Photos by: Chase Yocom

“Cooksey’s Hard Truth” presented by Scott Sports is a weekly editorial written by Chris Cooksey. Chris will be diving in and out of controversial subjects and bringing you his hard truth about the racing and the riders from around the world of Supercross and Motocross.

I hear people talking about specific riders and discussing if these riders do or do not deserve support from sponsors. Most of the time their arguments rely entirely on race results. Unfortunately, giving and receiving sponsorships is far more complicated than simply sponsoring the fastest rider. I’m not dismissing results as a necessary factor, but now more than ever a rider’s popularity is considered a commodity. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the Kardashian Empire. Another alarming example of modern day social media fame is Danielle Bregoli. If this name doesn’t ring a bell, don’t feel alone. This is the girl who told Dr. Phil, “cash me ousside, how bout dat!” Yes, we have all seen the “cash me ousside” memes. She quickly became an internet sensation and turned her 14.7 million Instagram followers into a million-dollar rap career under the name “Bhad Bhabie.” The landscape of marketing has forever changed, and thanks to social media, popularity is now a tangible service.

In motocross and supercross, social media followers alone will NOT get you a ride, ask Chad Reed. Reed is one of the most popular figures in the sport with 841K Instagram followers. This is gold for companies in search of branding. Unfortunately for Reed, motorcycle manufacturers are looking for more than branding alone. Manufacturing companies need positive testimonials about their machines, something Reed has not been able to offer. A friend of mine who owns a Yamaha dealership blames Reed for the poor sales of the 2017 YZ450F. Even if Reed was correct and the bike sucked, Yamaha hired him to promote the motorcycle in a positive light and Reed did not deliver.

Chad was tough on the Yamaha when he was there, but that was the brand the #22 scored his first-ever podium on (Anaheim 1 SX ’03) and quite possibly his last ever podium on (Phoenix SX ’17). And the brand he won two premier class Supercross Championships on.

On the other side, Reed’s brutal honesty is one of the contributing factors of his popularity. After not being able to secure a factory ride for 2018, Reed built his own program and used his branding power to fund his effort. Companies like Fox, Boost Mobile and Speed Zone paid him considerable amounts of money because of his branding capabilities. It’s estimated that Reed profited between $300k-$500k after expenses during his 2018 Supercross campaign. This is a rough estimate by someone close to the team, but only Reed knows for sure. Reed spent most of the year battling with riders like Ben Lamay, Kyle Cunningham, Benny Bloss and Tyler Bowers who did not take home near that amount of money. Based on results alone they should be in similar tax brackets, but Reed’s branding capabilities make him far more valuable.

Now if I decide to run a team, do I look for fast or popular riders? This question will be answered differently by each team, and it all depends on how the team is funded. Factory-based teams are not as concerned with branding as they need their motorcycle to be seen as the best motorcycle available. Non-factory teams rely on outside sponsors who want more brand exposure. They want to win because winning brings both popularity and the testimonial exposure factories require. With that said, we are heading into an era where popularity is becoming more valuable. If riders can find avenues to draw attention and gain social media followers, their value is measurable and sell-able. Last weekend at Washougal, Fly Racing launched their 2019 gear lines, and riders with more social media followers make the brand launch much more successful.

I would hate to see 2018 as Chad’s farewell season, but if it is he can retire knowing he lived his dream at the highest level and accomplished Hall of Fame numbers before leaving the game a legend.

Companies are beginning to realize the value of social media. Chad Reed and his 841k followers can get a company more exposure than almost any other media avenue. The new way for riders to make a living is by selling their social media platform. Gone are the days of hoping a magazine will provide exposure; riders can promote themselves. With promotion comes opportunity—maybe not with the factory teams, but if a factory team is deciding between two riders with similar skill sets, Instagram followers might be the deciding vote.

On that note, thanks to Paxton_dieselracing for being my 1000th Instagram follower! I jumped into the Instagram game late but am enjoying the catch up process. At this rate, I will catch Chad Reed in a couple thousand years. Help me catch Reed by following me at @Chriscooksey61 on Instagram. Of course I am never going to catch Reed, but I would appreciate the follow.