Let me clear the air and say that up front I know that this is going to ruffle some feathers for a few reasons. One being that it’s me and nobody seems to be able to match my ability to kick up dust and stir the pot. What can I say? It’s a gift. Another more serious reason, and I say this with all due respect to those that hold the opposing viewpoint because many I consider good people and friends of mine, is that the position that I will argue against is something that many people hold very dear. The notion that riders need to get out there and support rider owned or BMX-centric companies runs deep with people all around the world from all walks of life. It appears to run as deep as the piety of those among us who are religious, and it boils the blood no less than some heated political debate between two people of opposing political affiliations. I understand that, and I understand that my views on the subject are on the fringe but I ask that you hear me out regardless of who I am and whether or not you disagree because like most things I say I feel it’s a point that needs to be raised.
Recently The Come Up, an online BMX publication, posted an article about DC shoes abandoning their BMX program and why it shouldn’t strike the BMX community at large as some mortal blow. That much I agree with completely. If DC wants to pack up and leave for business reasons, I say we part ways with some dignity and wish them luck on any and all ventures involving 13 year old mall-rats. I did say some dignity after all.
The points that were made that followed what I mention above though took a turn for a position that I’ve been arguing with people about for the better part of a decade. Adam talked about a few things that are noble in theory but ultimately futile in practice. In case you’re wondering what I mean I’ll provide a quote for context:
“BMX riders need to be proud to support real BMX companies. We need people who are willing to work their asses off to put BMX riding in front of the public through independent events like Simple Session and Texas Toast. Basically BMX riders need to remember to be proud to ride BMX bikes.”
As I said on the surface this makes total sense and is an admirable sentiment. Put money into the hands of companies that work hard to promote the sport. Look at the list of people and companies that throw their weight behind great events and those are the parts you should be running. There are problems lurking with this position because when put into practice you don’t always get desirable results.
I’ve asked for clarification from a number of different people over the years because it’s roughly the same argument that people put forward year after year when it comes to what we need to do to improve the sport. I’ve never once gotten any clarification outside of vague often cryptic responses and outright dismissal from those I’ve asked. So I’ll pose a few of the questions here and see where it leads us.
First off, while it is great that people should support companies that support the events and riders that get paid to ride for a living, what benefit is it to the consumer if the companies that do all this supporting are completely worthless? Remember power balance? They got nailed with a class action lawsuit for 57 million dollars for claiming that their products had even an iota of scientific research put into them to back up the claim that they enhanced performance. If memory serves there was a period where they were actively involved in supporting contests and maybe even a few riders. Should we just hand our money over to companies that are actively trying to defraud the public?
Maybe that’s an extreme example so I’ll offer a few more, but in the hypothetical so that I don’t step on too many toes. If there is a company that sponsors a major BMX/flatland contest and they make parts that are altogether worthless, why should any consumer invest in their products? Why should people pay for sub-par quality because this company sponsors events? What if there is another company that produces incredibly high quality components but doesn’t invest in say, Texas Toast or Voodoo jam? The company that produces the better parts will fold and the company with the lesser quality product line will thrive.
I’ve been told that because I don’t buy a certain company’s products, I don’t support them. I’ve also been told that because I have no brand loyalty, I don’t support BMX. Why? I think on the whole that makes me a smart consumer that actively goes out of his way to find things that work for him and in the process the companies that make the parts I buy are rewarded with my business. This is how every single business on the planet works at its most fundamental level. You make good products, and the buyers will come provided they know about it.
I got into a discussion/argument about this with Jim Mckay and he could not define what he meant by supporting BMX. I questioned and probed and did my best to figure out what his definition of support was and couldn’t come up with anything. I’ve had the same conversation with other people that lead me through the same dialogue over and over again ending with the other person getting upset and leaving the conversation all together.
If the answer to the question of “what does it mean to support bmx?” is so simple, then why is it so incredibly difficult to get an answer out of the people that espouse such a viewpoint? I wish I could answer that, but I can’t, and the question will remain unanswered until someone eloquent enough comes along and provides an explanation. I highly doubt this will happen, but I remain hopeful even though that may come off as disingenuous to everyone reading.
