Ken Hudgens is the V.P. of Marketing and Television for Clear
Channel Entertainment - Motorsports, the people behind AMA and World
Supercross. On Christmas Day—Sunday at 5:00 p.m.—they will offer an
hour-long preview show on CBS Sports and get everyone ramped up for
Amp’d Mobile Supercross. With that in mind, we thought Hudgens would be
the perfect guy to chat with for this week’s Suzuki Between the Motos.
Racer X: Ken, always a pleasure to catch up with you,
especially on the eve of another “perfect storm,” if we may call it
that. The World SXGP series is up and running and the AMA tour is about
to join it—good times for the sport, isn’t it?
|Clear Channel Entertainment's Ken Hudgens|
|photo courtesy of CCE|
Ken Hudgens: Yes, definitely. I think what’s happening on the track
always drives what we do off the track; that’s where it starts, and
we’re off to such a good start with what’s happening on the track
between James and Ricky. Those two going at it is really positive, and
it got the season off to a positive start, and the better the action is
on the racetrack, well, that certainly makes our jobs here easier.
Everyone last year, for a multitude of reasons, we didn’t quite get
the title chase we wanted, but overall it seemed like a pretty
I think that supercross, on a lot of different levels, keeps taking
steps. From a live-event-attendance standpoint to a television
standpoint to a level-of-competition standpoint, I think it’s
constantly moving forward, and I think this year will definitely raise
the bar up a little bit higher. That reminds me of a line that Chad
Reed has in our television special that airs this Sunday on CBS: Chad
says something to the effect of, “As an athlete, you never feel like
you’ve arrived—you’re always striving to what’s next.” And I think that
is what we’re trying to do to with the sport—we’re trying to take it to
the next level.
About the show this Sunday, I remember Christmas Day on TV usually
meant the L.A. Lakers versus Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, as
far as sports goes. Now we’ve got James and Ricky and Chad on CBS!
|With Bubba stepping up, it looks like a whole new beginning for supercross|
|photo: Paul Buckley|
That’s true, and although it’s called a “season preview,” I think it’s
really a couple of things. I think it will appeal to the hard-core
supercross fan, and it will also serve as a little bit of an
introduction to the sport to the people who may not be that familiar
with it. We’ve done thousands of hours of television throughout the 14
years that I’ve worked for this company, and this hour is the best,
without question. It’s simply not us covering a race, which is what
we’re usually doing. There it comes to either you got the pass and you
didn’t, or you called them the right name or you didn’t. But this is
truly something special; it’s a mix between something you’d see at a
movie theater, in terms of the film quality, and a documentary where it
explains not only the sport, but it gets a little bit behind their
mentality. And from every level, no matter what kind of supercross fan,
you are up and down the ladder. And we’ve really got to thank Troy
Adamitis, who has been working continually for the past several months
on this piece. It has been a pleasure working with someone so
passionate and talented. This show on CBS Sports has been Troy's
canvas, and we will all enjoy the finished product. I’m confident that
this is the best thing that we’ve ever produced.
Troy’s the man—the work he and his crew do on The Great Outdoors is absolutely top-shelf. So is the CBS show about the three contenders, or is it sort of an overview of the series?
I think that it’s more of an overview of what supercross is and is
about. It somewhat introduces the sport, talks a little bit about the
racetrack and what’s important in terms of the start, whoops, corners
and jumps. And then it gets into the features of some of the
personalities—James, Chad, Kevin, and Ricky. Obviously we lost Kevin
for a while, but he’s still going to be prominently featured in the
television show. You get more than just what we can normally provide in
that hour of covering the race. I think you’ll get to know some of the
athletes and some of the motivation and what drives them. I think we
really do a good job of showing people what supercross is really about.
It sounds to me like it would be one of those sort of Bud Greenspan Olympic documentaries that you see.
|The newly named SX Lites division airs later than the premier class by design|
|photo: Simon Cudby|
I would liken it to something you’d see on Beyond the Glory.
What time is that going to be on?
It’s on 5:00 p.m. EST Christmas Day.
As far as the season goes, we already have a couple races in with
one of your broadcast partners, and this kind of marks the kickoff for
CBS, doesn’t it?
Yeah, and I think it’s important. We’ve never really told the
supercross fans why we went from ESPN2 to the Speed/CBS package, and I
think it might be important to kind of give them a sense of why. It’s
really pretty simple; it’s just a matter of focus and flexibility from
our standpoint. I never felt that ESPN or ESPN2 ever gave supercross
its due from a scheduling standpoint, and most importantly from a
promotional standpoint. It was just something for them that was on
every now and then. And for supercross to take the next step, we had to
have a cable partner who would get behind it, live it, and breathe it.
