In the days leading up to last month’s Indianapolis SX, Feld Entertainment had a very important decision to make regarding Round 11 of the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Series. In the span of 24 hours the NBA and NHL decided to put a halt to their season because of the immediate threat that the now infamous Covid-19 Virus was causing. The world as we knew it was about to change. However, with a dream championship battle underway in the 2020 SX season and with the track already built inside Lucas Oil Stadium, Feld was forced to cancel the Indianapolis round and perhaps move it to a later date. Fast forward to now and the Covid-19 Virus has worsened considerably, and the final rounds of the Supercross Series have now been moved to September and October. It’s been a very busy month for the folks at Feld Entertainment. We sat down with their Public Relations Manager, Sean Brennen, as well as the Senior Director of Supercross Operations, Mike Muye.
MXP: Hey Gentlemen, how is everything going in Tampa?
Sean: Hello Chris, things are okay down here. How are you doing?
MXP: We’re getting by okay, living the dream as they say.
Sean: That is one twisted dream you have my friend (laughs), it feels more like a nightmare.
MXP: You got that right! I cannot believe how fast all of this Covid-19 Virus situation has escalated. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even watch the news, it’s become such a cauldron of scary stats and bad news everyday.
Sean: I hear you. Everything has happened very fast and we at Feld have really had to figure things out as we go. As you can imagine there’s no manual for situations like this one; what we’re seeing is completely unprecedented. This is why I’ve asked Mike to join us today. Together with Dave Prater they’ve been knee deep in this and really instrumental in getting us to where we’re at today.
MXP: I appreciate that, and Mike, good to talk to you and thanks for being a part of this interview.
Mike: No problem Chris, it’s good to meet you, and like Sean said, this process has tested us considerably but I’m proud of the way we’ve handled it.
MXP: Before we get to the decision to postpone the season until the Fall, let’s talk about what was happening prior to the Indianapolis round. Up until the world came to a stop with this virus, the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Series was moving along at a lightening fast pace, both on and off the track. The rounds were flying by and the racing was some of the best we’ve ever seen. The quality of the Tomac/ Roczen championship battle was unreal, and Cooper Webb survived his Dallas crash and most likely would’ve made a run in the final few races. In short, this season was going very well and then all of a sudden it wasn’t.
Sean: For sure Chris, you know, to your point, we couldn’t have sat down prior to the 2020 season and written a better script for what was playing out. As you said, Tomac and Roczen were going back and forth each weekend, Webb was there also, and the final seven races of the series were shaping up to be incredible. Even when we look back at the beginning of the series things were looking very good. We had a sellout at the opening round in Anaheim, and then we went back to Angel Stadium two weeks later and almost sold out again. So over 90,000 people came out to watch Supercross in Anaheim in January so that gave us a great start to the series. In Arlington, we had over 62,000 people at AT&T Stadium, then just shy of 60,000 people in Atlanta, so obviously fans were excited about Supercross and were enjoying the 2020 season as it was playing out.
MXP: I wasn’t fully aware of the exact number of spectators through those early rounds but those are great numbers. From a fan or a media guy like me, I think what made it so exciting were the multiple story lines that were being created every weekend. As you said, the perfect script was being written right before our eyes.
Sean: Definitely, there were multiple story lines being written with a number of different riders. I remember thinking as we left Atlanta that we were witnessing something pretty special. Tomac and Roczen were tied in points at that time, which was amazing. You take Eli Tomac – he’s won the most races over the past few seasons but has yet to win a 450SX title. We’re all well aware of Roczen’s story and all that he’s been though. Cooper Webb, who we thought was going to be done after his massive crash in Dallas, came back a week later in Atlanta and finished third. Then you have riders like Jason Anderson, who was fighting hard every weekend. It was Chad Reed’s farewell tour; a lot was going on and it was all positive.
MXP: Absolutely! Regardless of who you were cheering for, all of the fans had a reason to be excited. So, the series leaves Atlanta with a tie atop the 450SX point standings, and the next weekend in Daytona the racing was once again exciting with a 20-lap battle for the 450SX win. The next three races were scheduled for Indianapolis, Detroit and Seattle, but then later that week things changed quite drastically. Can you take us through that crazy week between Daytona and Indianapolis?
Sean: I can take you through it from my perspective and then Mike can jump in also. I always fly into the host city on Wednesday so I’m there in lots of time to get everything organized for Media Day on Thursday. I was at Lucas Oil Stadium at 7:20am on Thursday with a few of the riders for Media Day, and at that point everything was still on schedule and it was still game on! So, on Thursday morning we were still going racing, we still had tickets we were trying to sell. Although at the time, the projection was for another near sellout in Indianapolis, and all of the teams were getting ready to begin travelling to Indianapolis.
