In MotoGP, Sport Sponsorship

There is no doubt that there have been radical changes to the world of sports marketing and sponsorship in recent years: changes in the way sports are enjoyed, the removal of geographical barriers and the introduction of new digital and value paradigms are revolutionizing sports marketing as we used to know it.

All this is even more true and accelerated in the top championships that, as well as dealing with the usual changes to rosters and regulations, have to tackle global issues and take into account trends that extend to reach new places and cultures. MotoGP,Formula 1, Formula E, but also championships such as the Premier League, the NBA and the Champions League are all witnessing today extraordinary evolutions in terms of marketing and the focus of partnerships.

Below we look at the 5 trends to take into consideration when considering MotoGP Sponsorship in 2020.

  • Change in importance of visibility
  • New geography of MotoGP sponsorship
  • MotoE and MotoGP eSport: extending the boundaries
  • Bite-sized information and sports marketing
  • Valentino Rossi’s final year?

1 – The new role of visibility in sponsorship projects

We have discussed the issue of the change in role of visibility in this blog. Whilst an increased awareness of brand sponsors remains a central KPI in any sponsorship and partnership plan, the methods companies use to reach this objective are undergoing radical changes. It wasn’t too long ago that the size of the logo on the fairing of a motorcycle (or on the shirt of a football team) was the main factor of success of a sports marketing programme. However, the difference was the context: the emergence of new ways of enjoying sports, the near disappearance of free-to-air television programmes and the dominant role of the internet have forced the rethinking of the concept of sponsorship effectiveness.

Giant brands, unaccompanied by serious planning of margin operations, are less useful today in a scenario in which there is much more than just television impressions. Increasingly, and where constrained by budgets, brands choose to forego a few square centimetres of exposure for greater opportunities of activation. The use of Showbikes, the rediscovered use of hospitality tools, social media support, event participation and the use of dedicated photos and videos to be exploited online and offline are all growing strongly because they are certain to reach those audience groups that don’t necessarily sit down in front of the TV on the day of the sports event.

This is precisely the reason behind another growing trend in MotoGP sponsorship, which is the use of Event Sponsorship: short-term sponsorship (one or two events) on which brands focus visibility, gathering media material, such as photos or videos, to be used together with communication rights for the rest of the season. Many teams, such as LCR Honda, but also Pramac Ducati and others, make extensive use of event sponsorship, guaranteeing brands smaller and smarter investments with enormous benefits.

2 – New geography of MotoGP sponsorship

The new MotoGP 2020 Calendar, in addition to introducing the stage in Finland, sees the Thailand Grand Prix moved to the start of the season. These are two irrefutable signs of a shift in the geographical baricentre of top motorcycle racing further away from southern Europe, traditionally the hegemonic centre of the competition. Whilst it remains true that MotoGP is in certain respects an Iberian-Italian driven sport, it is also true that the ratio between races in and outside Europe is now 12 to 8.

The very strong interest of South East Asia in motorcycle racing forces the organization, teams and marketing operators to take note of this change that has already occurred. Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, India and the Philippines now all play a leading role in terms of numbers of motorcycle Grand Prix spectators, in part due to the extreme importance of this type of vehicle in these countries.

Not only do many teams present or have presented their teams in these countries, but there are also certain important names in the Pan-Asiatic industry – such as Petronas – that have demonstrated the ability to move the goalposts and shake up traditional patterns with large investments and successful sports programmes. The introduction two years ago of the Thailand Grand Prix (later revealed to be the Grand Prix with the biggest turnout of the entire calendar) completes the circle, shifting the baricentre of the sport definitively to the east, in the hope of attracting new economies.

3- MotoE and MotoGP eSport: extending the boundaries

In resolutely far-sighted fashion, Dorna – the motorcycle Grand Prix rights holder – has decided to make official and add to MotoGP two innovative categories: MotoE and MotoGP eSport Championship.

The first, MotoE, is a totally electric motorcycle championship introduced in 2019 and that will be on the track in 2020 for its second season. Whilst the Energica motorcycles have no shifters and are driven by powerful batteries guaranteeing 7-8 laps of extreme competition, the Teams, Paddocks and (reduced number) laps are all 100% Grand Prix, ensuring the highest visibility and credibility for the race, right off the starting blocks.

It is a totally different story for the MotoGP eSport Championship; a virtual competition played on official MotoGP videogame controllers by vast numbers of competitors all over the world. Selections are performed online, with races to win and times to beat, whilst the grand final is battled out live on the Valencia track in conjunction with the final round of the Grand Prix. The clear intention of the organizer is to extend the boundaries of Grand Prix motorcycle racing to two areas that undoubtedly represent the future of both mobility and entertainment: electric vehicles and gaming.

These two additions have been given a positive welcome by both audiences and businesses, which need to include new value profiles in their sponsorship and communication plans: sustainability, energy savings, technology, networking and other significant issues are thus brought closer to the more traditional and still effective field of speed and competition. It is clear, in terms of numbers, that both MotoE and MotoGP eSport Championship are of limited impact compared to their big sister MotoGP; but the most urgent question is the long-term vision, which lifts the veil on central horizons for the next 5-10 years.

4 – Bite-sized information and sports marketing

Bite-sized information is little bits of information used in a short space of time. It is an increasingly common phenomenon in the new communication scenario: communication that has to adapt to increasingly narrow times and spaces on television, internet and a new approach by the user, who is prepared to devote just a few seconds to news items and updates. We can see proof of this in Instagram stories, microblogging on Twitter and the super-fast clips that infest specialist channels and the news summaries, now able to cover dozens of subjects in just a few minutes of broadcasting.

As often occurs, sport has been the forerunner of this phenomenon, with rapid info-graphics giving championship updates, edits of goals and overtakes, condensed news flashes able to satisfy the demands of fans who are increasingly connected and less and less interested in parochialism.

The sponsors and whose who operate in sports marketing – for love or by constraint – are adapting to the new paradigm, with the introduction of ad hoc activation, product placement and with the proper exploitation of marketing rights. Social media play a central role in this direction, as well as the increasingly frequent use of micro video clips that cleverly combine sports information and the role brand sponsor, to attract the attention of users without boring and without high rates of abandonment.

5 – Valentino Rossi’s final year?

Finally, to conclude this barrage of trends in MotoGP 2020 sponsorship, we cannot fail to mention a more sports-oriented matter, relating to what is probably the final year of competition for Valentino Rossi.

For years now, the leagues, teams and championships have been wondering what to do when their brightest stars decide to step down off the stage at the and of a long and glorious career. Rossi has been the name and face of motorcycle racing in Italy and the world over for more than 20 years. Thanks to an extraordinary record of results, but also an outstanding personality, Valentino has successfully driven (erm, ridden) Grand Prix motorcycle racing from sideline sport to veritable mass phenomenon: we need look no further than the yellow stands of any track in the world to understand the mark that Rossi has left on the sport. Today, as well as being one of the best-known and loved sportsmen on the planet, he is MotoGP’s biggest asset, despite the fact that he hasn’t won a title since 2009: he is the focus of many of the highest value contracts and biggest audience shares, and the same can also be said of merchandising and side-revenues.

Of course, it is not certain that Valentino Rossi will choose to hang up his suit and helmet at the end of the 2020 season, but it is clear that if and when it happens, we need to be ready for a powerful shift in balance – commercial and non – in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. A lot will depend on the legacy that Rossi himself decides to carry forward in person with an active role in MotoGP and on the results of the VR46 Academy that has produced and continues to produce some very promising riders.

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