The deal which will see Bridgepoint Capital, the parent company of MotoGP series owner Dorna, take over Infront Sports and Media, the owners of the World Superbike series, is nearing completion. It is widely expected that Bridgepoint will finalize the purchase of Infront by the end of this month, though the contracts have yet to be signed. The price that Bridgepoint will pay for Infront is not know, though the Financial Times reported earlier that bids of between 600 million and 1 billion euros had been entered for the Swiss-based company, with Bridgepoint holding off the sovereign wealth funds from both Qatar and Abu Dhabi to clinch the deal.
Reaction in the MotoGP paddock at Brno was widely positive, with hopes that the deal would put an end to the slumbering conflict between MotoGP and World Superbikes. The MotoGP paddock has not taken the threats by the Flammini brothers - who run Infront Motor Sports, the subsidiary that runs WSBK - of legal action over the CRT teams very well. Senior figures inside the MotoGP paddock expressed the expectation that once both MotoGP and WSBK were under a single umbrella organization, such threats would be put aside. Those sources also told MotoMatters.com that they expected such a takeover to see the current World Superbike regulations more strictly enforced and the spec of the bikes taken back to something more closely resembling the production machines that they are supposed to be based on. The MotoGP paddock feels that the current generation of WSBK machines are more like racing prototypes than street motorcycles.
In the World Superbike paddock, however, fears remain that the takeover will bring about a diminution of WSBK's power and potentially even the end of the series, with the World Superbike class being merged with MotoGP, leaving perhaps only a Superstock-type class in its place. The more paranoid elements in the WSBK paddock even believe that the takeover has been orchestrated by Dorna, in an attempt to poach the manufacturers currently racing in WSBK but not MotoGP into the MotoGP series.
The truth of the matter is vastly more mundane, and has very little indeed to do with motorcycle racing. The price Bridgepoint paid for Dorna back in 2006 is believed to be around 550 million euros, a fraction of the 12 billion euros that Bridgepoint currently has invested. The price Infront paid FGSport for a stake in the World Superbike series, though unknown, is likely to be in the tens rather than hundreds of millions of euros, representing an insignificant part of the total of up to 1 billion euros Bridgepoint will be forking out for all of Infront Sports and Media. The more interesting part of the company for Bridgepoint is Infront's major stake in international soccer, with the Swiss company charged with selling the TV rights for the FIFA World Cup throughout Asia, as well as playing a major role in several European national competitions, and holding the rights for six of the seven Olympic winter sports. Those rights are commercially much more interesting than the rights of a couple of motorcycle racing series.
The most likely course of events - and one borne out by a report at Bikesportnews.com - is that the World Superbike series will be sold off once the deal has been completed. The new owners of the series are likely to be the same as the old owners, the Flammini brothers who held the commercial rights before selling out to Infront, and who still play a major role in WSBK. There is also good reason to believe that both motorcycle racing series will be sold off once Bridgepoint purchases Infront. The price that Bridgepoint paid for MotoGP is widely regarded as being well above the series' current market value, and Bridgepoint may want to capitalize on the combined selling power of Ducati and Valentino Rossi while the Italian is still racing in the series. It is believed that Rossi was a major factor in driving up the price back in 2006, and that the market value of MotoGP will drop significantly once he retires. Without Rossi, Bridgepoint could struggle to earn back their investment. Rossi is committed to at least one more season of racing in MotoGP, having a contract with Ducati to race through 2012. The expectation is that he will continue for at least another year after that, however, with 2014 or perhaps even 2015 a more likely retirement date.
While the purchase of Infront by Bridgepoint may be good for both Bridgepoint and Infront Sports and Media, those hoping that it will benefit motorcycle racing as a whole may well be bitterly disappointed.