Moto GP

The emergence of web 2.0 as a distribution alternative for traditional TV content has received a great deal of attention recently, and for good reason. Technology has indeed caught up with the convergence vision that tech industry leaders have been prognosticating about for years. In many households, mine included, watching video content on a computer or iPod that has been delivered via the Internet is occupying more and more time.

For a media rights holder this is both a daunting challenge and new opportunity. In motorsports there are a couple of interesting scenarios playing out on different scales and in different ways.

MotoGP, the third highest-viewed global TV sports property, behind F1 and soccer, has a claimed worldwide viewing audience that exceeds 300 million. For Dorna, the commercial rights holder for MotoGP, television rights revenues are a significant component of a very successful enterprise and an asset they protect and manage with great vigor. In addition to their far-reaching TV deals, Dorna has developed a terrific, fee-based website,, that provides rich, ancillary content and race coverage to an even wider base of passion-fueled MotoGP fans.

In spite of this astute media rights management by Dorna, there is a website that broadcasts the Chinese network’s MotoGP broadcasts live via the Internet without permission from Dorna. And, being in China, there is not much recourse for Dorna at this time.

On a smaller scale, here in the U.S. beginning in 2007, AMA Motocross moved its U.S. TV distribution from the VS. cable channel to Speed Channel. This change will very likely increase TV viewership for motocross and there are some interesting new aspects to the structure of this deal.

Motocross, being somewhat of a niche sports property, is not in a position to receive a television rights fee and, in fact, must pay towards the production costs of the programming. This has allowed motocross to bring in non-TV-media partners to produce and distribute content from the events through the Internet. These online TV rights would have traditionally been held on to by the rights-paying TV partner who would have not likely exploited them.
The complexities of effective media rights management with the myriad of new media opportunities will continue to increase. Savvy rights holders will need to be looking for ways to exploit these and may be able to use them to offset the trends of decreasing TV revenues, increasing TV costs or non-availability of TV time.


Lets look at some indicators. The motorcycle market is continuing its 14-year trend of sales growth. For the fourth-consecutive year, more than one million new units were sold in 2006.

This is important for two reasons. Bike sales drive marketing budgets for the motorcycle makers, and these sales fund racing programs as a key element of their marketing mix. Also with U.S. motorcycling becoming more generally accepted, greater numbers of Americans have become more pre-disposed to watch or attend a motorcycle race, as evidenced by the growing popularity of Supercross over the past few years.

Many older U.S. roadracing facilities have updated their racetracks to be better suited for motorcycle racing. In a previous era, the largest event at these tracks was their CART race (now Champ Car and IRL), which produced much of the annual operating budget and profit for the facility. In current times, the largest (and most profitable) event at these pure roadrace courses is likely to be their Superbike event.

Additionally in the last few years, a couple of new, state-of-the-art, world-class roadrace facilities have been built. Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL and Miller Motorsports Park outside of Salt Lake City have racetracks and facilities that are on par with the best in the world.

In recent months, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has announced it’s desire to host a MotoGP event, which given the gravity in the motorsports universe that IMS has, a 2008 motorcycle race here could in fact be the tipping point for motorcycle roadracing in the U.S.

But, there’s more. This past weekend, Barber Motorsports announced that they were exploring the possibility of hosting a World Superbike event at their facility in 2008. If the Indy and Barber races come to be, the U.S. will be home to three rounds of world championship motorcycle racing.

Prior to the 2005 Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, MotoGP had not visited the U.S. since 1994. And while World Superbike enjoyed a great run of successful events (at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), this championship has not visited the U.S. since 2004. This convergence of market forces and events may help motorcycle racing turn that corner to general awareness and acceptance that we have been long waiting for.

Ok – let’s start at the top. You can accuse me of being biased. Hardcard is formally engaged by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to advise on motorcycle related projects. So there.

Nonetheless, the prospect of a motorcycle race at IMS is the most important news for motorcycle racing in the US in many, many years.

Why? It’s simple. Indianapolis is racing in America—and to much of the world. There are few facilities, if any, that come close to its history, grandeur, size and penetration into the mind of the casual sports fan. Indy legitimizes.

