After winning the MotoGP Triple Crown: The Rider, Team, and Manufacturer Championships, the factory Yamaha team finds itself in a difficult position looking for a title sponsor for next year. After Valentino Rossi’s departure to Ducati Corse for the 2011 season, Fiat, the team’s sponsor from 2007 until recently, dropped the Yamaha squad after its loss of the Italian rider (Fiat had long been associated with Yamaha because of the company’s desire to woo Rossi into the Ferrari Formula 1 team…that and the Italian helps sell the Italian made cars).

Perhaps under-appreciating the value of having Rossi on board a Yamaha bike in 2011, the tuning fork brand has now been left scrambling for a marquis name to help foot the bills for the next season. Despite having the reigning MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo and Rookie of the Year Ben Spies, deals with Petronas, Telefonica, and AirAsia have failed to materialize, despite lengthy rumor, meaning Yamaha’s corporate Blue/White livery might be spotted in Qatar (something reserved usually for non-sponsored wild card riders).

Talking to MCN‘s Matthew Birt, Yamaha Racing’s Managing Director Lin Jarvis brushed off the lack of a title sponsor as something related specifically to Yamaha’s situation, and instead linked it to the global climate in the motorcycle industry and motorsports as a whole. According to Jarvis the team has a few “irons in the fire” as far as sponsorship deals go, but with Ducati Corse announcing last month that it would be partnering with AMG as a title sponsor, the argument that this is about MotoGP’s lack of commercial potential for sponsors seems to hold less weight, as the Italian company seemingly had little difficulty talking the German auto-tuner out of its millions of dollars.

While it is true that the economic climate is tough, and many companies have pulled marketing budgets that include racing sponsorships, looking at the AMG/Ducati Corse partnership it is clear that large deals and sponsorships can materialize under the right conditions. Obviously Valentino Rossi is a large portion of that equation, as the Italian rider has the star power off the track to help grease the wheels on such deals, a trait that Lorenzo and Spies do not share.

While Jorge Lorenzo may have a cadre of fans on Twitter, the Spanish rider has little real following outside of his home country, and is often seen as arrogant and forcefully trying too hard to be appealing to the fans. The inverse of this is perhaps Ben Spies, whose talent on the track cannot be questioned, but American seems to lack any motivation to build his personal brand or a connection with his fans, seemingly lacking the charisma and personality x-factor that makes riders like Valentino Rossi and others so special and marketable.

With two personality duds on the factory Yamaha squad and no sponsor in sight, the real nature of MotoGP and motorsports in general seems to rear its ugly head: at the end of the day racing needs to be entertaining, not only on the track, but off the track as well. In this aspect teams and MotoGP as a whole are failing miserably from a promotional standpoint, putting almost no effort into developing the personal brands of riders. Of course some of the blame lays on the riders themselves, who see their job as being on the race track, and not in the press debrief afterwards.

With stories off the track carrying more weight than what happens on Sunday’s race, there is a critical element missing from riders who cannot be more than a two-wheeled pilot. Sponsors pay riders both directly and indirectly through the team, and thus become the ultimate priority. When riders fail to adequate meet the needs of those sponsors, or fail to create a brand or image that the sponsor can use to promote its product, that rider has failed to do his job, despite what the race sheet says at the end of the day. With Yamaha arguably signing two riders that are archetypes of this idea of a lacking personal brand, perhaps it isn’t surprising that the company finds itself in this position today.

Source: MCN

  • Jamoche

    2005 Laguna Seca livery, yes please.

  • Damo

    Jorge Lorenzo seems to be one of the least liked champions in recent memory. Arrogance seems to be the largest factor.

    He just seems like an enormous douche.

  • I happen to like Jorge. Considering how MotoGP-crazed Spain is, you’d think a Spanish company would be MORE than happy to step up… they FINALLY have a Spanish World Champion!

