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Discussion Starter #1

NOYES: Sponsorship Crisis Looms in Glittering MotoGP Championship
Written by: Dennis Noyes
Borrego Springs, Calif. – 10/3/2005

The Suzuki Grand Prix factory team has been un-sponsored since the end of the 2001 season when Sete Gibernau left the team taking Telefonica-Movistar sponsorship with him to the Gresini Honda team.

A lot has changed since then, but now there seems to be growing chance that Camel, currently sponsoring the Honda Pons team with Troy Bayliss and Alex Barros, will move to Suzuki where John Hopkins has signed for two more years. The other rider could be Max Biaggi who has Camel personal sponsorship but who might be asking for more money than Suzuki and Camel can afford. The other possibility is Carlos Checa who was told this weekend in Qatar that Ducati would not take up his option for 2006. According to a spokesman for Camel Spain present in Qatar, Camel sponsorship of the Suzuki team would not necessarily be based upon Biaggi entering the team and that Camel Spain is interested in having a Spanish rider.

If Camel stays with Pons, Camel Spain will push for Checa entering that team in place of Alex Barros.

Very reliable sources in the Qatar paddock for this weekend’s MotoGP race report that after meetings with Suzuki team director Paul Denning, Camel representatives were interested in the prospect of moving from a satellite Honda team to a full works Suzuki team, and that the sponsorship fee offered to Suzuki is much less than that currently paid to the Pons team.

Everything is very much in the air at the moment, but a quick rundown of the situation of three of the top teams of the premier class leaves no doubt that the situation in the MotoGP championship is worrying and uncertain:

Factory Yamaha, Tech3 Yamaha Gresini Honda

Factory Yamaha: Yamaha has signed Rossi and Edwards, but has no sponsor for 2006. In spite of winning the title for two years in a row, an extraordinary tangle caused by owing so much to Rossi that his conditions were accepted at the expense of the factory team’s major sponsor. Unless Rossi agrees to ride under Gauloises colors, Altadis will withdraw both Gauloises and Fortuna sponsorship from the premier class and may take legal action against Yamaha. Altadis believes that having Rossi listed as a rider on a “satellite team” in 2006 outside the Gauloises-Yamaha sponsorship agreement constitutes a violation of the spirit of the Altadis-Yamaha contract for Gauloises sponsorship for 2006. Altadis signed at the end of 2004 a two-year contract with Yamaha with the understanding, they say, that if Rossi renewed his agreement with Yamaha for 2006 he would be included in the factory team. Rossi did sign, but demanded the right to run a parallel team without tobacco sponsorship. At present there is no sponsor for this “satellite team” while Altadis and Yamaha hold urgent meetings to avert a lawsuit with an uncertain but potentially expensive (for Yamaha) outcome.

Tech3 (Fortuna) Yamaha: If there is no friendly resolution to the Yamaha-Altadis situation, Fortuna sponsorship would also be withdrawn from the Tech3 team directed by Herve Poncheral. Poncheral is currently talking with Dunlop for 2006 and will probably run a one-rider team. Randy de Puniet is a strong possibility, although the strong qualifying in Qatar by Toni Elias might have helped his chances if Yamaha decide they want to keep the young Spaniard in their system.

Honda Gresini: Telefonica-Movistar executives say they are leaving MotoGP to increase their involvement in Formula 1 with newly crowned Spanish World Champion Fernando Alonso. In part, in large part, this withdrawal by the Spanish telecommunications giant seems to be due to the signing by HRC of reigning 250 World Champion Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa will ride in 2006 with the Repsol Honda team, a move that angered Telefonica-Movistar. Sete Gibernau seems very close to signing with Marlboro Ducati, taking away what little motivation Telefonica-Movistar might still have, though he may be signing because Telefonica have warned him that they are pulling out. Fausto Gresini has talked to Camel and Fortuna. In the case of Camel sponsorship, Biaggi would be likely to replace Gibernau, although Camel Spain would push for Checa. The possibility of Fortuna stepping up to sponsor the Gresini team would depend upon the resolution of the Yamaha-Altadis stand-off, but, if they happened it would mean that Rossi had decided to return to Yamaha and, in case of such a major breakthrough, it would be logical to assume that Altadis would want Fortuna to stay put with Tech3 Yamaha. The fact that there was no news from the Altadis-Yamaha meetings in France over the weekend is an indication that, so far anyway, Rossi is standing firm and insisting that he be allowed to run without tobacco sponsorship in 2006.

