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Mini Interview: Neil Cameron Discusses the Australian National Series

With the Australian National Series hitting the midway mark this weekend at the Nerang track on the Gold Coast we shot a few questions over to BMX Australia’s president, Neil Cameron. We check in with Neil on the series and see how it’s going so far with the new all in, highly inclusive format that includes a stop in every state for every age bracket.

bmxultra.com: As a long time BMX racer I’d like to thank you and the team for the new format for the Australian National Series. I like the opportunity to be involved at a competition level, I’m not the best spectator. Adding a stop in each state, more classes and equity across classes must have come with some resistance since the old format had been running the same way for so long?

Neil: There has been and will remain resistance and lack of understanding of what BMXA are trying to do with the National Series. Change always finds resistance in the oddest places and I’ve stopped being surprised to responses that we get from the changes we are making to the sport. While I’m a big supporter of elitism, and the elite classes, we need to be realistic about a National Series. Fundamentally the word “National” means the whole country last time I checked – and we’ll stick with taking the show to the whole country for a while to come until we’ve assessed the way this is panning out.

bmxultra.com: We are nearing the half way mark of the Australian National Series how has the response been so far?

Neil: The response has been surprising. Our initial expectations were that we’d end up with mostly locals and a limited number of interstaters travelling – but it hasn’t panned out that way. For reasons not 100% clear at this point in time we are seeing great support from the interstate riders but less from the local riders. We need to learn in greater detail what exactly is stopping the local riders from attending their own state round. I’ve heard opinions and comments from parents (mostly) regarding such things as:

My child is not good enough to ride at a national level
We don’t own a transponder
We can’t afford to ride 3 rounds so we’re not doing any
To address those issues in order … I fully understand someone who won’t take their child to a National Titles at great expense because they haven’t been in the sport that long, and they are not “achieving” (mostly in the parent’s eyes) to a high enough level, but that ironically is one of the fundamentals of running the National Series in each State. It gives riders an opportunity to attend a fairly cheap event in their own state that will have riders from across the country riding at a typical local BMX track – which is the perfect opportunity to experience the big time without breaking the bank. It is also the opportunity for a child to experience that amazing moment when they go just that little further than they expect and come away with a positive result from attending such a meeting. I’m not about to sit here and tell all riders to attend all meetings, but coaches will generally support the opportunity for a rider to try that experience.

To those who don’t own a transponder – think of it as part of a bike. They are not expensive ($38 per year for a three-year subscription) and many clubs are now starting to use timing at their clubs (see our promotion this year on cashback for decoders). With the advent of smarter scoring systems that allow sign-on and registration via transponder recognition it’s not that long before people will need these no matter where they are or what they ride.

The issue about a series is somewhat confusing. Am I chasing the series? Is the only reason to ride a local round being part of chasing a series? In the previous National Series you had to do all rounds to qualify – which stopped a lot of people from even attempting. In this series you (a) don’t have to chase the series at all – just ride your local event; or (b) only do 3 rounds to qualify for the series. In hindsight I wonder whether even having the word “series” as part of this whole affair has been detrimental to uptake – it is in effect just a bunch of big open events spread across the country. Now some might see that as losing its “status” (see comments about people not liking change above), but the reality is that the tour comes to town not for the benefit of the top level riders, but mostly for the benefit of the sport to be part of a top level event without having to travel.

bmxultra.com: Is there anything you would change at this point?

Neil: Lots, but we don’t make much in the way of change this year. People are already not understanding what we are trying to do, so to change things drastically now will just confuse people even further. 2019 will see changes to the way the Pro Classes race and a lot more customisation of events to fit locality – Darwin taught us a lot about what we need to do to run an event in specific locations.

bmxultra.com: There were reasonable entries at Penrith and Frankston but numbers were low at Satellite City despite their amazing facility. Was that expected?

Neil: We expected Darwin to be lower numbers than say Sydney and Brisbane – that’s not rocket science. The surprising (and somewhat disappointing) part was the lack of uptake from locals. We’ve seen this not only in Darwin but also in Sydney and Melbourne so far but those larger centres tend to hide that fact fairly well. We will do Darwin a lot differently next year taking into account the localisation factors of that unique location but that doesn’t change the fact that an event needs the locals to attend in good numbers to make it successful.

bmxultra.com: Do you think the same will happen at Launceston since it’s a little more isolated?