    How much money has Repsol wasted on Honda and their COMPLETELY personality-less rider Dani Pedrosa over the years?? Honda HAD a rider who could challenge Rossi (and did, and beat him in 2006) but they stupidly let him go and through all of their eggs into a midget basket.

    Repsol would be better off sponsoring Yamaha and Lorenzo.

  • Damn it, did it again… I meant “threw” not “through.”

  • Fernando

    All this along with not winning a title next year is gonna put Yamaha in a very bad place, im a die hard Yamaha fan, but highly dissapointed with the way things went with dealing between Vale and Jorge, sadly the quick buck had a bigger impact in the end.

  • Your article implies every person buys into the masses’ force-fed headline-making interests & that there is no (or not enough) value outside of this target audience.

    Spies’ personality on/off the track is refreshing in this age of “look at me”. What is not marketable about someone who works hard at improving his natural talent and is humble while doing it? He’s also handsome, if that matters (which I know it does to marketing).

  • Bruce Monighan

    Well Collin Edwards should be worth a bunch of money because he is second only to Rossi as pure entertainment to listen to. Actually he may be one of the most underappreciated riders on the world stage. The guy is an enonormous talent as a tire test rider and development rider, is fast when the bike is right and rides the wheels off it even when it is not. A guy that gives 11/10’s all the time and I am always happy to watch and follow MotoGp as long as he is getting some air time/press. I hope that someone picks him up after his riding career ends as a factory team guy. I see a long term job/contribution for him like Kevin Schwantz

  • Hoyt,

    I like Ben Spies as a person, along his “I”ll do my talking on the track” mentality. The guy is super focused and meticulous in his approach to riding. The point of the article though is that it’s not enough to simply be good on the track (maybe if you’re GREAT on the track, like say a Michael Schumacher, a pulled-back personality is ok), at the end of the day it’s marketing dollars that pay the riders’ salaries, and they’re ultimate marketing tools for those brands. To be in MotoGP you not only need to be one of the best motorcyclists, but you have to help sell the sport, sell the sponsors, and sell yourself.

    If a guy doesn’t take marketing promos seriously, doesn’t want to put the time in with the fans, and can’t have value beyond going fast on the track, then he’s not doing his job properly. Remember, these guys are supposed to be the best of the best.

    ps. You don’t have to go far down the American side of the paddock to find better examples of humble but marketable. Nicky Hayden is a slave to his sponsors, but always peppy about the work, and humble about his successes.

  • hoyt

    Hi Jensen – outside of moto-related content is there a noticeable difference in Nicky’s effort to help sell a brand over Ben Spies? Any difference could be attributed to Nicky being on the scene longer and a different marketing company more than any willingness or supposedly unwillingness of a rider.

    Do the masses really see “Fiat” when they see Valentino? Or do they see “Valentino” & “46” more than anything? His personality supercedes any corporate message, so a rider could be too much of his own brand (from a corporate perspective).

    “Hard work”; “humble” – an ad agency & corporate sponsor could easily work that into their image after 2008’s debacle. It could be a less expensive approach too.

    regarding: “..doesn’t want to put the time in with the fans”

    Spies conducts Skype interviews in addition to the larger press interviews. Who else is doing that?

  • And Jorge is FAR more accessible to his fans than Valentino EVER was. Valentino just got his own website this year. Jorge not only responds to his fans on Twitter, he recently started up a Facebook page and willingly interacts with his fans there too.

    Who else in the MotoGP paddock is doing that?

  • 76

    There are some points were I can agree and disagree but one thing you state about Ben Spies not putting in time for fans is simply wrong. No other American rider gives such explicit coverage of his own riding as well as others. Sure he doesnt have donkey ears on while hes doing it but he actually takes the time and thought to explaining what really is going on out there during a race or on the bike.

    He has skyped, pod casted, and written all throughout his 2 years in both WSBK and MotoGP. Also I would like to point out that hes nothing like Pedrosa and his inability to simply communicate. Hes just not a hypeman, but for what he dosent have on the “showman” side of things, I for one think he completely makes up for with his accurate and detailed accounts of whats really going on out there. If you listened to his last podcast I think anyone would find it hard to argue that.

