LCR Honda Close To Playboy Sponsorship Deal

It's common knowledge that finding sponsors for MotoGP is a difficult proposition, despite the sport's immense appeal and excellent demographic profile. Indeed, a lack of sponsorship is the biggest threat currently facing MotoGP in today's financial climate, a threat which has led Dorna and the Grand Prix Commission to introduce a range of proposals aimed at cutting costs - though the jury is still very much out on the effectiveness of those proposals.

While most teams aim at securing a big name as a single title sponsor - Marlboro, Repsol, Fiat and Rizla supporting factory Ducati, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki efforts respectively, while San Carlo supports the Gresini Honda team and Monster Energy are due to be unveiled as the Tech 3 Yamaha sponsors - that has been beyond the reach of some teams. Over the past two years, Lucio Cecchinello's LCR Honda team have had a novel strategy for dealing with this problem, securing a string of smaller title sponsorship deals for individual races, featuring companies such as GIVI, Eurobet and Lee Jeans. This has been a successful if risky way of funding the team, making it easier to persuade companies to fork over smaller amounts of money, but leaving the team's finances less predictable over the course of a year.

Now, though, Cecchinello is also close to securing a title sponsorship deal for his eponymous team. Sources in Italy are saying that Playboy Magazine will be sponsoring LCR Honda for the 2009 MotoGP season. The story was uncovered by the Italian motorcycling website motocorse.com, who revealed that Cecchinello had been spotted at the same restaurant in Florence as Hugh Hefner, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc. Cecchinello later admitted to GPOne.com that he was in talks with Playboy about title sponsorship, and he was about 70% certain of closing the deal. 

The main problem facing LCR Honda was the refusal of the organizers of the MotoGP season opener at Qatar to allow the team to run with Playboy sponsorship. Though generally considered a liberal country by Middle Eastern standards, Qatar is still very much part of the Arabian peninsula, and subject to the same cultural sensitivity about all things sexual. According to GPOne.com, Cecchinello has been working with Dorna to secure the deal, and believes it will be finalized some time in May, once the MotoGP circus hits the more easy-going atmosphere of Europe.

The deal with Playboy also marks a few pointers for other teams searching for sponsorship. The deal follows a realignment at Playboy Enterprises, after the company announced huge losses of $157 million for 2008 on a turnover of $292 million. From public statements on the results, it looks like PEI is trying to focus once more on its core audience, and for any business trying to harnass the purchasing power of young adult males, MotoGP is a highly effective vehicle. If Lucio Cecchinello does attract an outside sponsor of the near-iconic status of Playboy, it could help other teams find similar sponsors seeking to reach the same audience demographic as Playboy.

While a sponsor of the stature of Playboy should be welcomed into the MotoGP paddock, the company's arrival would continue a long tradition of ethically debatable funding for motorcycle racing. Tobacco, a legal product which has helped to kill millions of its consumers every year, was long a mainstay of motorcycle racing. Now that tobacco sponsorship has been outlawed in most countries around the world, its place is being taken by the energy drink industry, which has developed a reputation for combining water, sugar and caffeine into a highly profitable, multi-billion dollar business model. Money from the Adult Entertainment sector could hardly be regarded as bringing down the tone of the place.

For whatever you feel about the Adult Entertainment industry, or even global tobacco, in 2009, MotoGP has welcomed sponsorship promoting tourism to one of the world's worst dictatorships, in the shape of Sete Gibernau's Equatorial Guinea-sponsored Ducati. Compared to a country which is both one of the ten most corrupt nations in the world, as well as being at the top of the human rights abuse league table, a few naked ladies barely register on the morality index.

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Comments

... Mr. Hefner has rarely looked so upstanding!  It would be highly ironic to see them have to run a watered down logo in the couple of places that cigarette advertising is still legal, and vice versa.

The real issue, naturally, will be what this does to the nature of the grid before every race; setting new standards, to be sure.  Dorna must certainly be hoping for this, and looking for even more lucrative ways of marketing the "paddock girls" as being more interesting than the bikes and riders.  And, therein lies the problem...

I very much like that idea. The promotion that would come along with that sponsorship might prove to be very valuable for MotoGP sponsorships in general.
And after all, Playboy wouldn't be the first sponsor of this kind. With the A-Style GPs there was also a certain fanhatic website present as a sponsor in the paddock (and for the ISPA KTM Aran Team) which sells much more than just paper with naked people on it. ;)

 I hadn't even noticed that (I don't check out ALL the sponsors on every machine), but that's fantastic! Thanks.

I only noticed that sponsor by incident myself and after the season ended already. But I think this is completely made of win. :)

fanhatic also sponsored Alice last season (the logo was on the riders helmets)

Playboy sponsorship does have a lot of potential, Playboy can have race reports, pics etc plus Hefner and the Girls Next Door/Girls of the Playboy Mansion could visit Laguna and Indy as part of the reality show. It could introduce MotoGP to a new market

I mentioned the losses in the article, but they don't mean that Playboy will stop advertising. Firstly, $145 million of the $157 million was down to a one-off restructuring charge, so the results are not representative of the actual state of PEI's finances. Secondly, one of the things you do when restructuring companies is go back to basics and focus on your core demographic. A lot of young males with disposable income turn up to see motorcycle racing, so if you want to reinforce your message, then MotoGP is a pretty good place to start.