensing and business development, who has been with Feld for about two years and in the toy and gift industry for the last 30 years.
“Feld is the leader in live family entertainment, but when we are not in a city doing a live event, it’s our job to have our brand live on.”
There are three ways Feld achieves that. The first go-to is “online and brick-and-mortar distribution with third-party partners,” Bialosky said.
Feld licenses to close to 50 licensees, with more than 1,000 products being manufactured. Spin Master is the top manufacturer of Feld’s third-party licensees.
Direct-to-retail is the second way. “We do this where it makes sense,” Bialosky said.” The Walmart products are a prime example of how we utilize the direct-to-retail strategy.”
The third category is products that are sold at the Feld events. “Eight percent of those products are designed and manufactured by Feld,” he said. “These are exclusive items not available anywhere else except our Monster Jam online superstore.” Prices range anywhere from $3.99 to $400.
The biggest selling products are the 164 diecast vehicle replicas. The replicas are already put together, and there are different scale sizes. The most popular are Grave Digger, Zombie, El Toro Loco, Megalodon, Max-D and Earthshaker. They range from $3.99 to $12.99. “They are collectables and impulse gifts,” he said.
There’s also apparel, a shoe line that includes a children’s line, socks, hats and T-shirts.
It takes “several trucks” to get all the merchandise to a venue. Some are self-contained selling trailers. Feld sets up “numerous merchandising booths both inside and outside the venue.”
The products are a “very significant” part of the Motor Sports revenue, but Feld, a private company, would not reveal numbers or percentages.
Feld also struck up a partnership with McDonald’s this year. “We’re in 14 million Happy Meals internationally,” Bialosky said. “Currently McDonald’s is running a “Trick. Treat. Win!” promotion with over a billion prizes in the program. You can win a trip to the world finals, take part in designing the next diecast vehicle, and, of course, Monster Jam products.”
There is merchandise in Supercross, but because Feld does not own the intellectual property to the bikes, it does not pack the punch that the Monster Jam merchandise does. “We do have various licenses from the riders and race teams, and of course there are shirts and hats and other goods,” Bialosky said.
INTERNATIONAL, TV AND TECH
International is providing major growth. When purchased from Live Nation, the divisions had two international shows. This year there were 26 shows in 56 cities in 30 countries.
“It was one of Kenneth’s huge goals to grow international. He really wanted to go to the Bird’s Nest (stadium) in China. We were there last year,” said Jayme Dalsing, senior director of global Monster Jam operations.
Malcolm Stewart is captured midflight during an outdoor Supercross run. (Courtesy Feld Motor Sports)
Each Supercross is televised as a live event. Feld produces 16 of the 17 races. The exception is the Daytona Supercross event, which is still owned by NASCAR’s France family.
The shows now air on Fox Sports, but Feld has a new television partner, who they were not ready to reveal at press time.
“It’s a strictly financial thing,” said Todd Jendro, vice president of motor sports. “Fox has been a great partner. But we want to find the best partner we can. The TV exposure is vital to our 365-vision. The core fans know we’re here. It’s the casual fans, the channel flippers, that we hope to catch on TV.”
“The 2018 TV season has been great,” Dalsing said. “The TV ratings are going through the roof — 12 to 14 percent higher. At a time when other motorsports TV numbers have been down, ours are going up, which is fantastic.”
“The content within it, the different angles, the spider cams, the graphics, the telemetry of the trucks and drivers and showing the heart rate — it’s all made it more accessible and more exciting,” Dalsing said.
Evolution of truck design has allowed drivers to perform in ways they could not 10 years ago. “The trucks don’t break, and the safety procedures and technology are on par, if not greater, than NASCAR,” Jendro said.
It used to be trucks on springs and big tires. But better tire suspension, better safety management and investment in technology have changed all that, he said.
MONSTER JAM VS. SUPERCROSS
Jendro runs both divisions, which takes a lot of planning and patience. “They are definitely two different animals,” he said. “One model is OEM manufactures, sponsored teams and independent racers, with an emphasis on competition for a championship.”
Over the course of Feld owning the divisions, Feld has created new competitions. The latest is the Monster Energy Cup, a single event held in Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium that is a collaboration between Feld and Monster Energy. The prize is $1 million.
Only two riders have previously claimed the million-dollar prize. In order to win the $1 million, one rider must win all three Main Event races.
The 2018 edition was the eighth running of the Monster Energy Cup event. Rider Eli Tomac joined a rarified group of only two other riders to have won the $1M at the Monster Energy Cup. Tomac walked out a millionaire from the Monster Energy Cup at Sam Boyd Stadium this year and so did one lucky fan, Jesse Hebert.
“Fans entered at their local retailers and 10 of them got to fly in and collect as much money in the money booth as they could,” Jendro said. They were also paired up with a rider, and the 20-something fan who was paired with Tomac also left a millionaire that night.
“The creation of events like this has really helped us push the meter,” he said.