    If he tried to be more of the “showman” it would come off just as fake as what Lorenzo is doing trying to emulate Rossi. How well is that working out? Oh yeah its not, and people like him even less calling him arrogant citing his lack of originality. Be yourself and have fun doing it and to me thats what Ben Spies is doing and congrats to that.

    Lastly, Spies is probably one of the most original riders out there on the grid in both style and results. There is no question what Rossi brings, there is also no other rider period that has created that package by a long shot. Think about it, Rossi started all of this in his 250 days? How long is that for a brand and image?

  • irksome

    Much as I hate to admit it, one thing NASCAR does right is to market their drivers with mandatory signing sessions, personal appearances and meet ‘n greets; what we used to call “grip and grin” sessions in the photo trade.

    As to a Spanish rider attracting a Spanish sponsor, Spain has been particularly hard hit in the current economic downturn. hard to imagine a lot of companies lining up to dump cash into a race series, even one as elite as MotoGP.

    Spies seemed fairly charismatic in the brief time my shooting AMA races overlapped with his career. Lorenzo (though I never worked the series) seems to be forcing it, ie. the moon suit crap, stealing Rossi’s post-race celebrations. I’m guessing Spies’ll break out when he starts kicking Lorenzo’s butt.

  • Ken C.

    I like Ben Spies on and off the track. He seems to have the right attitude and professionalism. He never speaks badly of other riders and he is humble.

    Although he does lots of interviews off the track, he lacks the spark that Valentino Rossi has when he speaks. Spies is not as willing to crack jokes or be silly in general like “The Doctor”. He hardly ever smiles. He doesn’t let people into his personal life. This is what’s missing in terms of marketability. It’s a fine line. In some ways, in order to become marketable, he needs to “sell out” and let people into his private life. As much as we want to see what makes him tick, I admire that he keeps those cards close to his chest.

    I think as we see more success on the track, you’ll see more of his personality off the track. He’s under a lot of pressure to perform, and he only just finished his rookie year, so I expect much more from him the years to come.

    Jorge Lorenzo is a different beast altogether. I don’t think he is arrogant at all. I think he only comes off that way because he tries too hard to put on a show. I think he’s just misunderstood. Lost in translation. He too is quite humble if you ever see him in an interview. He respects the other riders. It’s those post-race celebrations that have to change. That’s what comes off as arrogant. If he could tone those down and crack a smile every once in a while, he’d be so much more marketable.

  • You’d think I called someone’s baby ugly in this post from some of the reactions written here.

    Having interviewed most of the top riders in the MotoGP paddock several times over the course of this year, I can tell you the prevailing attitude from riders is that the press, and for some riders the fans, are an unwanted interruption that the team PR group forces on them between the garage and the motorhome.

    Very few riders realize what an opportunity talking to the press and fans can be, and even fewer know how to use these groups to their advantage.

  • cencibun

    wow, this topic got hot response from readers…

    for me, i can see, smell that next year will be a fall time to yamaha….

    Yamaha will return to the era before Rossi came into their camp..

    i dont think Lorenzo n Spies can bring up Yamaha to the top as Rossi does for many years.

    Yamaha should grateful to Rossi because give them the championship after long time they didn’t got it.

    Rossi is the real lagend…great racer all over the time

  • cencibun

    poor yamaha….Petronas should take this oppourtunity by sponsoring this team…dont sponsor the false team

  • Nucci

    The last thing I want to see is MotoGP become some NASCAR like advertising roadshow. DORNA needs to portray a more balanced image of what MotoGP is all about, their focus on Signoro 46 is coming back to bite them and the teams in the arse.