I do want to support BMX, and I feel like I do in my own way. I ride, I go through parts, and I buy new ones. My buying decisions are based off what I feel my needs are today or what they might be tomorrow. Consumers should have no obligation to keep a company afloat. If a company isn’t making good products, they will go out of business because nobody will buy their parts. That is simply the way of things and no amount of good vibes will ever be able to fix that, or sustain a failing model of business in the long run.
What people need to understand is that the vast majority of what goes on in the business world of BMX is completely out of the consumers hands. Odyssey was a joke of a company until they started putting out products that the market responded to and actively sought out, and now they’re one of the biggest brands in BMX. Nobody that I can think of could possibly touch the diversity of their portfolio, or the overall consistency of their quality. But there are bigger fish than Odyssey, and they’re the ones that determine what events are available for you to go to when you “support” anything.
Flatland was in its death throes after it was dropped from the X-games. We had absolutely nothing, except for an obscure sponsor that was already making waves overseas: Redbull. They supported the BMX worlds and I remember as a new rider what in the hell a Red Bull was and what it was doing on the contest floor. Energy drinks were not a thing then. They sure as hell are now.
Without the support of larger companies like Redbull, and now Monster among a few others, contests post X-games would have dwindled to nothing and we would be in a sorry state of affairs. No flatland company has the capital to hold a contest on the scale of the events that the energy drink companies have backed. That being said, if they dropped out tomorrow out of lack of interest and every bmx rider in the country boycott every energy drink company, they wouldn’t lose a dime. We have no buying power when it comes to markets larger than our own. We rise and fall with the tide, and when it goes in a handful of riders at the top prosper and smaller companies pop up, and when it goes out both of those groups dwindle.
Redbull only sponsors our events because they make money hand over fist and you can’t have Travis Pastrana jump docks in San Francisco every day of the week. The one reason, the ONLY reason, that any of the larger companies take an interest in us is not because anyone there really loves what we do, it’s because they have money to play with and we’re a cute little diversion. We’re nothing to them but a tax shelter. They give us money and then write it off. The benefit being we get a sick contest and oodles of prize money, but it’s a drop in the bucket to them.
So that’s it, if those guys fold and take off we are utterly boned. Maybe someone will take their place, maybe not. The point is that no matter what BMX companies do, the sport will always rely on outside support from sponsors with coffers that dwarf our entire micro-economy. We cannot hold a candle to the wealth that they bring and we will never be able to. This is especially true of flatland. We are completely helpless and by now we should know it.
As helpless as it is a call to arms in support of something that in the end means nothing will only hurt us. People will always support BMX in their own way, or they will just stop riding. If you want to support BMX then simply keep riding. If you are already deeply enough involved to be reading this, or to take an active interest in the comings and goings of our, for lack of a better term, heard of cats, then there is absolutely nothing that you need to be told. You already buy parts. You already spend money. You can make up your own mind as to what company will best suit your needs, and the ones that don’t will either find a different customer or they will fail.
The death of a brand is often seen as a sad state of affairs. I used to see it that way too until I realized that its existence was only being sustained by a minority of people that either threw money at a lost cause (Ie: support BMX!) for no reason, or it didn’t fill anyone’s needs. The people who tell you to support companies are making an emotional plea that in the long run will not keep those companies afloat, and ultimately your dollar will be sucked into the void right before the door closes and they dissipate from our economy. It will have been for naught, and the sport will be worse off because of it.
Think about all that money disappearing into thin air and you will understand why I believe “support BMX” is just about the dumbest most counter-productive sentiment anyone could hold in our sport. That money could have been put to better use by riders choosing the best parts to meet their needs instead of mindlessly wasted on nothing, but that’s where this philosophy can lead you.
The alternative, which Jim hinted at, is that we’re already doing our part by buying what we need. I buy tires because my lot sucks, so that means I support Odyssey. Fair enough, but if that’s true why do we need the sermon about support?
I don’t know. Nobody in the pulpit seems to know either. That’s very telling, and something to be kept in mind when someone makes the assertion that our sport is failing because it doesn’t get enough “support” from BMX riders riding BMX parts when the alternative is not riding at all.