ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If hurtling down a mountain on two wheels over rocks, tree trunks and other assorted obstacles sounds like fun, then “Mountainbike Mania” is your kind of show.
It’s the brainchild of an Albuquerque family, brother and sister Ross and Samantha McDonald and their father, Kevin McDonald, who combined their professional expertise with their love for a popular sport to bring mountain biking to the TV screen.
This fall the show was picked up by beIN Sports, a national cable network, and American Sports Network, the sports division of the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Samantha McDonald estimates these network outlets enable about 50 million people to access the show nationwide.
Each episode features 30 minutes of pulse-raising action as professional downhill mountain bike racers compete in USA Cycling Pro-GRT (Gravity Race Tour) events all over the country.
“Our goal is to make it fun and popular to watch,” said Samantha McDonald.
She and her brother grew up in Boston, but the family moved to Albuquerque in 2013 when she took a job with KRQE. Samantha McDonald, 28, has a master’s in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California. Ross McDonald, 25, who has a bachelor’s in sociology from USC, is an avid mountain biker and extreme sports videographer. Their father, an investment banker, is the business manager. Mother Diana McDonald, a retired art history professor, helps with videography. Samantha McDonald now live in Los Angeles, but the rest of the family is still based in Albuquerque.
Although mountain biking is widely popular in New Mexico and elsewhere, they noticed the sport wasn’t featured on TV. They decided to fill the niche, using their own money for the venture.
“The first season, we said ‘let’s just film as many events as we can to get on TV,'” Samantha McDonald said.
In the summer of 2014, they got airtime on local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in 21 cities through a barter arrangement. Essentially, they delivered the show to stations with blank spots where the station could insert local ads.
“We were trading content, they gave us the distribution,” said Kevin McDonald.
He explained how that arrangement helped propel them to the next level. One of the local stations, KAME in Reno, Nev., was owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. A representative of Sinclair’s sports division, American Sports Network, contacted KAME asking if they had any sports content the network could use. KAME suggested “Mountainbike Mania.”
“That’s what really set the ball in motion,” Kevin McDonald said.
They also recruited Christine Detz, a former classmate of Samantha’s who produced stories for the NFL Network, to produce the mountain bike show. Samantha McDonald said that helped them land national sponsors, KHS Bicycles, ODI Grips and Jensen USA. They’ve also attracted New Mexico sponsors: Angel Fire Bike Park, Bosque Running Shop, Fat Tire Cycles, Massage Envy and Mercedes Benz of Albuquerque.
“They were excited to be part of this, there was nothing like it on TV,” Samantha McDonald said.
The family also pursued other ways to gain viewership by working with GDMX, a Burbank, Calif.-based company that syndicates shows, distributing them to stations. Through this connection, “Mountainbike Mania” caught the attention of folks at AMGTV, a network that distributes programming through Roku, small cable operators and local stations.
Viewers can also watch episodes online at mtbmania.net and on YouTube.
“We had to figure this out as we went. There was no website or anyone at a station telling us how to do this,” said Kevin McDonald.
He recalled that sports TV giant ESPN had a mountain bike racing program in the 1990s but it hadn’t lasted. He ventured that their success so far is because they are a family business with each member willing to do a variety of tasks and the ability to communicate.
Filming the events requires a lot of travel. USA Cycling Pro-GRT races are held from January through early fall in locations from Southern California to Vermont. But the McDonalds keep expenses low by hiring local videographers and, when possible, using volunteers to check rider’s speeds and times.
Longtime professional downhill mountain bike racer Mikey Haderer is the commentator for most episodes. Samantha and Ross McDonald co-host the shows.
“It has been a very complicated entrepreneurial venture. We thought it would be a great learning experience and it’s gotten big faster than expected,” Kevin McDonald said. “It feels like we have the tiger by the tail and there’s a world to conquer.”