So while we took a small step backwards in the number of homes that are
able to view it, we took a tremendous step forward in focus and
importance on the network. I think that what you’ll see is supercross
parallel what the Craftsman Truck Series when it went to Speed. The
household viewers actually go up, because there is more focus and
promotion behind it. The flexibility part wasn’t there on ESPN, and we
were only able to take supercross to the network on ABC—and that was
only if ABC had any time for it, so it was terribly restricting the
last couple of years.
The Speed Channel/CBS component, on the other hand,
gives us much more flexibility to put supercross on network television,
where it needs to be. So this year there is double or triple the amount
that supercross has ever been on the network. Racing will be on seven
times this season, including the preview show. In the raw number of
eyeballs that see supercross, and the amount of promotion and
consistent scheduling that it will be given by both CBS and Speed
Channel, it’s a tremendous step forward. Couple that with a more
consistent broadcast team, I think in every aspect of every level
supercross television is better, and it will continue to get better.
The CBS deal will have more on next year. I think once we continue to
perform on Speed, they will put more emphasis behind it as one of their
signature properties, and I think it’ll be good for everyone.
Well, the first two shows, as far as the broadcast team goes, I think Denny, Ralph, and Krista did a great job.
|Chad Reed will be featured prominently in Amp'd Mobile coverage|
|photo: Paul Buckley|
Yes, the broadcast team is very important and I think they did a great
job. A consistent broadcast team was vital to me. Ralph Sheehen is the
signature motorcycle voice on Speed Channel, so that made sense to us
and from Speed’s perspective. Denny’s a former champion, and he’s
really passionate and knowledgeable about the sport. In the past, with
Todd [Harris] and Cameron [Steele], there was almost two play-by-play
guys in the booth and we never got a good look at what else was
happening out there that the viewer may not have been aware of. And
Krista Voda, who is a little bit of a different mold for us, has done a
wonderful job in the first two shows. So in my opinion, the broadcast
team has worked very well and has gelled to some degree right off the
Well, it seems like a great time for a new network and new talent.
We’ve got new names, we’ve got new motorcycles, basically, with all
these thumpers. James Stewart said it best on the back of his pants:
It’s a “New Beginning.”
Yes, it’s a new beginning for him and for the sport. You mentioned the
new class names—that leads me to another thing I think the viewers
might want to know more about, and that’s why the Lites and the
Supercross class aren’t on back-to-back like they were with ESPN. Well,
right or wrong, it’s a conscious decision by us to try and build the
Supercross class. It’s impossible to build a start and to get
people-specific stories and something to look toward as the premier
class when you’re treating the “regional” program on the same level. So
it’s important to take the Supercross class to the next level and to
treat them in that fashion. We want to build the big class and to build
the stars, but not at the expense of the Lites class. I mean, they
don’t show the Busch race and then come on with the Nextel Cup race. It
just doesn’t make sense.
Do you get better times if you break it into two segments?
Yeah, and that was the original idea about doing it four or five years
ago on ESPN. If we could break it into two hour-long shows at the time,
then we could place each in better times. And all that ESPN did was put
them back-to-back. That’s not a way to build stars and to build racing.
It’s certainly is great for the enthusiast, who wants to see it all in
one sitting, but this way certainly gives the schedule a little bit
more flexibility. And again, it’s focus from our standpoint: We’re
trying to build at the top and go all the way down, and we feel that’s
the right way to do it.
Looking ahead, when will we start seeing more from Amp’d Mobile as far as their own specific programming goes?
|Hudgens say you gotta beat the man to be the man|
|photo: Simon Cudby|
That’s a good question. Amp’d is really just launching, so it’s my
understanding that they’ll have phone on the streets after the first of
the year. I think that they’re going to start with what they plan to
do, in terms of live clips from the events in Anaheim. When and how
many phones are available is still a gradual building process for them.
Amp’d is equivalent to the move to Speed Channel/CBS in my mind, in
that you go from THQ, who originally had a game that focuses on
supercross and kind of moved away from that focus. Here you have Amp’d,
who is totally committed to the sport. Not only sponsoring the series
but also sponsoring riders and they’re in the supercross content
business. They’re engaged fully and I think that’ll make a dramatic
difference down the road as well.
Last question, and I hate to do this to you, but come Vegas, who is going to be carrying the #1 plate?
Wow, I’ve got to take off the Clear Channel hat for this one…. My
complete personal opinion is that I think Ricky will win the title,
just from the standpoint that I don’t think there will ever be a race
where he’s not in it or right there. And I think that it’s been
demonstrated over time that consistency wins the day. If you want to be
the man, you’ve got to beat the man, so when somebody beats the man I
guess I’ll pick someone else.
All right, so one more time, this Sunday at 5:00 p.m. EST, CBS, hour-long supercross show. We’ll be watching.
Please do. I’m really proud of the show, and I hope that all the
supercross fans that read this will feel the same. I know that we’ve
fumbled the ball here and there, but I think we took it across the goal