Honda Pons: The most successful satellite team in MotoGP is fighting to retain sponsorship from Camel or obtain it from Fortuna. Nothing is settled as far as riders are concerned either, except that Bayliss, injured now, will not continue. A successful wildcard ride at the Australian GP by Chris Vermuelen (who rides for Winston, like Camel an R. J. Reynolds brand), could help Pons keep Camel onboard, or introduce Winston, if the former World Supersport Champion and current World Superbike star and title contender were to ride for Pons Honda in 2006. Team Pons has brought several new sponsors into the MotoGP paddock, among them Emerson Electronics, West and Camel. Team Pons also ran with Campsa and Fortuna in the past, but being a satellite team and unable to guarantee full factory support from Honda has made it difficult to keep sponsors on board and that seems to be happening again as Camel seem to be looking for a team with direct factory support.

A look at the rest of the field

Repsol Honda and Marboro Ducati are solid for 2006. Repsol has an agreement for 2007 as well and options for longer renewals, but Marlboro’s future, as indeed all tobacco advertising in MotoGP, will be influenced by the ability of Dorna to schedule races in markets that tolerate tobacco advertising and, especially in the case of Philip Morris’ flagship brand, the future legislation in Europe regarding “subliminal advertising,” as European legislators refer to “un-branded” livery which preserves colors and designs which suggest the branded livery of the team sponsor.

HRC continues to maintain that rider assignments to the Repsol team are not yet decided but, barring some extra developments, the Repsol Honda riders will be Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa.

Marlboro Ducati has renewed Capirossi and released Checa. Gibernau may have already agreed to sign, but he hasn’t done so yet and probably won’t announce his decision until the end of the season. The Spaniard is expected to replace his fellow countryman Carlos Checa unless some last-hour and very unlikely agreement is reached with Repsol to include Gibernau in a three-man Repsol Honda team. That possibility now seems dead.

Factory Suzuki: With Hopkins signed they have offers from several riders, both in MotoGP, 250 and World Superbike. Key candidates are Max Biaggi, Carlos Checa and Alex Hofmann. If a sponsorship agreement is reached with Camel, the new sponsor will have a lot to say about rider choice, tipping the scale in favor of Checa or Biaggi over Hofmann,

Factory Kawasaki: Hofmann seems to be on the way out. Nakano says he is “99% decided to continue” and may not have any other options since Japanese teams have a kind of unwritten taboo on lifting Japanese riders from other Japanese teams. Nakano was “left unprotected” by Yamaha at the end of 2003 and picked up by Kawasaki, but Kawasaki definitely want to retain him. The other seat seemed likely to go to Olivier Jacque, who was Nakano’s team mate in 2000 when the Nakano and Jacque finished first and second in the world 250 Championship for Yamaha. Jacque’s injury in practice at Qatar may cause Kawasaki to look at other options. There were talks with Biaggi, but Max wanted to switch to Michelin and Kawasaki seems likely and probably even committed by contract to continue with Bridgestone. The Kawasaki has looked very good a few times, especially in Malaysia until Sete knocked Nakano down. Kawasaki does not seem too bothered about running without a sponsor since the green fairing actually advertises the product Kawasaki races to promote…Kawasaki motorcycles. Kawasaki Heavy Industries has deep pockets and their initial reason for building motorcycles was no create brand awareness for the huge Kawasaki group of companies. The old story tells of Kawasaki executives back in the late sixties realizing on a trip to the US that Honda, a small company compared to mighty Kawasaki Heavy Industries, was a more recognized brand in America because of all the Honda motorcycles about. If that old chestnut is true then Kawasaki built motorcycles for brand awareness. And if that is the case, the last thing they need is a sponsor with other colors and a different name on the side of the fairing.


288 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
Konica Minolta Honda: This one-rider team built around Makoto Tamada has had a disappointing season, cheered only by Tamada’s third place at Motegi. The switch from Bridgestone to Michelin has not been positive for Tamada who won twice last year on the Japanese tires. According to team director Luca Montiron, the team will continue with the same sponsor in 2006 and, probably, with the same tire supplier.

Still un-sponsored and in a partnership with former Honda partner Pramac, the d’Antin team runs a single rider, Roberto Rolfo. According to d’Antin, the team will continue in 2006 with two riders on Ducati Desmosedici machines and Dunlop tires. No word as to who would sponsor.

Team Roberts: The team had already been in talks to use Honda 800cc engines in 2006, but when KTM suddenly pulled out and denied Shane Byrne authorization to ride the Roberts bikes with the old Proton V5 engines, Roberts began an effort to obtain either Honda RC211V or Ducati Desmosedici engines for 2007. The rider could be the vastly under-rated Kenny Roberts Junior, the 2000 500cc World Champion, though younger brother Kurtis may be called in to ride the V5 machine in the final race of 2005 at Valencia. No sponsor has been announced for 2006. After seeing how KTM pulled the plug on the 250 team after a heated exchange between team executives and rider Anthony West, Roberts’ contention that KTM failed to fulfill verbal commitments upon which their association was based seem more credible.

