MotoGP is missing a trick. As the 2013 season approaches there are two main topics of note, what are the rules going to be in the next two or three years and will Valentino Rossi's eventual, inevitable, retirement cause the series to implode?
Both of these questions are irrelevant. The fact is that in five, ten, fifteen years time there will be Grand Prix motorcycle racing. It will have its heroes, it will have its villains and it will have a load of middle-aged men harping on about how things ain't what they used to be. They'll moan about how these aren't 'proper' bikes and how you should have seen Kenny Roberts 'back in the day'. It will also have a rider of whom it will be said, "We'll never see his like again". Plus ça change.
Last season, it became the norm that the stand-out races of the day were in Moto3 and Moto2. Both were hard fought, both were exciting and both were won by clean-cut young men who fully deserved their moment of glory on the podium. Champagne was sprayed (or not) press conferences convened, reports written. The media pack then headed en masse for the airport, to chatter about chatter.
Which meant they missed something. On Sunday nights, the Internet was ablaze. With talk, comment, gossip, hearty congratulations to winners and heartfelt sympathies to losers. From a hitherto unnoticed and completely ignored MotoGP fan demographic.
Yes, teenage girls. They are everywhere MotoGP goes. They are fans, they are passionate and, importantly, they are knowledgeable. In this day of Social Media, instant access and the opportunity to voice your opinion in public, teenage girls are blazing a trail in Moto3 and Moto2. We're not talking about daft wee lasses here; we're talking about informed, educated, bike racing fans. Many of them write blogs about MotoGP, which are updated with practice times, race results and, vitally, hairstyle changes, torso hagiographies and rider's girlfriend statuses.
In an era of declining Superbike sales and an aging motorcycling demographic these girls aren't just watching bike racing, they're into it and they 'get' it. But nobody in MotoGP is speaking to them.
There are thousands of them around the globe. Until recently they've largely segregated into the fairly standard fan template of pro/anti Rossi/Lorenzo/Stoner (delete as applicable). But over the last couple of years there has been a subtle but important shift.
The advent of Moto2 in 2011 and Moto3 in 2012 has changed things. Week in, week out, a parade of brave, daring, clean-cut, well-spoken, smiling, impossibly fit young men have been gracing both their TV screens and their Facebook pages.
Teenage girls like this. A lot.
It is an incontrovertible fact of life that teenage girls will swoon over teenage boys who are a couple of years older than them. Since time immemorial they have screamed, obsessed and, importantly, spent money on Boy Bands and all the Boy Band paraphernalia they can get their hands on.
Music producers and Pop Svengalis cottoned on long ago to what an incredible money spinner this is. As people, teenage girls are as diverse a bunch as any other socio-economic group, apart from two things. In their formative years they are in equal measure both fiercely loyal and financially illogical toward their Teen Idols.
This is such a cash cow for record companies that these days any pretence of Boy Bands having artistic merit or indeed a fixed line up of members has become but a distant memory. Throw an extra blue-eyed kid in every once in a while and the fans will lap it up (and buy the new album) every time.
In Moto3 and Moto2, Grand Prix motorcycle racing has perhaps the ultimate global boy band, with a twist. These boys don't preen about on stage lip-synching to their latest single in soft focus. They race motorbikes. Fast, hard and for real, all over the world. Today's teenage girls are media savvy. They know when what they are watching is pre-packaged pretence. But they can also tell when it's real teen beefcake racing at real speed, sometimes winning for real, sometimes losing for real and always hurting for real when they fall off.
Teenage girls like this. A lot.
Today's girl fan is a smart cookie. Equality, freedom, a good education and a relatively high standard of living are the stock in trade for the average teenage girl in the new millennium. They are smarter, richer and more empowered than any previous generation. They're so empowered in fact they that it probably wouldn't cross their mind to think that they are (Germaine Greer, it WAS worth it). As they grow older they expect to get jobs, leave home, go on holidays, buy cars and accumulate all the trappings of adult life. Including a disposable income, which they fully intend to dispose of.
MotoGP has a heaven-sent opportunity to sign these girls up as fans for life. Get them hooked on Moto3 riders who are 16 years old and let them live the rider's career alongside him, growing older and wiser in life as he, hopefully, does in racing. Follow the career, buy the merchandise and participate in the lifestyle fan experience for a full decade and a half.
Every year a new crop of riders arrive in the paddock, whether it be in Moto3, Red Bull Rookies, or EJC. Clean-cut, well-spoken, friendly, talented, fit young men – possibly the most marketable commodity on the planet. And every year a new generation of teenage girls starts getting interested in boys.
There are heroes, there are villains, there's the quirky one, there's the one who isn't very fast but is SO cute, there's the funny one, there's the thoughtful one, there's the deep one, there's the one with the crazy hair, there's the one with the gorgeous accent, there's the one who couldn't give a damn and doesn't care who knows it. You name it, the junior classes have got it.
It's 2013 and MotoGP needs to wake up to the fact that income isn't all about TV and ticket sales, and ticket sales aren't all about motorbikes. Today's fans, particularly the younger generation, are both discerning and demanding. They don't just want to watch on TV or turn up at the track to spectate, they want to be a part of it.
The teenage fan of today isn't savvy about Social Media. The teenage fan of today IS Social Media. They simply do not know of a world without mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter, because they've never experienced it. They want information and they want it now. More than that, they want access. They want t-shirts, competitions, photographs, webcasts, video chats, live Internet Q&A sessions and they want to instantly share all of it with all of their friends. Hell, they're obsessed teenage girls, they'd bid on a pair of smelly raced-in socks if you'd let them. They want to be involved and they want to spend their money on their teen idols.
