Bear with us on this one, as it’s a bit convoluted. Bridgepoint Capital, a private equity firm based out of London, owns Spanish company Dorna Sports SL. Dorna, which as you might recall is the media rights holder and promoter for MotoGP, the motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship that we all know and love. Meanwhile World Superbike is owned in majority by Swiss company Infront Sports & Media, and in minority by the Italian-born Flammini brothers, with the latter group still handling WSBK’s media promotion.
Now according to reports, Infront Sports & Media is up for sale, and one of the three alleged bidders is Bridgepoint Capital (circle back to the second sentence in the first paragraph if you got lost on the way here). This means that potentially the twice-removed owner of MotoGP could potentially own a controlling stake in the Championship’s rival series: World Superbike. There are still a number of “if’s” in whether Bridgepoint will come through as a buyer on Infront Sports & Media, but ownership of both series by the same party, even at a removed distance is worth some general discussion.
The first obvious issue would be that of conflict of interest of one party having an controlling or financial interest in both series at the same time. Though one could argue that Bridgepoint’s ownership of both series, however far removed, would always have the best interest in both series at heart (good racing makes for good profits in a loose sort of way), the reality is that World Superbike and MotoGP are more often at odds with each over issues than not.
For instance a hot-button topic lately has been what constitutes a production and prototype machine, as Dorna in 2012 will allow “prototype” machines with “production” engines come and race in MotoGP. The idea is to reduce costs in MotoGP, but the concern for the Flammini brothers to-date has been the encroachment of MotoGP onto World Superbike’s turf. An issue near and dear to our heart here at Asphalt & Rubber, the potential abuse for a conflict of interest of this nature cannot be ignored, and on the subject of claiming rule teams in MotoGP, it’s not hard to imagine that the issue, or its progeny, could conveniently be swept under the rug by a sole-promoter.
While it would be better to see MotoGP and World Superbike working more in-step with each other on promoting motorcycling and motorcycle racing, the idea of removing the carrot of competition that encourages both series to improve upon themselves cannot bode well for either class of the sport. Taking things on a far more sinister twist, it’s not hard to imagine that a conglomerate of the international motorcycle racing series could use its newly found position to make further changes to the sport, and even abuse its power in the handling of teams, racers, tracks, and even fans.
It’s understandable that in these hard economic times, that the strong financial backing of World Superbike would help bolster the series, but doing so with such consequences and in such a matter not only creates new issues, but also doesn’t address the fundamental problem that motorcycle racing has lost its relevancy to its stakeholders, and traditionally is thought of a net-negative endeavor. Time will tell if this deal, should it materialize, will pass muster with the regulatory committees, but whatever the outcome, it should serve as a sign that we need to reevaluate the business of racing.