BMX: Back on Track and Moving Ahead
1 Sep, 2020By: John David
Like all other sports, BMX has been drastically affected by COVID-19. However, what sets BMX apart from other sports has been the ability to quickly return to hosting live events sooner than most, while prioritizing the health and safety of everyone involved. Our facilities, culture and passion are just a few of the reasons we were able to bounceback (a phrase we used often) during this challenging time. Here is a review of the past year, and how all those factors came into play in helping us restart in a safe and smart way.
First, some background. USA BMX is comprised of approximately 70,000 members and 350 BMX clubs/facilities while annually sanctioning over 10,000 events annually. The organization annually hosts 30 national events taking place across the country at existing sanctioned tracks or arenas. USA BMX nationals are three-day events occurring Friday, Saturday and Sunday, generating $3 million in economic impact on average. The popularity and demand of these events has continued to surge, with our annual RFP process garnering more than 80 proposals from DMOs nationwide.
Cities interested in hosting an event do not necessarily need to have a purpose-built BMX facility. For several events, USA BMX hosts the event in an equestrian area, civic center or convention hall, building the racetrack for the event. In situations where a DMO is motivated to host BMX events but does not have a local track nor an available arena, the focus is immediately shifted to developing a new BMX facility. Combining an outstanding high-need recreational facility with committed events that generate room nights and economic impact has become a hallmark of USA BMX. In fact, four events on this year’s schedule started without a venue but with a desire to host great events.
For an individual sport, any BMX competition feels remarkably like a team; however, the team is the family unit. Our diverse demographic has set us apart as a sport for all ages. Children start as young as two and we have adult competitors 75 and older. While it’s largely male – about 73 percent – those numbers are changing every day. In BMX it is the norm to see multiple generations of the same family represented at races. Brothers, sisters, mom, dad and even grandparents can be seen racing the same event, each competing in their own age and skill level. This multigenerational family participation is the drive behind USA BMX’s huge average spectator per participation ratio of 3:2. Our events have an enormous family atmosphere, with people who return year after year, generating a passion that is passed down from generation to generation.
When the pandemic hit, USA BMX, like other event owners, had to cancel or postpone all events. For more than a month virtually every aspect of our operations were completely shut down. During this time, we discovered that with mostly minor modifications to event operations, BMX was uniquely positioned to operate during COVID-19. The USA BMX staff was simply amazing and as a team converted this challenge into an opportunity to leverage technology as a solution. Forty years of processes were reimagined and recreated to minimize contact with and among the customers. Registration was revamped to shift to over 95 percent online and race day processes were put in place to drastically reduce customer interaction and contact. Within weeks, these operational adjustments were created, programmed and installed creating the path to safely host events.
Additionally, our BMX tracks are in most cases in enormous parks – often 30 to 35 acres – which allows for social distancing, even when you have upwards of 3,000 in attendance. It’s an individual sport, so you don’t have the same level of interaction as you would with a team sport. Most of the people traveling to events are families who have been in contact with one another on a long-term basis, and while at the event they stay together in their “family pod.” Additionally, our athletes are wearing protective clothing, including gloves, helmets and goggles (not to mention long pants and long sleeves) which significantly increases their safety and the safety of those around them.
Today, approximately half of our clubs are operating in some capacity and we are diligently finding enthusiastic hosts for our national events to complete the season. It has been incredibly challenging to relaunch our operations nationwide as each state has its own protocols for gatherings and sometimes, within states, cities or counties have their own requirements. Regardless, USA BMX staff created a comprehensive COVID-19 Operational Plan which is adapted to follow the CDC, state, county and local guidelines for infection mitigation for each event. As a result, USA BMX was poised for an early restart and fortunately, we were able to host a national event the first weekend in June, making us the first major youth sports organizer to do so.
The Bounce Back Nationals in Pryor, Oklahoma, presented June 5-7, attracted more than 800 athletes and generated an estimated $2.3 million in economic impact. The total daily attendance exceeded 3,000 people, from 39 states, confirming the supposition that there was pent-up demand for events. Impressively, the event was created and executed safely in less than 30 days.
The host track, Mayes County BMX, is located inside the enormous MidAmerica Industrial Park, and had only been built a year prior to the event. At the beginning of May, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt formed an advisory group to reopen the state. This was appropriately named the “Bounce Back Advisory Group.” Not long after, an opportunity to host an event in Pryor, Oklahoma arose, and the Bounce Back Nationals were born. Our BMX family was eager to get back to the competition season. They were aware of the risks, but extremely willing to support the new safety measures necessary to host races.
Not only did USA BMX have the support of its participants, it had the support of the government. Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell was present at the opening of the event, showing how much it meant to have sports, particularly those with a heavy youth component, up and running. “I’m thrilled that USA BMX is holding their first post-COVID-19 race at MidAmerica’s BMX track in Pryor,” said Pinnell. “While we are still under social distancing policies with spectators at this time, this national race highlights the new MidAmerica facility in Oklahoma and how live sports provide much-needed entertainment during these times …we’re incredibly excited to have them here.”
The Bounce Back Nationals were the pivotal event, proving BMX racing could be hosted safely and was the first of multiple events USA BMX has been able to host successfully. And while some had to move around a bit (for example, our Labor Day weekend nationals moved to Rock Hill, South Carolina), there is plenty of action on the calendar.
I’m not saying it was easy: in most cases, we had no more than a 30-day advance notice that our events were going to go as scheduled. In multiple cases, the event could not be confirmed at the originally scheduled location and we had to pivot to a new location our team had never visited. We now have two and three back-up locations for each event weekend where we are literally working in triplicate to receive approval to host the event. Despite the rollercoaster and incredible workload, our staff has excelled and continues to provide great racing both locally and nationally for our motivated membership.
COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on BMX, but not in ways anyone could have foreseen. Our job as a staff has changed. Now, we often find ourselves working with clubs and communities to show the local officials in a given area what a good fit a BMX event would be, given their restrictions on gatherings. We’re mapping it out, showing the communities tables and charts in our mitigation plan, and providing information on the ways our athletes can participate safely. Simultaneously, we have created reopening marketing plans for our clubs while also working with the bike industry to capitalize on the enormous number of youth bicycles sold during this time.
Moving forward, we have learned from COVID and we’re stronger for having done so. The USA BMX staff has been amazingly innovative and committed. We’re ready to face the challenges that lie ahead, and we’re looking forward to continuing our events – and working with our USA BMX family – in the years to come. SDM