Terry O’Neill  Interview – Part One

Swann Superbikes / Formula Xtreme head honcho Terry O’Neill chats with Trevor Hedge

Terry, after last year, 2015, having your best season ever, with some of the best racing we’ve ever seen in Australia, this year, 2016, your series is missing the two major factory teams. Due to various reasons, Crankt Protein Honda and the Yamaha Racing Team chose to leap the fence back over to ASBK. That’s certainly reduced the number of superbike competitors at the pointy end of the Swann Superbikes field, how has that affected the series as a whole?

FX-ASC 2015 Round Three SMP - Saturday AFX-SBK Race Two Start
FX-ASC 2015 Round Three SMP – Saturday AFX-SBK Race Two Start

“Actually it hasn’t affected the riders at the pointy end of the field, there’s just different riders at the pointy end of the field. But it’s gone back to being a privateer series, just as the ASBK has been at various times over the years. Teams come and teams go. Yes, right now they are not racing in our series, but who knows what they will do in the future.

“The reality is that we still have some great racing, and we are focusing our whole television and coverage on promoting the privateers – these are the guys who are, in general, paying for their own racing. And these are the actual backbone of racing in Australia. Yes we’ve lost the factory teams, as of the end of last year. There was a few reasons for that, and you know what they are, as would most of your readers.

Troy Herfoss leads Wayne Maxwell at Winton
Troy Herfoss leads Wayne Maxwell at Winton 2015

“But the reality is that the racing is really good. The recent Queensland round is one of our rescheduled events, because of the troubles our friends at M.A. caused us at the end of last year, so this event shouldn’t have been on. And of course, as a result, this one was always going to struggle, one week after MotoGP, and one week before a big race event at Eastern Creek.

“So we were lucky enough that Queensland Raceway were prepared to give us another day, so we could actually reschedule the event. Our calendar was announced, then we had to redo it all in February after some games were played, which you know by now, is just normal.

Ben Burke, Matt Walters, Beau Beaton
Ben Burke, Matt Walters, Beau Beaton

“Every year M.A. play games and every year we just keep on adapting and going ahead. But they can’t play that most recent game twice. So if you have a look at the racing that was live streamed from Queensland, the racing was fantastic, you know. The thing is, our superbike category, while smaller at the recent Queensland event, has actually been better throughout the year, it’s actually been bigger than last year. And it will be bigger again next year.

“Every time the factory teams turn up, the privateers tend to go away. If you think about three or four years ago, when the factory teams came to our series, at Wakefield one year, we had 17 riders qualify within one-second, and we had 25-27 bikes on the grid from memory. By the end of the year we were down to 20. Why? Because privateers in general don’t want to go out there and get lapped and get their arses kicked by the megabuck factory teams.

“Times are hard, and it’s getting harder as time goes on, and that’s why I’m quite happy to focus on privateers. At the end of the day the privateers are racing on controlled tyres, it’s a very level playing field and the racing, if you watch it, is always exciting.

“Is it doom and gloom that the teams aren’t here? Well, it would be nice if they are, but it doesn’t make that much difference to us.”

fx-asc-2016-qld-sun-sbk-r3-start-1-th
2016 Swann Superbike Championship at Queensland Raceway

When you say not much difference to us, it certainly makes a difference in the depth of the field, and the feel in the paddock in regards to the bells and glitz of the show. I have people comment to me that, ‘Terry must be hurting with the factory teams not there.’ I know in previous years you’ve told me that whether the factory teams are here or not doesn’t affect your bottom line. We know that M.A,. through ASBK in the last couple of seasons have burnt well over 500k in losses, running the ASBK championship.

“Well if you look at their profit and loss statement on their website, it was a $376,000 loss in 2015, and I hate to think what it was this year, god knows what it will be next year. But that’s alright, it’s up to them if they want to spend their member’s money. In fact, 90 per cent of the members are motorcross riders, and 90 per cent of their money ends up getting spent on road racing. It’s not a true democracy, if it was, the money would be spent were the riders hold the licences.

