New Media Meets the Old Guard in MotoGP

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Editor’s Note: This guest post by David Emmett was originally posted on his site MotoMatters under the title of “Editor’s Blog: Old And New – How Media Is Changing”. We thought Emmett was so on-point with his assessment of the use of the internet and social media in motorcycle racing, and the industry as a whole, that we asked him to reproduce his post here on Asphalt & Rubber. To put his post in complete context, Emmett just finished working this weekend as Fiat-Yamaha’s live blogger during the Qatar GP, where he wrote, tweeted, and hustled his way around the MotoGP paddock as the only online journalist with a permanent Dorna press pass. For more of an account of his time in Qatar, and for all your other racing news needs, you should visit his site at MotoMatters.com (after first reading Asphalt & Rubber first of course).

The comment that I have probably received most since I started this blog was “I want your job!” And frankly, I have to pinch myself to see if this is still all really happening, so it is a sentiment I can completely understand. Being allowed to work in the MotoGP paddock and up in the press room feels like a genuine privilege, and being surrounded with people who share the same passion is truly remarkable.

I often wonder at how this all came about. Just over four years ago, I posted a season preview on the Adventure Rider motorcycle forum, and now, I learned today, I am the first journalist from an online publication ever to receive a permanent pass from Dorna. In the intervening years I have worked hard both to keep learning as much as I can about racing, and communicate my passion for the sport to a wider audience. It has cost me blood, sweat, tears, and more money than I like to think about, but all these would have been to no avail if it wasn’t for one factor: The Internet.

For the internet changes everything: It has allowed me to reach quite literally hundreds of thousands of readers, without having to spend a fortune in printing and distribution costs, or without having to persuade an array of magazine editors to send me to races. More than that, though, it has allowed me not just to reach readers, but to actually interact with them, to get their comments and to respond to them, to start engaging in what the social marketing people refer to as “The Conversation”.

Even though I regard myself as relatively internet savvy, I still always feel like I’m struggling to keep up. The editor of Asphalt & Rubber, an outstanding motorcycle website (Editor’s Note: Aww shucks!), pointed out to me recently that we are already being overtaken by other media, by newer media, by Facebook and Twitter and Youtube and FriendFeed and MySpace and Orkut and any number of other social media channels which keep springing up like mushrooms after an autumn rainshower. After all, why go to a website for results when you can simply wait for them to come by on Twitter?

I am here as a guest of the Fiat-Yamaha Team’s social media arm, part of the Fiat On The Web marketing effort. And even though I’m active on Twitter (regularly) and Facebook (occasionally), I feel decades (which in internet terms is about 6 months) behind what these people are trying to do. Just following them on Twitter has been remarkable, watching how they enable the conversations going on between the team and the fans, building the Fiat brand through a sense of connection.

There is almost a sense of synchronicity that Fiat’s marketing efforts should be linked to Yamaha’s racing program. For the Fiat-Yamaha team already boasts some of the most avid users of social media actually on the team. Jorge Lorenzo is extremely active on Twitter and Facebook, not just posting items but actually taking time to reply and respond to fans. Lorenzo understands – and more importantly, actually enjoys – that it is all about interaction, about building a sense of community. So much so that he has a sticker with his Twitter account on the screen of his bike. Alex Briggs, a mechanic for Valentino Rossi, is an avid user of Twitter, and is constantly posting insights and pictures and sharing his experience with his followers.

I spoke at length with Livio Suppo – formerly of Ducati, now of HRC – today, about marketing and sponsorship, and one of the things he said was that the game was changing, and that he had to find ways of persuading sponsors to invest in Honda’s racing program. It was all about creating business-to-business opportunities, he said, about offering a space for sponsors to network.

That, it seems to me, is really the 1.0 version of social media, social media the old-fashioned way, if you like. It’s all about the conversation, but the conversation takes place face-to-face, rather than online. The Fiat-Yamaha web team’s effort to shift that conversation online, and broaden it and make it more engaging and more inclusive is the same idea, but because it’s online, the message is reaches an exponentially larger audience.

Like all change, this shift is meeting with plenty of resistance from the old guard. Dorna themselves are struggling with new media and the internet, desperately trying to stem the tide of fan-generated media that is flooding the internet.

Hardest hit of all, though, are the print and magazine journalists. While I generally try and get results online within half an hour of the race or practice session finishing, by the time the page is up and the feed loading in people’s RSS readers, that audience has already heard the results on Twitter, or posted to any one of the many, many thousands of racing bulletin boards and forums around the web.

Breaking news can no longer be held over for a few days for print deadlines, it is available online immediately. Here again, Twitter has changed the game: Once upon a time, quotes from press conferences were online on news websites within a few hours of them being uttered. About six months ago, those quotes started being twittered live from press conferences by forward-looking journalists such as Toby Moody and Gavin Emmett. Right now, riders are starting to post those quotes on Twitter before they even get to the press conference, sometimes just seconds after getting off the bike.

As internet connectivity becomes increasingly omnipresent, the role of the journalist is changing. No longer is he or she the intermediary between fans and their heroes: As Jorge Lorenzo and the Fiat-Yamaha Team’s social media presence demonstrated, that role is no longer necessary. Twitter and Facebook have now reached a critical mass, a fact the first round of MotoGP at Qatar has made crystal clear. Watching the stream of tweets exchanged between fans, riders, team members, and journalists, it was obvious that something new was happening, people were finding new ways of connecting, sharing the experience of MotoGP with one another, from the minutiae of technical details shared by the paddock insiders to the raw, unbridled passion of the fans.

Whenever a (media) revolution takes place – and that is alarmingly regularly in the 21st century – those afraid of change will be left by the wayside. After one rider expressed himself rather pithily at a rider debrief – basically a public press conference organized by the team’s press office and open to any media who care to turn up – a print journalist turned to me and demanded that I not use that juicy quote on the internet, as it was in response to “his” question. As it happened, I had not intended to use that quote – it was merely an expression of frustration – as I didn’t really have a context to place it in on MotoMatters.com. Naturally, that demand made me start thinking up ways to use it, but in the end, I decided against it. Why change the way I work out of spite? It would have made more work than it was worth.

The journalist’s response, while rather petulant, was entirely understandable, trying to protect the patch he has built up over the years. But the game has already moved on, and like Dorna spending untold hours of time issuing takedown notices for Youtube videos of MotoGP races, while the races themselves are streamed live on peer-to-peer networks and exchanged through torrent sites, this is a battle that has already been lost.

Far better, like the Fiat-Yamaha Team, to embrace change, and find and exploit the opportunities which new media, new social media, and new channels offer. Far better to join the conversation, rather than stand shouting to yourself in a corner.

David Emmett is the Editor of MotoMatters, a great internet destination for your MotoGP, WSBK, and paddock news. Any race loving motorcyclist should add his site to their bookmark bar, RSS feed, and Twitter follow list.