Two plus two equals three: Ken Adelson instrumental in SMX's watershed moment

The mathematics of a partnership are often difficult and they do not always have well-defined answers.

One plus one should always equal two. But sometimes it equals three such as the combination of the Monster Energy Supercross (SX) and Pro Motocross (MX) series that has given birth to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship, which begins in two weeks at zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina on September 9.

Fuzzy math is the partial inclusion of elements in a set on a spectrum. The parts do not always equal the whole. In the case of the Supercross and Motocross alliance, the sum is much greater.

The two series have always shared the same riders and had a friendly relationship. What began as a conversation about media rights ended with plans for the SMX Championship, a three-race playoff that will crown champions in the 450 and 250 classes.

This ripple effect of the collaboration has affected every aspect of the sport, but none of these changes were more impactful than in the broadcast coverage.

This season all 17 rounds of the Supercross series, 11 rounds of Motocross and three playoff races are streamed on Peacock with additional coverage on the NBC Sports’ network of sites.

Consistency is king. Viewership numbers skyrocketed; knowing where to find the race each Saturday is a major part of the equation. Uniformity in broadcast coverage is another of those intangible things that impacts the unification to the high degree. Best practices from previous SX and MX broadcast seasons came together in the production truck and created innovative ideas.

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SAt the Helm.

Helming this coverage is Senior Director of Broadcasting for Feld Entertainment, Ken Adelson. His team has brought well-established practices from Supercross and merged them with thos of Motocross. As Pro Motocross lead broadcaster Jason Weigandt reminded us in another part of this series, a room full of brilliant minds are better than one.

"There's definitely a new level of community and collaboration which benefits (both series)," Adelson told NBC Sports. "There's already been a number of things in the shows that are different in the Motocross world that we were able to kind of bring from what we had done in Supercross that carry over."

Broadcasts are created in layers. The result fans see on their television, phone or tablet screen merges technology, expertise and innovation.

"It's content, promotions and technology," Adelson described the formula. "It's really a marriage of all of that - and we try to capture all of this.

"When I say content, it's talking about this as one series and, and talking about these races and giving them their own unique identities. But they are all part of this one series that's leading to a championship. Doing that from the beginning of the Supercross season includes highlighting the racers and their skills across the two disciplines.

"Promotionally, it's a multi-pronged thing. It's that we're promoting it that way through NBC and our own channels as well."

Supercross and motocross have different needs. Production in a stadium with extremely limited room to maneuver for both the riders and television crew requires one set of skills. Working with longer tracks and natural terrain is something else entirely. An average Supercross track is around a third-mile in length. Motocross measures in at four to five times that distance.

"And then you get to you to the shows themselves," Adelson continued. "We've added and keep increasing that level of making it entertaining, informative. Making people stop and take notice. We added virtual graphics which benefit the viewership. It helps make the race more watchable. Virtual graphics were really well received at Supercross and then we added (technology such as) race pointers. The pointers have really kind of flourished in motocross with the more room (of the longer track distances)."

Adelson brings decades of experience to his role. With roots in the NBA, he's shepherded established broadcast efforts and startups that include multiple racing disciplines. Working with ESPN and the NHRA gave him an appreciation for racing. He added oval track racing to his portfolio and learned about horsepower of a different kinds when he was key in the development of America's Best Racing, a series on horse racing, for the Fox Networks.

MX Ironman 2023 James Stewart.JPG

The Devil is in the Details

Over the years, MX and their partners learned the best places for camera placements but try as they might a natural terrain course has obstacles such as trees and hills. A solution to this problem was to add a second drone to the mix.

"The devil is in in the details, "Adelson said. "That impacts what people are watching throughout the entire race, not just individual segments. It's part of the fabric of the show.

"Getting an extra drone has really helped enhance the motocross coverage. We've really helped take that to another level in terms of making it easy for people to watch and easy to relate to what they're seeing on the screen. It was very important to be able to keep the drone in the air at all times and to be able to keep that level of overview with such a big track to cover. One of those drones is the racing drone, which gives more flexibility, maneuverability, to show the race.

Other additions include a mobile studio for the on-air talent with two color commentators for most races. Former riders Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart add their legendary knowledge to Weigandt's play-by-play descriptions and in 2023 they are able to do so from the comfort of a trailer than is positioned with a backdrop of the track.

"When I was looking at everything last year, I felt the announcers seemed disconnected," Adelson said. "They were in the back in a truck. They were on site, but to me as a fan, they looked like they were just disconnected.

"Having the announcers with a window to the track like we've done, it gives that subtle, unspoken visual that you are seeing what's happening. It gives us another opportunity to showcase that without having to say it because people are able to see it. It was really important to create (a studio) that gave us that that window. It was not an easy thing to figure out. They needed temperature control, they needed sound control, they had to have a window that was able to not reflect.”

Network coverage is necessary to grow the sport. This programming adds fresh eyes each week and introduces fans of other sports to the action that is motorcycle racing. It's only part of the equation, however. Streaming the majority of races on Peacock not only allows for all 31 rounds to be covered live, there is ample time to add elements such as a 30-minute halftime show and post-race coverage for additional coverage serving the hardcore fan.

There is a benefit to the riders as well. The 30-minute break in the middle of the action allows them to recover more fully and have more energy for the second motos.

And there is that essential element few like to discuss: commercials. Streaming coverage allows for non-stop action.

"One of the big (changes) in motocross is we added uninterrupted motos," Adelson said. "We thought it was very important to show the races, like we do in Supercross, without commercials. Obviously, you miss a lot during a commercial so we worked with NBC and our team to format the show."

As attention turns to the playoffs, these innovations will be utilized in stadiums once more. The playoff-opener at zMax Dragway will be a hybrid of Supercross and Motocross tracks, but the real estate is once more manageable. From there, the SMX playoffs head to Chicagoland Speedway on September 16 with a track build that will take twice as long as a standard stadium track since the venue has been idle since NASCAR last hosted a race there in 2020.

The SMX playoffs will end the season with the finale on September 23 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the birthplace of the Superbowl of Motocross, which eventually was rebranded as Supercross.

How the SuperMotocross series is changing the sport
Carrie Coombs-Russell reflects on the SMX World Championship
Jason Weigandt on the changes to broadcast production
How a conversation about media rights created SMX