Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The "Crisis" In Our Sport...

or - Why I appear to disagree with almost everyone in RC land

There is a thread on RCTech at the moment with the same title as this post - minus the quotes. Its been started by a well respected and demonstrated intelligent thinker in RC in Australia (someone I'd like to meet in real but ultimately I think would end up being at odds with). Its been started with a view to trying to come up with ideas to counter the aging of our hobby/sport and the general lack of numbers that seems to be more and more the norm in many places. So far there has been some interesting discourse and on the whole its probably not a bad discussion to be having. However, I have a few issues with it.

1) We've had this discussion innumerable times before. Glibly I'd estimate about once ever 2 years or so to my awareness. I will admit that at the moment it seems to be more of a concern to RC overall, whereas, in the past, its been more about a particular sector - Off-Road, Nitro, On-Road etc.

2) The supposed causes are exactly the same as they have always been and will probably always be - cost, time, inconvenience, noise, attitude, unsupportive hobby-shops. There is nothing new being mentioned in the current thread that I have not heard mentioned in the past. So, what does that tell you?

3) Ultimately, will anything change because RC is currently too niche and self-centered to have enough people create a movement in a single direction that will instigate REAL change?

I want use my own experiences with a different niche product/activity to expand a little on how I feel about these points. Now, bear with me as it may not seem to connect at first. The particular activity I am speaking of is Car Audio.

I became involved in car audio just before it exploded in car accessories stores around the country. A small (by American standards where it really started) group of enthusiasts had been beavering away for some time, attending car shows and self promoting their products until a more general public became aware of it. What followed was a roll-a-coaster of brand debuts, car shows and competitions that kept a large number of people gainfully employed for some time. Pretty much everyone who had any interest in cars had some aftermarket audio gear in their car, from simply getting the option 6 stack Alpine CD changer put into their Ford Fairmont through to $50,000 custom competition fit-outs in show cars.

Then the bubble burst.

Big brands started realising there was no long-term profit in such a niche market. They began to force shops to do what was called volume selling, which was something the smaller car audio shops just couldn't do. There was no way a custom car audio shop could sell $75,000 worth of product a month to maintain an account, while at the same time taking, up to, 2 or 3 MONTHS to finish one custom fit. Car Audio became the domain of the volume sellers, the Supercheap's and Autobarns. Certainly some of the niche custom shops, that flourished during the boom times, have survived but they are not the industry powerhouses they once were. Also the OEM's clued in and new cars came from the factory with better and better audio systems with big brand names like Bose or JBL involved. It became less and less necessary to have an audio system changed or upgraded. The car audio industry that I fell in love with just after school and spent so much time involved with now is nothing like what it used to be. Every now and then I see faint glimmers of it in individual stores etc but it fades again pretty quickly.

Now I am sure you are almost throwing things at your computer screen wondering what the F#*k this has to do with RC and I'll get there I promise.

It is my belief that RC car racing has reached the same point or perhaps even gone a little past it. The main bubble has well and truly burst and we've manage to survive on a few of the smaller bubbles that were created, but, they too continue to burst. We can either continue the ride down the bubbles into oblivion or we find a way to create a new bubble. Not for a moment do I think this will be easy but unless we can approach this issue with a completely different mind set, the bursting will continue. As the thread on RCTech is demonstrating perfectly, the standard list of causes for the problems facing RC car racing is being dutifully presented and, just as dutifully, debated.

Its for this very reason that it will become, inevitably, pointless. The RC industry is an incredibly small niche market and activity. While I was studying business and management I did, approximately, 6 months research on the RC industry and I was amazed at just how small it is. We are talking an estimated 1% of 1% of the worldwide purchasing market. It is also very slow to recognise potential issues and work to preempt them. As an example, way back at the beginning of brushless motors and ESC's there were a few quiet but earnest voices warning of the potential contained in the technology. Several years later we reached a crescendo of disquiet over timing adjustable speedies and dynamic timing that has never fully settled despite its eventual banning from most mainstream classes.

Ok... lets try to mold this into some form of coherent point. Yes, many of the issues raised such as costs, time etc are important but the fact of the matter is they have ALWAYS been there. People have always thought RC was expensive (rightly or wrongly), there are always people who don't have the time to commit to a whole days racing etc.

Basically - there have always been people who don't race RC because of (insert reason of the week here) and there always will be because there is NOTHING that can be done about that for the majority. We might manage to entice a few by introducing a new spec beginners class or by shortening race days to keep people from getting bored, but past experience has already shown that those spec classes rarely last and almost anything else you might think to counter the other potential problems always brings with it a risk of driving existing participants away. This stems back to the inherent self-centered nature of RC that flows right through back to the manufacturers.

Unless we are willing to look past the obvious, and entertain the potential of ideas that may not seem as obvious, nothing will change.

For a view on something less obvious - Why appearance matters...

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