Ask around about NASCAR’s experience after its first appearance at the Brickyard. That event was one of the key reasons for NASCAR’s mainstream legitimacy. And EVERYONE knows the Indy 500. It is the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

As for bikes? If MotoGP gets to the famous Speedway, look for a new MotoGP record attendance number for six of the seven continents it visits with a legitimate shot at topping some of the outrageous Spanish round attendance numbers. That’s how big this could be. And for legitimizing motorcycle racing, it will benefit motorcycling in the US. That’s good for all of us.

You see, Indy infuses Mojo, hosting only three major events a year with little or no activity beyond that. This is in stark contrast to the demand for 100% utilization most facilities face. The few series invited into Gasoline Alley immediately join an elite and exclusive club and the nation’s mainstream media, gearheads of all types, casual fans and captains of industry take notice. And when they do, they’ll love Nicky. And his parents. And his brothers. Go. Watch. Kiss the Bricks. Let’s all hope it happens.

The MotoGP World Championship is a fantastic show. Not only are the speeds and sounds awe inspiring in person, it make a perfect television product. It is made up of three races per weekend (125cc, 250cc and the “MotoGP” premiere class). Each run in a 45 minutes race allowing them to be nicely fitted into a one-hour show with a quick lead-in and some of the post race interviews.

In addition to its tidy timing, the racing is just plain great. Every class produces close racing with drafting, out-braking and multiple lead changes. Even the MotoGP class has become closer, many say as a result of electronic aids making the bikes easier to ride than their volatile 500cc two-stroke ancestors. If multi-rider battles for the lead and down-to-the-last-round championships are the result of dumbing down the riding of the bikes, dumb ‘em down more. The racing’s great.

This shows and MotoGP is firmly the number three televised sport in the world behind World Cup Soccer and Formula One auto racing. Approximately 320 million people watch each MotoGP race. Compare that to a good NASCAR event’s 10 million.

And F-1 is watching their mirrors. MotoGP ratings have surpassed the motorsports television king in some countries, even in Italy—the home of Ferrari. No doubt the close racing and multiple lead changes are influencing this. With this good racing, an easily digestible timeslot and engaging personalities like Valentino Rossi, MotoGP could become the biggest regularly-run (not every four years like the World Cup) sport in the world.

…But never the biggest in the U.S. Yes it can grow. We’ve got Americans winning races and championships. Motorcycle sales are booming in this country. We’ve got a round of the series here. The audience can only get bigger.

Put a non-motorcycle-racing viewer in front of a MotoGP race. Give them a little background: Americans, high-stakes, worldwide popularity of the sport, 200mph+, etc. Invite them over for a second round. Watch what happens. They begin seek it out on their own. By the end of the season they are biting their nails hoping Nicky Hayden gets the win.

If we can get MotoGP on network (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) new fans like this will come. They really need a mentor—someone to give them an introduction and explanation. But put it on a channel that many homes just have on all day, and MotoGP will win over some more fans.

Get Nicky back out making the rounds. Jordan Miller from Red Bull and Nicky Hayden’s manager, Phil Baker do an incredible job putting him in front of mainstream media and talk shows in and around the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. We need a Nicky clone so that can be done year round. He’s charming and charismatic. He’s a better speaker and personality than 90% of the sports figures in the U.S. I know a number of women who fell in love with him after his Today Show piece, and subsequently fell in love with MotoGP.

If people won’t pay $75 to come see what this MotoGP thing is all about, take it to them. Get a year-old MotoGP bike. Start it up in a promotion’s controlled downtown setting. Run it up and down the street a couple of times doing wheelies. People take notice of anything that puts out 125db. Hook them, and get them to come out to the track or tune in on the TV next weekend.

All these things will boost MotoGP’s audience in America. But no matter how much good TV, American’s or money you throw at this, it will never surpass our sports stick-and-ball staples. Why? It is too foreign.

American’s don’t like to follow things seriously that happen on a regular basis outside of this country. There are no sports that make regular visits outside of the U.S. that gain the following of our beloved Football, Baseball and Basketball.

Tennis is about the only sport hanging in there with the general American fans, even though there are only a couple of major U.S. appearances. But that has seen better days of our nation’s eyes on Wimbledon or the French Open.

MotoGP can make huge audience gains here. The quarter-million viewers per round can triple or even quadruple with a little work. But don’t be offended if it doesn’t become a household sport. Even if the UFC traveled to Turkey or Qatar, American’s would probably lose interest in that too. OK, we’ll maybe not if Liddell is fighting.

So take a friend and put he or she in front of a race this season. Let’s try to bring MotoGP up at least as big as we can here in the U.S.