Blata-WCM: Still running their own in-line fours, a variation on the Yamaha R1 design with extensive modifications, the WCM team with James Ellison and Franco Battaini, is the only team still using “screamer” engines. The wailing WCM’s are trick, hot-rods and with a credible chassis, but hopelessly off the MotoGP pace. Blata maintain that they will produce the 990cc V6 engines for 2006, but, with new regulations already announced for 2007, why would they really do that? WCM, like team Roberts, have sought engines from other manufacturers, but with no sponsorship and already losing money, they would be unable to pay for engines and service without sponsorship, a very elusive bird for a winning team (with Yamaha) now fallen on very hard times.

“Is there anything here that money can’t fix?” (Mr. E: 1991)

With only 19 machines and only six full three-rider rows going under starter’s orders on Saturday, the MotoGP field, over 20% below its 24 entry list, the grid was still very strong over the first five rows. But, with costs expected to rise in 2007 due to the increased costs of designing, testing and maintaining a new generation of 800cc high-revving state of the art four strokes, the future of MotoGP is coming under doubt.

Voices within the paddock are asking how Dorna allowed this to happen. That, because it is irrelevant, is the wrong question. The problem for Dorna, the MSMA (manufacturers association) and the FIM is what can be done about it now. Satellite teams are bleeding money and either have no sponsors (d’ Antin, WCM and Roberts) or are in danger of losing sponsors (Camel Honda Pons and Fortuna Yamaha Tech3).

Bernie Ecclestone, back in 1991 when he was deciding whether to take over motorcycle racing, asked former Suzuki race director Garry Taylor to make a report listing all the problems faces by the Grand Prix teams. When he bought it to Bernie’s office, the Formula 1 Czar, pushed it aside and, according to legend, asked a simple question: “Is there anything in here that money can’t fix?”

“No,” said Garry.

“Then,” Mr. E is reported to have said, “That is all you needed to put in your report.”

If Ecclestone finally decided to sell the whole GP commercial rights package to Dorna, it must have been because he didn’t see any easy answer to motorcycle racing’s only problem.

If Mr. E. asked for a report today, the major problems would still be about money.

Rossi has driven a deal with Yamaha that has put Yamaha in the cross-hairs of a potential law suit that could cost Yamaha some bother and money and also drive away a major sponsor.

Telefonica-Movistar will be telling fellow sponsors in F1 that the MotoGP paddock is an unreliable place to work because manufactures steal riders from sponsors.

Other potential sponsors will wonder what kind of an atmosphere really prevails in a place where a large manufacturer like KTM, in spite of agreeing to partner (supplying engines and sponsorship for the 2005 season) with an established and prestigious team like that of the legendary Roberts, could suddenly dump the British-based American team at mid-season. The move may have exposed the Austrian factory (and MSMA member) to yet another potential legal wrangle, and given the impression that agreements mean nothing and that one party can suddenly abandon any other if the team is not competitive.

In a commercial atmosphere like this, where even appearances are ignored, and with no new sponsors on the horizon, it is no wonder that Suzuki and Gresini Honda, rather than bringing in new sponsorship, are casting covetous eyes upon their neighbor’s paintjobs. And if factory teams are un-sponsored, what hope do truly private teams have? For that matter, what reason for being?

Peter Clifford, director and co-owner, along with American Bob McClean, of the WCM team that has run the Blata name all year without being able to show more that the photo of a mock-up of the promised V6 engine by the Czech pocket-bike builders, has clearly defined his team. “We have become the Minardi of MotoGP. As long as we are running we save other teams from being last.”

But Minardi, the doormat of Formula 1, makes money. Clifford says that WCM is losing money and cannot make ends meet with only a little over 1.5 million dollars as “start money” from Dorna. “It seems like this paddock is cursed,” Peter said in Japan as we watched qualifying from track-side. “I can understand our problems,” he said, “with an uncompetitive bike, but how can it be that there is no one, absolutely no one, to sponsor factory teams like Suzuki and Kawasaki? It seems like instead of finding sponsors outside the MotoGP paddock and bringing them in, the factory teams are just trying to hijack sponsorship from the few private teams that have managed to find sponsors.”