Monster Jam athletes are employees; the Supercross athletes are independent racers, some funded by the owner-manufacturers of motorcycles such as Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and others.
All of the Monster Jam trucks are 99 percent the same in design and manufacture. There are slight nuances designed for safety. “Men and women are competing in the same exact trucks on the same exact courses,” Jendro said.
Winners are determined by time in the strictly-fastest-wins categories; the freestyle events are judged by the fans, who can evaluate the competition via the ‘The Judges Zone’ app.
“The fans literally determine the winners by voting on the app,” Yaros said. “The athletes sent to the Monster Jam World Finals are based on the points earned.”
There is no prize money in Monster Jam; in Supercross there is a purse.
Jeff Meyer, senior vice president of event marketing and sales, said Monster Jam sold more than 4 million tickets in 2017 and Supercross sold more than 1 million.
“There’s been pretty significant growth since Feld acquired the business. It’s been driven by same-store sales,” he said.
Supercross is limited because there are only so many events the company can have a year.
For Monster Jam, the sky is the limit because there is no set number of qualifying races a year like Supercross, he said. “We’re always looking for ways to drive new people, more people, and putting on new events.”
Meyer said that Feld bought into the franchise Live Nation put on 20-plus stadium shows in 2008-09; in 2018 Feld will have put on 37 stadium shows in the U.S. and Canada alone.
An average ticket price for Monster Jam is $30; Supercross is $40. “We want to keep it at an affordable price, so everyone can feel good about coming,” Meyer said.
Premium tickets, club options and VIP packages are also available.
The rest of Feld’s revenue comes from concession operations, add-ons and all that merchandise.
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
“Invest in the property,” Meyer said. “The Feld family believes that investing in the assets is the way to grow it.”
“We’ve enhanced everything and added value,” he said. “From the lighting to the sound to the pyrotechnics to upgrades to the trucks. All of that together makes for a pretty good success story from a marketing perspective.”
A huge attraction for the fans is the Pit Parties, which are add-ons before competitions that feature activities, food, interactive elements, music, driver meet-and-greets and autograph sessions.
“They existed before Feld bought the properties, but Feld has taken them to a whole new level,” he said. “We’ve made it a highlight for the fans.”
“The fans can meet new drivers and look at the trucks up close,” Meyer said. “It’s a fan favorite, for sure.”
The Pit Parties normally run from 1 to 5 p.m. Typically they cost $10-$20.
Crowds enjoy an up-close look at the Monster Jam trucks, their drivers and the course. (Courtesy Feld Motor Sports)
Supercross’ version of the Pit Party is called Fan Fest. It normally runs from noon to 6 p.m. and is equally important to both the fans and Feld’s bottom line. Feld reported that the Pit Party/Fan Fest attendance ranges from 20 percent to 30 percent per show, and that number varies by market based on venue capacity restraints for the Pit Party/Fan Fest area.
“What has also significantly changed is the emphasis on the Pit Parties and Fan Fest and making the fan experience No. 1,” he said.
Supercross has virtual reality as part of the Fan Fest content, mostly for the kids at Monster Jam who are too young to get on a vehicle.
The way a competitor gets into the Supercross shows is to first race in an Arenacross race. “Once you win an Arenacross sponsored by the American Motorcycle Association you receive your Supercross license,” said Dave Prater, senior director of two-wheel operations.
Arenacross is being transitioned as Supercross Futures, he said.
There’s the Western 250 class and the Eastern 450 class. There are 17 rounds. The athletes work in teams; teams have anywhere from one to four team members.
The finals in Las Vegas, held at Sam Boyd Stadium, is a combination of both.
Supercross is a 45-year tradition and will continue to put competitors on a stage that Feld provides, he said. “But we are trying to be more integrated and work together with the riders, race teams and motorcycle makers, and create more sponsorships and partnership opportunities.”
HAULIN’ IT ALL
It takes about a week to set up for a Monster Jam show.
It takes 14 trailers to get a Monster Jam into a stadium; it takes eight trailers for an arena show.
The Monster Jam tires are manufactured by Goodyear and Firestone. Tires must be 66 inches high and 43 inches wide. Tires are customized and hand cut to accommodate track conditions and reduce weight. Cutting one tire takes about 50 hours. Average cost: $2,600 each.
“We own and operate 56 of our own trucks,” Dalsing said. “Internationally there are 22 containers. Two Monster Trucks fit into a container.”
The dirt is important to a Feld Motor Sports event.
“We try to source the dirt ahead if time,” Prater said.
In some places, Feld stores the dirt. Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., is a good example. “The dirt becomes a parking lot when we are not there,” said Prater. Thirty percent to 40 percent of the venues store Feld’s dirt. If no such arrangement exists, the dirt has to be sourced and trucked in.
“We have a dirt we like, but it varies regionally,” Dalsing said. “The best dirt is a combination of clay and sand, and that’s not easy to find in some parts of the country. “It can’t be too much clay or the trucks will roll over.”
Dan Allen, the track construction head, oversees the track construction team and he is ultimately is responsible for the dirt.
MONSTER JAM U
Monster Jam University was another brainchild of the Felds. It’s in Paxton, Ill., on 20 acres, and it’s where Feld sends prospective athletes to learn and train.
“The drivers get to experience a real track and they can hone their skills there,” Jendro said. “They can work on signature moves in a safe and controlled environment.”
The students also get media training. “We look for people with both personality and skill,” he said. “Once at the university, we can really tell if that student ‘has it’ or not.”
“The great part about the university is that it’s gone a long way in changing the perception of Monster Jam,” he said, from that of a sport more for rural audiences.
Ten years ago, the average driver was a white male in his mid-30s. Now the drivers are much more diverse — there are 16 female drivers along with two African American Monster Jam drivers, Bari Musawwir and Bernard Lyght, and two Hispanic Monster Jam drivers, Mark List and Armando Castro.
Monster Jam demographics lean more toward families with young children, Feld says. (Courtesy Feld Motor Sports)
The fan demographics have also taken a dramatic shift. Today for Monster Jam, families with kids attend the most shows. For Supercross, it’s males 18-31.
“The targeted pie that Monster Jam was 10 years ago has broadened up, there’s no doubt about it,” Jendro said. “A newer demographic has stepped in to take the place of the previous demographic.”
“We’re trending upper class,” Dalsing said. “Over the course of time we’ve really changed the demographics of who is attending Monster Jam shows. Today, our demos show that the average income of a person attending one of our shows is $96,000 and a suburban family.”
“It’s moms bringing their kids; we’re connecting with kids. Transitioning to younger drivers — male and female, that are relatable — has helped a great deal. The stigma that it’s backwoods and scripted is slowly dissipating,” he said.
FELD TAKES CONTROL
Feld like control, so much so that they run their own concessions at their events.
“We want as much control on the fan experience as possible,” Dalsing said. “When we have the opportunity to deal with any aspect of the experience, we take it.”
Feld has a division — Feld Consumer Products — that brings in items they want at their events like cotton candy, snow-cones and pretzels.
The venues do not shut down their normal concessions; the Feld products are in addition. Alcohol is controlled by the facilities. “Most of the arenas and stadiums sell alcohol,” he said.
Monster Jam has 550 employees; Supercross has 100. Corporate headquarters moved, from Northern Virginia to Palmetto, Fla., last year. There are 600 employees in Palmetto alone.
“The way we operate is very different than other event companies,” he said. “We do everything in-house. We promote and book with no outside services. We tend to be fully vertically integrated. Everyone who promotes the shows, even if they work from a satellite office, is a Feld employee. Our employees live and work and breathe in the markets around the country. All the Feld entertainment properties run this way.”
“The major thing that has changed in the 10 years Feld has owned Supercross is that before Feld controlled it, the sport was focused on individual events instead of treating it like a franchise. It was 100 percent focused on the ticket sales,” Prater said. “Now, Feld treats it as brand marketing on a national and international platform.”
The Felds have a willingness to grow the brand by spending money, he said. “We were just a wintertime business to Live Nation,” he said. “The Felds took a whole different view.”
Prater said that Feld has invested “a substantial amount of money — tens of millions of dollars” — and he thinks the record numbers and the TV ratings prove that it’s paying off.
“Attendance has increased dramatically, our television audience has swelled, and merchandise sales keep going up,” Prater said.
One of the ways Feld is reinvesting is by trying to stop the trend of motorcycle riders being over 40 and no longer buying products.
“We developed the RIDE program, which is a strategic move to introduce new riders to the sport,” he said.
Since Feld acquired the divisions, efficiencies have grown, he said. “We share many of the same stadiums. Whenever we can, we try to do Supercross and Monster Jam on back-to-back weekends. This allows us to keep the tracks (and) the dirt, and save on labor.”
“We’re at Angel Stadium for 2 1/2 months,” he said as an example of how synergy works between the two Feld divisions.
“The vision of where we could take the brands was paramount to the Feld family,” said
Jendro. “The presentation of the live events has changed noticeably. The Felds know how to put on a show, engage the fans and keep their properties in the minds of the fans 365. It’s not like the old days, when we’d roll into town and then not be heard from, or spoken about, until we rolled in the next year.
“The Felds are engaged operators, they are always accessible, and they provide a lot of direction.”
“Monster Jam is at the strongest point it’s ever been and that’s due to the Feld family’s belief in growing the sport as much as humanly possible,” Dalsing said. “It’s about making the trucks better, the show better, and the huge growth is because of what the Felds put back into this company.”
Feld controls it all. “We do all the production on the live events, the TV shows, the TV spots, the billboards, everything we can control, we do,” Dalsing said. “We want to be the ones who take charge. We’re a one-stop shop.”