MXP: So basically, everyone was sitting there 48 hours prior to the race, the track was built and everything was still a go?
Sean: Exactly, on Thursday morning we were sitting in the studio and the information started coming in fast. Mike was still back at our offices in Tampa at what would end up becoming our war room, so we were going back and forth. Mike, maybe I’ll let you take it from here.
Mike: Yes, Thursday was definitely a whirlwind of getting information and having to make decisions based on that information. I believe it was around 9:30am when we got a call from the venue in Indianapolis asking us to have a call with them. So, we assembled our team here and got on a conference call with them. At the time they were in discussions with local authorities in Indianapolis about what the plan was going to be moving forward. After that call we discussed all of the information internally and by 11:30am we had decided that we were going to run the race with no fans. At the time we thought this would be the best course of action since the track was already built and some of the teams and our staff were on their way to Indianapolis. Then, around 1:30pm, so roughly two hours later, we got a call saying that the venue had spoken to the Mayor’s office and the Governor of Indiana and they were going to announce later that day that they would be limiting gatherings to 250 people or less. At that point it felt like things were changing for the worse, and between talking to the venue and talking to all of the race teams, trying to keep them informed, my phone was glued to my ear all day.
MXP: Wow! Talk about the situation changing by the minute. It must have been an absolute crazy day.
Mike: It was a day like no other that we’ve ever experienced here at Feld, and yes, the situation was literally changing by the minute. We thought that we had it locked down and then in an instance, things would change again. By about 5:30pm later that day we were forced to cancel the entire event as the Governor had sent out a directive stating that all large gatherings had to be postponed. So unfortunately, that was it for the Indianapolis SX, but at the time we thought we were only dealing with just that one event and instantly started planning for the next weekend in Detroit and what was then going to be a double header.
MXP: What a crazy, few hours that was on the Thursday before Indianapolis. So, you cancel that race but the next weekend in Detroit was going to be a two-day event. That would’ve been very cool!
Mike: On the Thursday evening that was the plan. We had spoken to the venue in Detroit and also to the teams about doing an extra day and since everything would already there, it made perfect sense. Unfortunately, when we woke up on Friday it was like Groundhog Day, and it quickly became evident that we weren’t just talking about one or two races but possibly the remaining dates of the series. There were a couple of outliers like Vegas and Salt Lake City who said they could still run our events so we immediately switched to trying to put together those events as possible double headers. However, as the situation progressed it became obvious to us that the best course of action was to postpone all of the remaining rounds to the Fall.
MXP: Well, let me first say that I appreciate your candor with giving us the details of what went on during those difficult days and weeks surrounding the Indianapolis SX, and of course the remaining rounds. Also, as a fan and as a media person who covers the Monster Energy Supercross Series on pretty much a daily basis, I applaud you for the decision to complete the series at some point. This is one season that needs to be finished in a prudent and proper way.
Sean: First let me say thanks to Mike for giving you that information from his perspective. That was a crazy time, and although we got through it, I hope we never have to go through something like that again. This is a successful series and obviously one that has a lot of moving parts. It’s not easy to move dates around and really change the entire complexity of the series. However, we had to find a way to finish it the right way, and we believe moving the remaining rounds to September and October is the best way to do that. We discussed all of the options with the teams and the OEMs, and while it’s not the ideal situation, it’s what we have and they’re all on board. Now, what venues we’ll use and what the exact dates will be, at this time we’re not sure. Obviously with other sports going on at that time, venue availability is something that we’re going to have to look at but we’ll find a way to make it work.
MXP: As I said, this is great news for the entire sport and also for all of us mentally as it gives us hope and something to look forward to. God knows we need as much of that as we can get right now. Also, I guess we all have to take some good out of really bad situations, like this one. But I would imagine that as a company and as a group of people, having gone through something like this will make you stronger as we move forward.
Sean: Exactly! This virus hit us hard and we had to make some quick decisions to do what was best for everyone. Right now, what is going on in the world is bigger than sports and sporting events. Unfortunately, people are losing their lives and we’re not through it yet. Hopefully we can see the light at the end of the tunnel in the next month and then we can start to get back on track.
MXP: Well, thanks to both of you for taking the time to chat with us. It was very much appreciated and hopefully if all goes as planned. We’re going to have great racing in the Fall as we complete this exciting supercross series.
Sean: Thanks for reaching out to us, Chris. All the best to you, your family and your readers. Stay safe and stay healthy my friend!
Mike: Thanks Chris for everything you guys do for us in the Canadian market. We know we have a lot of Supercross fans in Canada, and like everyone, I know they’re going to be excited to finish up this 2020 season. All the best!