Neil: Possibly/probably/maybe – the crystal ball is pretty clapped out by now … but one thing is for sure – if the Tasmanian riders don’t attend then it will be small. Same goes for Adelaide, Canberra and in 2019 – Perth.

bmxultra.com: It appears the live stream is a sorely missed element of the national series, do you expect that the national series would be live streamed again any time in the near future?

Neil: Sorely missed? Live stream is basically a “service” to people who don’t attend the race meeting and we know from the numbers it is not widely used or watched for very long (that will bring screams from the small number who do watch it). It does nothing for the sport in the way of promotion, membership, sponsorship etc. Yes it’s necessary at the top level to show State Governments etc that we are promoting an area to the rest of the world, but only when intertwined with local content, advertising, promotion etc.

We have a limited amount of money to spend on media. It’s expensive and I want to get maximum value from what we spend here. There are those that will tell you it is cheap – just put your kids out there with their phones and live-stream – and that’s a great effort by my young mate Haimish, but it’s not professional level video that we can take to sponsors, promoters and governments.

Providing an expensive service to an existing member, or the parent of an existing member doesn’t get more participation or membership in the sport. Creating quality content that the local media can work with and we can integrate with sponsors etc is in my eyes a much better spend of our media dollars – so we are continuing with our current strategy in the foreseeable future until we come up with something better – but to answer your question (eventually) – I don’t see us “live streaming” National Series rounds in the traditional sense of the term in the near future.

We know live stream viewing patterns – and the modern world doesn’t sit for 4 hours watching BMX – unless they are already BMXers (so not exactly going to increase our membership numbers).

bmxultra.com: The current format seems to be race 2 motos on Saturday then 1 moto on Sunday and finals, with Elite/Superclass running on Sunday, while as an unfit old timer it makes racing two classes a lot easier to cope with do you think you would get more locals to each round if they didn’t have the extra expense of the overnight stay?

Neil: Interesting comment. “Locals” don’t need to stay overnight (eg Sydney-based riders for the Penrith Round) for this format. Not-so-local need one night’s accommodation which they would need for an open more than 3-4 hour’s drive anyway. Interstaters need accommodation whatever way so no, I don’t see running all the Sunday as a solution.

The fundamental reason for this concept is to get BMX into the middle of the weekend. Ideally someone should be able to fly in early Saturday morning, then have some confidence they can get the 5pm flight home on Sunday. Don’t bother telling me that we can run 600 rider events in 5 hours and finish by 3 – I’m from NSW and we know how to do that in our sleep. However … when you are planning an event you look at Penrith in NSW early in the year. A State Series Round or an Open will drag 500 riders plus. Add in a couple of hundred interstaters and you’re starting to look at something that is getting very difficult to confidently finish by 3.00pm.

If you are an interstater you then need to pack your bags, drive to the airport (driving anywhere in Sydney is a nightmare at any time), check in, fly home, travel from the airport to home and unpack – which makes it pretty damned hard to get up and go to work on Monday morning. We want people to be able to book their flights home with confidence that they can get home comfortably on Sunday night.

The alternative is to run the whole thing on Saturday night. This sounds great and would work a treat in Darwin (nudge, nudge), but standing around at midnight at other times of the year in other locations is not practical or nice – so it doesn’t work.

In other words – read my comments above about localisation of events – we need to tailor events to suit where they are – taking into account such things as travel, accommodation, weather, track, lighting, flight availability, local issues (parking, Councils etc) – something we know we need to get better at (and will do so).

bmxultra.com: What changes will we expect to see for 2019?

Neil: Think I’ve given away a few hints in the previous comments but all changes will be based on refinement for at least the next two years. Change takes time in BMX – and parents/riders need to become familiar with the concept and ideas behind something along with the actual event – so yes we’ll make changes, but we won’t be throwing out the baby with the bathwater so to speak.

Thanks to Neil for taking the time to answer our questions, we’re sure we’ll hear more from Neil in the near future.

2018 Australian National Series event calendar

To find out more about the 2018 Australian National Series event calendar click a link below.

ROUND 1: February 17-18 – Penrith BMX Club, NSW (UCI)
ROUND 2: April 21-22 – Frankston BMX Club, VIC* (UCI)
ROUND 3: June 23-24 – Satellite City BMX Club, NT
ROUND 4: July 21-22 – Nerang BMX Club, QLD* (UCI)
ROUND 5: August 18-19 – Cross Keys BMX Club, SA
ROUND 6: September 15-16 – Tuggeranong BMX Club, ACT
ROUND 7: October 20-21 – Launceston BMX Club, TAS

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