Friday, March 28, 2014
Motorcycle-USA.com gets new owners. (Or rather, its owners get new owners.)
Last year, Motorcycle Superstore, which owns Motorcycle-USA.com, was acquired by the Motorsport Aftermarket Group. Some time around then, the venerable title Cycle News (which had recently gone from a print to a digital-only format) became part of the MAG family, and as part of MAG's ownership of Motorcycle Superstore/Motorcycle-USA.com, CN's respected editor Paul Carruthers became the editorial director of both CN, which is a true web publication, and Motorcycle-USA, which is a web site.
I was happy that, from my perspective as a columnist on the Motorcycle-USA web site, nothing changed. I feel that it has been, on balance, one of (if not the) strongest U.S. motorcycle sites (on a par with Motorcycle.com, which stumbled a couple of years ago, but seems to have regained its footing, adding staff and columnists.) I like working for a company that, through Motorcycle Superstore sponsorships is a major supporter of American motorcycle racers and racing.
In the time I've been writing for Motorcycle-USA, I've seen a lot of changes in the American motorcycle web sites. Cycle World's trying to make its web site more relevant and timely; Asphalt and Rubber seems to be elevating its status from a mere blog to a real site; it's been invited to a few launches, for example. Beeler's reposting great content from David Emmett, but it's mixed in with vapid photoshop design exercises that should have stayed in some student's portfolio. Meanwhile, Hell for Leather (which I used to think was the one site that'd emerge from the blogosphere and become a real moto-media player) has completely lost its way. It's just clickbait, and isn't being updated much more frequently than Bikewriter.
Bearing all that in mind, I paid attention when, a couple of days ago, Tucker Rocky announced it was acquiring MAG.
So, I now work for Tucker Rocky. At least, I work for them a few days a month, while I'm writing my columns.
For those who care, here's a little background on the sale...
MAG was owned by Leonard Green & Partners, which is an L.A.-based private equity firm with $15B in holdings. Although the 70+ companies Leonard Green's invested in are very diverse, you're most likely familiar with some of their retail brands, such as Lucky Jeans, Del Taco, Petco, and Sports Authority.
Leonard Green sold a majority stake in MAG (it will remain a minority partner) to another, smaller, investment firm: LDI Ltd., which owns Tucker Rocky.
LDI is based in Indianapolis. It has been in business since 1912, and owned Tucker Rocky since 1989. Most Bikewriter readers will know what Tucker Rocky's business is, but for those who don't, it's a wholesale distributor of aftermarket parts, apparel and accessories for the powersports industry. You know when you go into a motorcycle shop looking for some obscure accessory, and they don't have it in stock, so the parts man flips open a huge catalog on the counter, and finds it, and tells you he can order it? He's often looking in a Tucker Rocky catalog.
LDI owns one other business, an Oregon-based logistics company. According to its web site, it's in the market for additional acquisitions.
So, where does this leave me?
Basically, I'm seeing consolidation in the aftermarket parts business. I guess the B-school take on it might be that LDI/Tucker Rocky and Leonard Green/MAG are looking for synergies and economies of scale. MAG is moving from owners who probably don't really have a passionate interest in powersports to owners who probably are pretty passionate about powersports.
Neither company really seems to think of itself as a media player, although LDI now owns Cycle News and Motorcycle-USA.com.
On the face of it, that might give the two media outlets even better access to advertisers. (I always thought Motorcycle-USA's business model was a conspicuously good one; if ad space goes unsold, there's always Motorcycle Superstore!)
What would be ideal would be, for LDI and Tucker Rocky to use this opportunity to take advantage of the fact that, in buying MAG, it also acquired an impressive content-generating machine, including some really respected journalists. (They got me, too.)
In my day-to-day life, I work in the ad business. It would be vainglorious to claim that I knew exactly how to optimize that content generating machine, to LDI's profit; the ad business, especially online components of the business, is evolving so fast that all you can do is remain adaptable and seize opportunities to connect your clients with their customers as those opportunities arise, while trying to avoid wasting clients' money on dead ends.
However, one thing that everyone in the business does agree on, is that the content that your business uses to attract online customers is too important to outsource. The lesson from companies from Red Bull to GoPro is, content attracts customers; sales track with time spent on your site. Whether or not you equate Big Data with Big Brother, providing interesting content is how companies will acquire and bond with customers going forward.
So, as an ad guy, I'd say the future's bright. Of course, as a journalist who's watched as the value of expert content has been eroded by shitty clickbait, I'll be happy if things stay the same, too.