Echoes from the Dorna past

In 1994 Dorna Managing Director Richard Golding proudly stated in a press release that less than 20% of overall sponsorship revenue came from tobacco. He also talked about new initiatives to diversify and avoid dependence upon a small core of Spanish sponsors, but in the MotoGP class today there are only five major sponsors…four are tobacco brands and three are Spanish. But this would not have been a bad situation if it had been sustainable. As Golding’s replacement, Carmelo Ezpeleta, has learned, TV coverage and full grandstands are not enough. The third leg of that stool is cooperate sponsorship and Dorna, while very effective in Spain, has not attracted any major sponsors other that tobacco companies, now at the end of their tethers and with very few other places open to them.

Where are the global companies?

Any comparisons with NASCAR or Formula 1 would be cruel and unfair. Motorcycle racing, as Ezpeleta has always said, does not have the powerful industry backing that automobile racing enjoys. While others have predicted huge growth for MotoGP, Ecclestone has been realistically conservative. But today, stepping back from the glitter of MotoGP and talking with MotoGP team owners, it is clear that MotoGP is in trouble and that, in spite of a successful USGP at Laguna Seca, there are no “Fortune 500” sponsors (other than big tobacco) and apparently none on the way.

And what is Dorna’s “post-Rossi plan?”

To be fair, Dorna didn’t create Rossi so there was no magic “pre-Rossi plan,” Valentino just came along like Superstars do now and then. What Dorna did do and do well was increase world TV audiences ten-fold and take Grand Prix racing to a higher level of exposure than it has ever enjoyed. The quality of their TV production is now excellent with imaginative on-bike shots and riders who are camera-friendly at almost all times…and, of course, the races are exciting, though not as exciting as they were back before traction control when the bikes were sideways going in and coming out of the corners…but that’s the MSMA’s problem to fix, and one that the engineers, seeking ever increasing efficiency, do not even yet perceive as a problem.

It should be no surprise that Japanese factory teams are not adept at finding sponsors. Their product and, in fact, the real product that the championship sells is motorcycles and motorcycling. Dorna, however, has been unable to bring in the major sponsors to flesh out the dwindling grid and cover lease costs of bikes that are expensive now and about to come much more expensive…and just as fast…when the 2007 800cc capacity limitation runs costs higher.

Rossi, a blessing and a curse

I’d like to believe that Valentino really doesn’t know what he’s going to do next month let alone in 2007, as he said in Japan when asked about whether he would go to Ferrari after next season, but Italian Formula 1 specialists who usually know about these things say that, in spite of what Rossi says, the deal is done and that Rossi cannot carry rival tobacco sponsorship in 2006 because of his agreement with the Marlboro-sponsored Ferrari team. I don’t know if what the Italians write is true or not, but the consensus is that “Vale” is going in 2007.


288 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
If Rossi goes to Formula 1 he will have left behind a legacy, but racing’s brightest star may also, ironically, leave the sport a poorer place and one where only factory teams with the full support of a major tire factory can dream of winning.

That’s like Formula 1, but without Formula 1 industry support and corporate sponsorship.

That’s a rough road to hoe.

457 Posts
Excellent read, thanks very much! Not so good for MotoGP, though. We'll just have to wait and see what happens...

51,153 Posts
awesome post lots of politics and money is involved in any racing organization
specially a huge one like MOTOGP will see what the future brings

89 Posts
I think its great, lots of ifs and buts, well it is that time of year. Perhaps there is more of the preverbial schisser hitting the fan than in previous seasons - damn I love this sport.
My predictions for next season are thus:
Rossi - Blatta Origarmi C1 (its a new MGP prototype - 50cc) World title number 8. Going solo on a Yam, backed by Alice - Smokings baaaaaad!!!!
Sete - Ducati or possibly selling programmes at the front gate to each circuit
Biaggi - Last season, Suzuki or Honda, the juries out
Capirossi - Gonna be lead man in Duke GP team again, gonna be his last truely competitve season. It'll be a close fight too, as long as the new Desmo wont be so far behind the others at the start of the season, and Bridgestone pull their finger out their arse and put some quality rubber out.
Melandri - Step forward contestant number 3 for the title in '06. Last season with Gresini until he becomes a works rider in '07 with Pedrosa.
Hayden - Gotta cut the mustard, else he'll be off, probably to take Melandri's place with satellite team in '07
Edwards - Fave of mine is good ole Colin, Mr Consistancy will have another season of scoring in every race - yeehaaaa, but no title sorry
Pedrosa - Tuff season on the V5, good preperation though for a more than serious title shot in '07 on the 800 machine

I'll have a think about the others future in a bit and bore you all with my views!

Woman Can Handle A LOT of Beef
2,009 Posts
Sponsorship issues still suck ;-) Lots of people sweating bullets in the paddocks these days...
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