At the presentation of Yamaha's 2013 MotoGP campaign, where the bike which Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi will ride in the coming season was unveiled, it was clear that there was one thing missing from the bike: this season, as for the last two years, Yamaha's MotoGP team will not have a title sponsor, but will campaign in corporate colors once again. Though the news hardly came as a surprise - the colors being used throughout the winter testing period suggested that Yamaha would be racing without a title sponsor - we were interested to find out whether the current situation is sustainable.
To that end, we cornered Yamaha Racing's Managing Director Lin Jarvis, and put a few questions to him. Firstly, we asked, could Yamaha's MotoGP team manage without a title sponsor, or was the expanded support from non-title sponsors sufficient? The answer to those questions was "yes and yes" Jarvis quipped. "We can manage, because we are a factory team, and so the basic point of us racing is not to make a profit the basic idea is to promote Yamaha's brand image around the world, to generate excitement in our industry and to develop our engineers and our technologies. Certainly, having more income definitely helps us, so we're constantly searching for new sponsorships, new partners."
"What I'm happy about is that we have retained almost all of our sponsors from last year, and some of them have stepped up. IVECO have stepped up, and increased. We've got Monster Energy on board now. They've been with the riders in the past, with Ben, but Monster coming on board has been a real boost, and has enabled us to put both riders together under the same Monster umbrella. That's completed what I call the Monster pyramid, because they support us in so many classes, but they missed that top class of MotoGP with the factory team. Our situation is better than last year in terms of income, but we still are constantly looking and pushing, not only for income, but also for new partners to promote."
But what was lacking, Jarvis said several times, was a vision of the future. Since the start of the financial crisis, too much time had been spent worrying about the next few months, and not enough about the next few years. "The sport needs a little bit of a future vision. At the moment, we've been focusing on trying to survive in the past years, but I think it's time to say, 'this is where we are, where do we want to be in three years, five years time?' and take those steps to make that happen now."
Part of that view towards the future lies in looking beyond MotoGP's current markets, towards South America and Southeast Asia. The cancellation of the race in Argentina had been an unfortunate move, Jarvis said. "We're finally unfortunately not going to South America," Jarvis told us. "We still only have one race in Southeast Asia, and I think we definitely have to change our global footprint. We have too many races in the Latin markets. In the past, that was a strength because a lot of the sponsors came from the passion in Italy and Spain, but right now, that strength has become a real weakness. We have to step away from that."
Moving out of Europe and out of MotoGP's traditional heartland was just one part of the process, Jarvis said. "It's one of the important things we should do. I think we also have to work at making better programming, better use of media, the riders also have to work harder to promote themselves and the sponsors." The rise of new forms of communication such as Twitter and Facebook had been a big help. "The social media trend in the past few years has definitely helped, and our two riders are I think two of the most active riders and two of the best here, this will definitely help us," Jarvis said.
That in itself was not enough, however. "But also we as a team, we have to provide better facilities for our sponsors, better sponsor satisfaction, and we need to take the message further afield, and it's not easy, trust me it's not easy. So what we're doing as a kind of counter-measure right now, we consider ourselves, Yamaha Motor Company to be the title sponsor, so we really really try to use the MotoGP project as Yamaha's number one marketing asset globally. Wherever we go, we try to bring our riders there, bring the sport there, make things happen, use them for TV campaigns, for advertising. This year we did a huge event in Indonesia with Jorge Lorenzo, massive, last week Valentino Rossi went to Brazil, the first time he's been there for a long long time. Carmelo [Ezpeleta, Dorna's CEO - MM] told me we should be going there for 2014 for sure. We hope that this pre-promotion we have done is good for the sport. That's where we should be, we should be in South America."
The massive popularity of MotoGP in Southeast Asia, and especially in Indonesia, was also crucial. Paddock sources have intimated that there could be a race in Indonesia in the near future, but the stumbling block appears to be political support for a race in the country, despite the sport's popularity. How important is it to Yamaha to have a race in Indonesia? "What's important is that the people there remain passionate for the sport because this is helping us promote our brand in Indonesia. The fact that they are so passionate is more important than having a race there, but the way in my opinion to generate even more passion and secure that passion is to bring a race there," Jarvis replied.
"Having the TV there is critical, and I'm always astonished when we go to Indonesia just how incredibly the sport is there, considering they have no heritage and considering we don't go there, it's amazing to me. But we have to keep working there." Indonesia was just one component in the puzzle, Jarvis explained. "India is also a very very important growing market, but also Malaysia's important, Thailand is very very important, Vietnam is important, the Philippines are important. This is the kind of growth area or the area where the motorcycle business is booming, and that's why I think we should be there."
What about the concentration of races in just a few countries? There are three US rounds of MotoGP to be held this season. "Can we sustain three races in America? I would like to think so, if the US economy starts to recover, and if more finance comes in from US sponsors and partners, maybe we can," Jarvis replied. "There's a huge amount of work still to be done, and I think the sport has so much potential. That's what kind of keeps me here and keeps me motivated, despite it's difficulties since 2008, since the Lehman Brothers crisis we have been in a bit of an economic meltdown in this world, but there is huge potential, so if we can just turn the corner and decide where we want to go and reinvest."