Changing Gears with MotoGP

Why now is the right time for brands to jump on the back of MotoGP

The oldest motorsports world championship is about to rev back into gear in the desert, with Qatar’s Losail International Circuit playing host to round one of the 2018 MotoGP season. Yes, MotoGP. Founded in 1949, motorbike’s premier class celebrates its 70th season this year and with 19 races in 16 different countries, it is a truly global phenomenon adored by over 353m fansi around the world.
 
There are few names that stir the emotions more than the likes of Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Ducati Corse or Repsol Honda across any form of motorsport and the 2018 season excites like very few others when you consider the back story of many of the narratives unfolding from the final Qatar test.
 
Dorna (the commercial rights holder) has had a tough job on their hands recently. Managing global manufacturers, independent teams and superstar riders is a difficult combination but the end goal has always been to produce the best racing in town. There have been nine different race winners in the past two seasons and independent teams have been competing for victory, not just making up the numbers. Of the past five seasons the title has come down to the final race of the season on three occasions and both other championships have been decided at Honda’s home race at Motegi, arguably an equally fitting tribute to that year’s winner, Marc Marquez.
 
In a sport that had been dominated by one man, Valentino Rossi, for so long, the rise of other competitive riders is as refreshing for the sport’s deal makers as it is for the fans. Jorge Lorenzo (currently on around €12m per year) at Ducati threatened to take over the series with his metronomically smooth riding style, Andrea Dovizioso (Lorenzo’s teammate at Ducati) battled for the 2017 title until the final race in Valencia, Johann Zarco (riding for the independent Tech3 team) is one of the newest brightest lights and, of course, Marc Marquez, the sport’s now-established poster boy.
 
But this all comes at a price. Valentino Rossi has been MotoGP’s star attraction for nearly two decades and with his success came significant investment, fan growth, merchandise revenue, ticket sales and so on. Dorna has a reputation of protecting the man who has bankrolled the growth and stability of the championship but now there are complications. Marc Marquez has burst onto the scene and has done what few sportsmen and women have ever achieved – he has changed the way his sport is played. Tiger Woods in golf, Serena Williams in tennis and Michael Schumacher in F1 have all achieved this and now Marquez is doing the same in MotoGP. From his trademark leap from one bike to another, to the fact that Alpinestars has designed an elbow pad, followed by a shoulder pad, he is taking the sport to a different level. Yet, rather remarkably, instead of powering away from his competitors, he seems to be bringing them with him. Perhaps because he still has enough rough edges he is not dropping the rest of the field off the back of his slipstream.


 
As always, there are some downsides. The championship has a heavy male -female audience split (70%-30%) ii and the sport has reduced its presence in USA from three races to one. Recognised as one of the most important markets globally, if not only for its motorbike volume but for driving brand perception, it proves an interesting challenge for the series and the manufacturers. With such positive demographics among their audience (70% track spectators under 35yr, 65% media followers under 35yr) ii USA is a core marketing country to break into and maintain – through riders, circuits and sponsors. The purists would also argue that losing Laguna Seca and Indianapolis from the calendar adversely affect the stature of the series.
 
So, what does this mean for brands? Dorna’s egalitarian approach to sponsorships is refreshing and consistent where ‘healthy teams create a healthy series’. They believe in this so strongly that they will suggest that a brand also speaks to a team to compare options. Dorna has previously articulated that they want brands to be a meaningful part of the series and be invested in the teams, riders and circuits so that their involvement in the sport transcends a single transactional sponsorship.
 
On the whole, global sports tussle with the notion of ‘pay-TV’ v ‘free to air’, both with their associated positives and negatives, but MotoGP seems to have weathered the storm. Its broadcasters have remained consistent in recent years and subsequently the reach has as well. Some stats from Dorna demonstrate the size of the prize: the races are broadcast in 207 countries, reaching 427m homes with a total 28,000 broadcast hours globallyii. Impressive numbers, but it is the digital empire in which MotoGP is King. With a 6bn cumulative digital footprint in 2017, driven by over 20m fans across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ii, the series stands proudly alongside the best in the business. The MOTUL MotoGP Buzz measures which riders are being talked about most on social channels and with only 5% splitting the top four riders, (Dovizioso, Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi at the time of writing), the athletes themselves are equally focused on delivering engaging content to their fans.
 


It’s not only the digital footprint that’s growing. MotoGP heads to Thailand (20m registered motorbikes, 69m population) this year, Indonesia (78m, 261m) and Finland in 2019. With such a competitive and spectacular showcase for their products, the manufacturers in MotoGP (Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, Aprilia and KTM) are urging the sport to move to more lucrative markets. Unlike F1, where the ‘European exodus’ left behind its founding fans, MotoGP still retains the foothold in Italy and Spain, (where the sport is likely to drop the Aragon round, still leaving three in Barcelona, Jerez and Valencia), which will continue to underpin the sport. So, for brands looking to establish a platform in Europe and Asia one need look no further than MotoGP.
 
As we approach the 2018 MotoGP season I believe it’s time for brands to jump on the back of these two-wheeled bandwagons and truly capitalise on the potential that lies within world motorsport’s oldest championship. Its global footprint, rider profiles, progressive commercial rights holders and the best racing on the planet certainly justifies a brand’s investment.
 
It’s time to zip up those leathers, don that helmet and ride off into the sunset…or at least Qatar’s night race in two days’ time.
 
Sources:
  1. CSM Global Sports Fan Survey
  2. MotoGP Audience Data 2017