    Before Valentino Rossi came along, can anyone name a rider who was considered a household name? Hailwood, Agostini, Doohan? No? And things were going just peachy then, as it was all about the racing not the associated spectacle. And at times, lots of money from Tobacco helped as well :)

    It should be about racing and SFA else. The series should be able to attract enough sponsors to sustain itself without riders resorting to putting on some stupid facade to placate the masses.

  • douche bag

    HAha! that was funny!

  • I’m with Ken… Lorenzo is misunderstood. The race celebrations come off as spontaneous (jumping in a lake) or forced (the moon walk, which he did twice) but he is still “color.” I think a lot of the resentment is that he is NOT Rossi.

    Recently read an interview with Colin Edwards where he commented on Lorenzo. Unlike himself or Rossi, whenever Lorenzo came in from a practice session, he RARELY asked for a setting change… instead he’d study the telemetry and adapt his style to what the bike was doing, instead of trying to make the bike adapt to him.

    I think that approach will see him continue his success, with or without Rossi as a team mate. Lorenzo wasn’t kidding when he said he learned NOTHING from Rossi in an earlier interview. Rossi refused to share information with his team mate and actively resented his presence in the garage. To me, that says more about Rossi than it does Lorenzo. Even Nicky Hayden said (when he was Rossi’s team mate with Repsol) that Rossi got less friendly as Nicky became more competitive.

    I think you’ll see a LOT more cooperation between Spies and Lorenzo next year and that will only HELP Yamaha. Maybe it won’t be the sort of cooperation we saw this past year with Edwards and Spies (a real anomaly in the MotoGP paddock) but no where near the antagonistic atmosphere that existed in the factory garage.

    Yamaha may not take the triple crown next year but I see Lorenzo once again capturing the championship.

  • hoyt

    “…at the end of the day racing needs to be entertaining, not only on the track, but off the track as well.”

    In the age of over-hyped press I can see someone in the press requiring the latter part of that statement, but the truth is the majority of people would rather see straight answers from riders being themselves than any contrived post race acts. e.g. Spies’ skype interviews are as real as it gets. Corporations are also executing on the back to basics reality…

    At the time of this writing there was a Ford ad on your banner. Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs” & Ford have been very successful with this ad campaign largely because there is a lack of fuss. It works because it is the reality for the majority of people, especially coming out of a major economic downturn. (things will change over the years)

  • Patron

    Put the factory boys in the Paris Hilton livery. I don’t think Spies would give it a second thought, but it may be fun to see Lorenzo have smoke coming out of his ears when the camera is on him in his little pink getup.

    I’m sure they will find something before the season gets underway. Lorenzo’s celebrations do seem a little forced w a copy cat style imo, but he is a great racer and does have a connections with his fans. I don’t think it will be long before we see an announcement about a title sponsor for the Yamaha boys.

    As far as spies is concerned, I find his interviews much more entertaining that anyone’s post race antics.

  • jamez ricards

    Spies and Lorenzo and yamaha should not be underestimated. I am a ducati fan but believe the 2011 manufacturers title is Yamahas to lose. Pedrobot will be inconsistent, stoner can win races but also can bin it. Rossi WILL win some races but every track will be a setup challenge his first year. Why sponsors; Spanish or American; don’t see a great opportunity is beyond me.

  • LutherG

    The idea that Lorenzo is great because he adapts to what ever he is riding is just great right now. Considering he is riding the bike that Rossi built, i would imagine he could just ride it and not worry.
    We only are aware of marketing here in the states where fiat doesn’t sell cars, and motorcycle racing is not as huge a sport as in europe.

    My problem with Spies is that he comes across entirely scripted, like the pitcher in “Bull Durham” , ” i do the best i can and the good lord willin, things work out.” Even though Rossi is far from spontanteous, he is clever, charming, and exudes personality.

    That is what sponsors want– personality.

  • Ciaran

    A shame the best engineered bike doesnt have a title sponsor. A bigger shame that MCN thinks that Spies and Jorge lack sponsor appeal. Probably a fitting justice that both riders will eclipse Rossi and his sponsorship next year :)