MotoGP should get its act together and capitalise. Hard economic times and global recession aside, Grand Prix motorcycle racing is kidding itself in the way that only the truly deluded can. For decades the sport drank deeply and willingly from the overflowing champagne flute of tobacco money. When that party ended in a puff of legislative smoke, the energy drink fairy turned up with a magic wand and bulging coffers just in the nick of time to save the day. Or rather, to save MotoGP from facing financial reality.
Teams complain of the difficulty in raising funds to go racing, which is, to an extent, fair enough. They need a sponsor who wants to be involved, but that sponsor needs to have markets or interests in each of the countries the circus visits. This narrows the field down considerably. Where MotoGP, including the teams, has failed miserably is in being creative about sponsorship and the business side of the empire. They've never had to do it before and the signs of them picking up the requisite skills to do so are thin on the ground.
It's never crossed their mind that potentially the most marketable aspect of the entire enterprise is the shy, slightly gawky, youngster with a dream and a spiky haircut sitting astride their motorbike. With the right branding, the right promotion, a creative approach, the correct use of Social Media and the right people doing it, there's money in that kid, his team mate and the kids who come after them. Because everywhere the circus goes there are teenage girls. Who are a brilliant resource, because as they get older each year, they are replaced or added to by others a year younger.
It's a licence to capture a fan base for free and keep them for life. As today's Red Bull Rookie is retiring after a long and distinguished career 15 years hence, our teenage fan is approaching her middle years and will be introducing her own daughter to the delights of young men in brightly coloured leathers who race with a devil-may-care attitude on the track and a cheeky smile off it. The demographic literally perpetuates itself.
Right now, today, there are mothers who assiduously watch MotoGP with their daughters. As one swoons over her teen idol in Moto2 or 3, it would be naïve to assume that the other's interest in Randy De Puniet's smooth riding style is necessarily limited to his mastery of a MotoGP bike.
Kenny Roberts acolytes are probably by now having an apoplectic fit of sizeable proportions. Let them. Because they are the past, and can live there with their Wynn's jackets if they so choose.
The global audience for Grand Prix motorbike racing is counted in the millions. Those millions don't care about pneumatic valves or ECU's or carbon discs. They have no opinion on what angle the V should be in a Desmosedici. They want to watch some guy ride like a man possessed for thirty laps, win, and then jump into a lake. And go mental with glee as he does so.
The bottom line is that MotoGP is part sport, part entertainment, but all business. As with all businesses it needs to make money and money is currently equated to a rather narrow definition of sponsorship.
Name the current crop of MotoGP Sponsors. Now name the ones who are there on a purely commercial sponsorship basis rather than as a legacy of years gone by or a vanity project by management. The list narrows dramatically.
Can you name ten sponsors in Moto3 and Moto2? Thought not.
In 2011 much hilarity ensued in MotoGP circles at the announcement that Queroseno Racing would be branded as SuperMartxé VIP, with Paris Hilton as its figurehead. That laughter was inappropriate, and by now should be firmly hollow. SuperMartxé is well on its way to becoming a global brand with its conglomeration of club nights, perfumes, accessories collections and reality shows. It is a massively successful and popular enterprise by any measure. It's demographic? Young, upwardly mobile kids with freedom of choice and money to burn. They like excitement, glamour and anything that sets their pulse racing. SuperMartxé spent a year in the MotoGP paddock before moving on.
Did anybody try to stop them, ask why they were leaving, or how racing could help them interact better with their clientèle? Or, heaven forbid, vice-versa?
MotoGP had its head too far up its own fundament to realise the opportunity it was spurning. The series visits many countries where clever marketing and cross branding could reap rewards for both title sponsors in the youth market and the teams themselves. A load of kids who like a load of noise while having a good time. Partygoers and race fans both.
MotoGP has a fantastic product to sell to a global youth audience and there are brands that are looking for creative and exciting ways to interact with that audience. It really, really isn't rocket science.
Instead of trying to work out how to cryogenically freeze Valentino Rossi in some kind of MotoGP time warp or clone Kenny Roberts, effort needs to go in to marketing these young racers to their peers. Most have a winning smile and a glint in the eye. Throw in a couple with a hint of edginess and something of the 'bad boy' about them (Andrea Iannone, anyone?) and you've got a plot to sell as good as any Teen movie.
Make sure they do cool victory celebrations. Build an artificial lake and, if need be, contractually oblige them to jump into it.
Teenage girls like this. A lot.
Nonsense? Do the math…
Justin Bieber was 'discovered' in 2008. He has 33 Million followers on Twitter. That's up ten million on last year. He is worth in excess of $100 Million. It would be not be unreasonable to assume that his global fan base of teenage girls will each spend $50 per annum on Bieber products. Justin Bieber is eighteen years old.
Romano Fenati, 16, was 'discovered' a year ago and has a bright future. He has 15,000 followers on Twitter. Sandro Cortese is a World Champion. He is the epitome of the kind of clean cut young man your Mother would approve of. He has fewer than 23,000 followers on Twitter.
Get 10,000 teenage girls globally to fall in love with your rider. Get them to spend $30 each on product. It won't cover the entire budget, but it'll buy you a hell of a nice Kalex
Somebody in MotoGP should phone a Pop Svengali. Now.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to welcome SofaRacer to the website. The self-described "Fastest man ever on both 2- and 4-seat sofas", SofaRacer will offer his incisive, witty and sometimes scathing insights into the sport of motorcycle racing on an occasional basis on the website. In between columns, you can follow him on Twitter at @SofaRacer, where he captures motorcycle racing in 140 characters or less.