Ninja 300 Cup Warriors from left to right, Tom Toparis, Jimmy Broadbent and today's overall winner Broc Pearson on the right
Ninja 300 Cup Warriors from left to right, Tom Toparis, Jimmy Broadbent and overall winner Broc Pearson on the right pictured at the July 2016 round of the Swann Superbike Championship

“I’m quite happy to be running the series that we are. I would like to have the teams here. I’m sure that the teams like competing here too, and I know they do, because the feedback I got was fantastic. The event itself was good, and we had the first live television in 20 years for a standalone event last year, and we did everything we could to make it as good as we could. This year we had a quality video livestream production across all events held on both Saturday and Sunday, that’s another first ever in domestic motorcycle racing in Australia, to have livestreaming across both days of each round of the series.

“More people watch our racing, that’s the funny thing, our privateers are seen more on television, and via our electronic packages, than the factory teams get in ASBK. So if you want to sponsor someone, come and sponsor these guys, who are going to actually be actually able to deliver some exposure to you. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day, Yamaha go racing, Honda go racing and it’s great to hold up a trophy at the end of the year, but they are there to sell motorcycles. Racing is just a tool, they may be passionate about it, but it’s a tool to sell their product. It’s all about exposure and we have the best exposure by a massive amount, including television, both free to air and pay TV, live streaming. At Queensland we also introduced video live-streaming the event via Facebook to add yet more avenues for exposure. We set the trends around what happens in media exposure when it comes to racing in this country.

“As for entry fees, well five factory riders pay five normal entry fees, in our series, so if you’re talking about bottom line, well five entry fees is good to have, but does it break the bank? No.”

fx-asc-2016-qld-sat-r3-beaton-walters-burke

I mean obviously the bigger picture, of having them around, would make it easier to secure sponsors and exposure for the series across all mediums, especially looking at 2017. You survived 2016 without factory teams, and have done a pretty good job with the exposure for your series, across the various mediums. I guess people would be asking, have you been financially viable this year? I guess I don’t expect you to give me an honest answer to that, it’s your business. But in 2017 are you still going to be able to deliver the same as this year?

“Yes we are Trev. You show me your bank balance, I’ll show you mine (laughs). At the end of the day it comes down to exposure. Now the reality is that one of the biggest complaints in motorcycle racing in this country is that no one knows who the riders are. Who is Wayne Maxwell? Dunno. Who’s Shawn Giles? Dunno. Well guess what, that’s the way it is. When it comes to media exposure, even motorcyclists don’t know who the competitors are – the diehard do, but they already know what’s on, you don’t need to tell them.

“If you want media exposure and advertising, it comes down to the amount of TV and electronic media you can provide, and the number of eyeballs. So do we have a problem with sponsors for next year? We’ll be more than fine. We have a number of multiple year deals in place and I’m negotiating a number of deals at present. The reality is I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Next year will chalk up my 21st year as a promoter of road race events.

Eastern Creek 2013
Eastern Creek 2013

“Most of those years I haven’t had factory teams, sometimes there’s one, sometimes all, sometimes none. But it hasn’t made all that much of a difference. Right now am I banking on the factory teams being here? No. And I would be foolish to. But I tell you what, I didn’t have to go out and do all sorts of sweetheart deals to get the factory teams across to try and save my series. The factory teams came to my series because this was the place they wanted to be. And at the end of the day, I’ll just build this series, as I do every year, and I’ll keep reinventing it, to meet the needs and wants of my competitor base.

“They are the people who are the most important, the actual competitors. If you look after them, then ultimately they’ll turn up. It’s a tight year for everyone this year. I don’t think anyone is doing incredibly well. Look at St George MCC next year, they are the only club in NSW and are cutting back to three events. A state the size of NSW with only three club level events… Other states may be doing better, but from what I’ve seen they aren’t. But it’s not just motorcycle racing, it is across the board.

“But that is fine, our future is fine and we are going ahead, and I’m looking forward to next year. I’m looking forward to 2017 more than I did this year, because this year we got bushwhacked at the last minute and next year we won’t.”

 Continue to…. Part Two of our interview with Terry O’Neill