The FIM Motocross World Championship may have concluded more than a month ago, but David Luongo has still been very busy making changes to the series and focussing on what improvements could be made ahead of the new term. Now seemed like the ideal time to catch up with the Youthstream vice president and learn more about what he thinks of everything that has transpired lately.
Before reading the interview, an interesting note has popped up in the last week or so. Youthstream have been supporting the IRP foundation, a group that research paraplegia, in Switzerland for a couple of years now. Thanks to that support and a lot of hard work, some positive results were published yesterday. There is still a long way to go, of course, but it is an interesting point to consider and follow.
MX Vice: The 2018 season was fantastic on the track, but did that have the impact that you expected off the track? Did it help boost MXGP-TV figures, social media growth, ticket sales and everything else for MXGP?
David Luongo: The 2018 season is entered in the book as a historic one. We had a calendar with twenty-one world class events and reached three different continents. We strengthened our position in new markets like Indonesia and came back into important ones, with a country like Turkey for example. On the organisation side, I have to say that we are very proud of all our organisers that increased the quality of the Grand Prix presentation to deliver very premium conditions for the fans and for the riders. While the spectators continue to increase on a solid base for almost all the events, the social media and MXGP-TV figures completely exploded.
Facebook reached an increase of respectively +320% from 2015/16 and 123% from 2016/17 and still for 2018 the dynamic is very strong with a global community of more than 2.5 million fans all around the world. Instagram is following the same dynamic with an increase of 98% for 2016 and 71% for 2017 and 2018 is again on the same spirit. MXGP-TV.com is gaining 40% new subscribers per season, who choose to follow the full-season package that is up to now the very best product for motocross fans to follow their favourite sport all year long without limitation and worldwide.
We produce more than ten hours of live coverage per Grand Prix weekend, where we show also all the races from the European Championships too. Finally, YouTube for the free video content has also had a very strong dynamic in 2018. Concerning the sport, it has been an epic season in both world championships (MX2 and MXGP). We witnessed a level of skill that we never saw before. The battles between [Antonio] Cairoli and [Jeffrey] Herlings in MXGP and [Jorge] Prado and [Pauls] Jonass in MX2 were incredible.
The general level of the world championship riders has never been so high. This is thanks to many choices that we made in the past. The different European championships are also developing a lot and when you see the overall classification of EMX125, we have eight different nationalities in the top ten and that means that more and more countries enter into the access class of the world championship. This is very positive for motocross.
On that same topic, was the Motocross of Nations as successful as you had hoped? The weather didn't seem to put a dampener on things and people are still discussing the action now, so it was another great one.
The Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations at RedBud was one of the biggest successes in history. Despite the weather, as you mentioned, we can say that it was the biggest motocross event in the USA of all time. The camping, VIP and many other classes of tickets were sold out one month before the event. The American fans were amazing and all the foreigners who came from Europe, South America and Asia to support their team had a great time together. The Motocross of Nations once again proves to be the biggest motocross event in the world and creates a very unique atmosphere.
The drama was there in the races as usual with a great battle between France, Italy and The Netherlands We saw an amazing performance from Jeffrey Herlings on Saturday, when he had to stop at the pit after his crash and came back to third, and on Sunday from Glenn Coldenhoff, who scored perfect results for The Netherlands. We really want to thank MX Sports with Davey and Carrie Coombs and the AMA for all their support. For sure the Ritchie family (owners of RedBud facility) for all the work, the investments and the collaboration they did with us to handle this event in such conditions too.
There have already been talks about the Motocross of Nations returning to the USA, maybe even RedBud, as soon as 2022. That has always been the plan, to make sure that the biggest markets have the race frequently, right?
After the success of RedBud and also the collaboration we had with all of the local institutions, we definitely think that we found a great location in the USA to organise the Motocross of Nations. RedBud is the heart of American motocross. We will see what the future will be, because the Motocross of Nations is the most demanded and prestigious event in our sport, but we are very positive about the idea of coming back to the USA and this unique location soon.
The calendar for 2019 was recently updated and most were saddened to see that Patagonia-Argentina has disappeared. Could you explain how that happened a little bit? You'd obviously love to be able to go back.
We are in constant contact with the organizer of Argentina. The biggest problem up to now in Argentina is the currency, with the Peso that rose four times what it was four years ago. We are working with them to find a solution to bring them back on board.
A lot of questions have been asked about a USGP and, as we have discussed before, you are just looking for that perfect location. Do you see the USA coming back to the MXGP series quite soon? Did it almost happen for 2019?
We are always interested to have an MXGP round in the USA. In the past we invested a lot of money into bringing MXGP to the USA and, apart from Charlotte where we had a very good crowd but an infrastructure too expensive to be covered by the event, we did not have the public that a great event like MXGP deserves. MXGP will return to USA only when we find the venue and the organiser who guarantees a successful organisation and good presence of fans.
For sure the success of the Motocross of Nations at RedBud will help and also the American fans have become more and more attracted to MXGP thanks to the strong performance of the MXGP riders, the excellent coverage of MXGP events fans can get via MXGP-TV and the broadcasting of MXGP on CBS Sports Network in the USA and Canada. Therefore, we hope that in the future the USA will be back on the MXGP Calendar.
The first round is currently TBA and there have been a lot of rumours about the Middle East. Is it possible that the 2019 season could start in Europe though? Do you expect this to be confirmed soon?
We are in negotiations with different organisers and we will [provide] updates very soon.
Are there more details about the new rounds in China at this stage? I know rumours have been floating around that the location could be quite special and close to the city centre.
Both events in China and Hong Kong will be very special. Firstly, because it is the first time that MXGP goes to China… The biggest market and country in the world! The Grand Prix of China will take place 40 minutes from Shanghai city centre, along the seaside, and the Grand Prix of Hong Kong should be on the financial district of the city. Those two Grand Prix will be organized with very professional promotors that have the passion of our sport.
There was another big announcement recently about the EMX250 series using an under-23 rule. Explain how you think that decision is going to help the very successful pyramid system that is in place?
Our vision of the European Championship is very clear. The EMX125 and EMX250 have to be the access class and talent-building categories for MX2 and finally for MXGP. The EMX125 is a great success and we saw the last years some of those kids arriving in EMX250, then being blocked and not finding a good team because of some riders who were older and de facto better prepared with more experience. This created a little bit of the same problem then in MX2, before the 23-years rule, and blocked the progression of such new talents.
The pyramid system that we put in place years ago is, again, one of the most important changes that we made to bring new talents into MXGP and this is mainly why the level of the MXGP riders is so high today. Then Youthstream also believed in the 2-stroke championship in motocross and for us it was important to give a new dynamic to the EMX300, with this new EMX2T championship that we will promote a lot. The riders that are more than 23-years-old will be able to continue their career.
Do you foresee any changes being made to the U23 rule in MX2 at any point soon? I imagine the situation is always being evaluated to see what the best move would be.
As mentioned above, this rule is the base of our pyramid system that allows the talents of MX2 to access MXGP and then gives the opportunity to EMX riders to find a good team in the world championship. No changes are forecast in the future.
Finally, now that the off-season is here, what are your hopes for 2019? Are there any big projects or improvements that Youthstream hope to implement?
We firstly really hope to continue our great dynamic and popularity. We do not have big changes in the pipeline and we really want to focus on the details to give the best-possible experience to the riders and the fans. We will continue to develop our on-demand TV, MXGP-TV.com, and the social networks to attract young people to our fantastic sport.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer