Written By Zac Ryan
The evolution of the RC industry over the last decade has without a doubt revolved around social media. Prior to the Facebook era all information of events and race results were generally communicated through magazines such as RC car action, Racing Lines or even through web pages such as Rctech or Neobuggy. The introduction of Facebook brought around the ability for quick and easy communication to a large scale of people in real time and removed the delays in such media as magazines. In many ways the live streaming ability of the latest technology has improved communication throughout the wider RC community with everyone now being able to see exactly what the top guys are running and how they are getting there. The flow on affect of this change in median however has brought about a huge shift in the way RC is viewed. 10 years ago sponsorship was really only given to a few tier drivers and obtaining sponsorship was not as easy as asking the company if you can run their gear for a discounted price, it was generally given through the distributors after a driver proved themselves by winning major events. That’s right winning was important and club days were irrelevant as the emphasis was on legitimate competition. Now everyone seems to be “sponsored” and the daily update on social media thanking sponsors seems to be an accepted norm, the companies are loving it as now they are not only getting free advertising they are getting money from their consumer to advertise for them. Good business model I hear you ask?
Well the real question however is how do companies view this change in strategy of customer engagement on the long term sustainability for consumer growth. Sponsorship has now changed from a very select few, to sales directly from company to a large scale of consumers. Now you can’t really blame people for wanting to try and get the best deal they can at the cheapest price, you only need to walk into a hobby shop these days and see the price of a pair of 1/8th buggy tires will set you back over $20 US a pair. How this has happened I don’t know, surely a pair of tires do not cost a manufacture that much to make and here is the problem. The cost of RC in-conjunction with a massive increase in tire compounds and patterns have no doubt gone up in the last ten years and the result has been a reduction in consumers. The reduction in consumers have reduced demand and made it harder for RC companies to make a profit. The consumer does not want to spend a fortune on RC parts which have had 3-4 different margins applied as the part goes from manufacture, company distribution, country distributor and then local hobby shop. A part which may have only cost a few dollars ends up having margins of over 1000% applied. Where does the cycle end? It’s a hard one as the hobby desperately needs new people to keep the hobby growing and ensure companies can stay profitable. At the end of the day we still need the RC companies to be making a good profit so they can continue to make great products. The challenge will be if we continue to see direct sales from companies to consumer and less emphasis on hobby shops due to high prices, the avenue for new people to the hobby will inevitably suffer. Really the way forward is for manufactures to work out how to get their product on the shelf in hobby shops as cheaply as possible. I’m certainly no expert in the matter but I would have thought that it really starts with a revolution in the distribution method of products.
To further delve into the changes in the tire game we only need to look back 10 years. Originally when 1/8th first started there was only three tires in the proline range, they were holeshot, bowtie and crimefighters and these started out in just M2. Now we have 7-8 main tire patterns, which range in 5-6 compounds, that’s potentially up to 48 combinations for one set! This makes racing all that more challenging as when you do find the right pattern and the right compound its without question a massive advantage. Would you believe when I went to the worlds in Perth I travelled with well over $2,500 in different tires as I simply didn’t know which tire and compound was going to work on the dirt, I wasn’t going to risk not having the best tire for the condition! Now the more we look into this the more I see how this can turn away a new consumers, who in their right mind when starting out and trying to get into racing is going to go and spend that much on tires just to ensure they are being competitive? I hear you saying well that shouldn’t, it only matters if you’re a pro if you’re starting out you should run one set of tires, but why? Surely for the betterment of the hobby we must come to the realization that control tires is the only way forward. I raced the Manila round in the RCGP with control tires and it was so clear how much easier it made the racing. I travelled to the event with no tires and spent about $60 on tires and wasn’t trying to guess which tire to run every round. It would have been so interesting to see the pros also be forced into the control tire as I think this would have only made the racing closer and more entertaining.
Now onto the consumer end and the centre of growing the hobby, clubs and local hobby shops have played a pivotal role in the success of r/c in the past. In recent years the focus has deviated away from club racing to more major races, whether they be national or regional. This has meant club racing has seen a reduction in attendance which has resulted in a spiral effect on new people as clubs can’t afford to keep a track open for new people to get into the hobby. This truely highlights the importance of club racing to the health of rc racing. Manufactures are spending a fortune on professional drivers and focusing solely on major events when in reality it may yield a higher return on investment to simply focus on growing a club scene to attract and retain new people to the hobby. The centre of all this if we want to see a change for the hobby, we all must realise the importance of helping out at our local tracks and start club racing again, it’s way cheaper, you get far more track time and importantly you help grow the hobby. A healthy club scene should also drive investment in the local hobby shops which in turn brings more new people to the hobby.
The final piece of the puzzle is how do we make the major racing interesting again? We have to have a media organisation which properly reports on the events. Recently with the decline in Neobuggy there really isn’t any non biased media covering the major events. All we get are biased excuse reports on Facebook from the pros or a boring list of their sponsors telling us how good they are. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been guilty of this, we all are. What we want to know however are the true stories behind events, how this driver made an actual mistake and it cost them the race, or the car actually struggled on this track style and how they need more development, all the things that drivers are never going to write about themselves. This journalism was covered by magazines in the past who received funding from manufacturers through advertising. Now manufactures try to do their own journalism and it is so so boring. Please manufactures, see the light and realise you need to have a third party doing your journalism and let your products speak for themselves.