2023 has represented a new frontier for MotoGP.
Amid a period of increasing popularity for motorsport, the global motorcycling series has appeared somewhat stagnant when compared to the powerhouse that is Formula One. Last year delivered declining viewership in several key markets and dwindling attendance figures at some races. Dorna Sports, which runs the championship, recognised that, and has been taking several steps to address the issue.
In April, the organisation moved to hire Dan Rossomondo as its new chief commercial officer. The American joined MotoGP from the National Basketball Association (NBA), a property widely considered to have one of the more innovative and successful commercial strategies in sports. In recent years, the NBA has enjoyed record-breaking engagement across its social and digital platforms, while it has also invested heavily in technology, trialling innovations like augmented reality (AR) to boost fan engagement.
While a similar strategy will take time to implement, the hire of Rossomondo speaks to Dorna’s desire to shake up its approach. MotoGP has been allowed to meander for too long with no clear direction in the post-Valentino Rossi years.
Last year, chief sporting officer Carlos Ezpeleta told BlackBook Motorsport that there were things MotoGP “have to do better”. Less than six months into his new role, is that something that Rossomondo is already seeing first-hand?
“If you were going to ask me what keeps me up at night, marketing our next generation of riders is one of those things that definitely does,” he says, speaking exclusively to BlackBook Motorsport.
“I think our teams are doing a much better job, but we are working hard with them on how to do that. I think we have some great personalities in the paddock.
“What we need to do collectively together – it can’t just be Dorna or MotoGP, it has to be done with the teams, with the riders, and the riders’ management – we have to bring out the heroes of the sport, we have to demonstrate their athleticism.”
But there is still more work to be done: Rossi’s heir apparent Marc Marquez has struggled for fitness in recent years, missing around half of a possible 60 races since his arm-shattering injury in 2020.
With athlete marketability a key driver of reaching new audiences, as evidenced by the success of Formula One’s Drive to Survive docuseries, the onus is on MotoGP to do more to showcase the personalities of its riders.
Marc Marquez was perfectly placed to take up Rossi’s mantle before a series of injuries severely reduced his involvement in the series
Behind the helmet
The motorcycling series has already taken a swing at its own version of Drive to Survive, but MotoGP Unlimited proved to be a mishit. Ezpeleta previously told BlackBook Motorsport that it would be revisited following a review, but this has not come to fruition.
“I don’t think there will be a return to MotoGP Unlimited,” Rossomondo concedes. “But I would be lying to you if we weren’t thinking about how to extend the sport, not into a scripted series, but into the unscripted world of docuseries.
“We’ve learned our lessons in certain ways and I’m incredibly envious of what Formula One has done with Drive to Survive. But I also know that we’re going to do things that are unique to us and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
The response to Drive to Survive means Formula One will forever provide the template for fly-on-the-wall sports programming and its growth has been exponential since the first season of the docuseries in 2019. Its social media audience alone grew from 18.5 million in 2018 to 49.1 million in 2021.
MotoGP has had the more difficult challenge of navigating the retirement of one of its most legendary figures in Rossi, something that Formula One will soon experience when Lewis Hamilton finally hangs up his gloves. But with Rossomondo on board, MotoGP has someone who knows a thing or two about capitalising on the impact of sporting icons.
“When Michael Jordan used to play in the NBA in the 90s, the ratings were up 50 [to] 60 per cent when he played,” he explains. “I think Marc [Marquez] has got that effect on our ratings in Spain. It’s an enormous thing for us.”
The solution is to ensure that the next generation is ready to pick up the baton, and MotoGP is not short on personalities for Rossomondo and his team to amplify.
There is perhaps no better example of the progress being made at MotoGP than last weekend’s British Grand Prix.
It’s safe to say that last year’s race at Silverstone was nothing short of a disaster for the series. Total attendance dipped to 100,400, the smallest weekend crowd in history at the Northamptonshire circuit.
Last weekend was an improvement, as 120,000 people saw Aleix Espargaró triumph on the final lap. The increase was the result of much closer collaboration between Dorna Sports and promoters at Silverstone. Rossomondo met Stuart Pringle, the circuit’s managing director, very early on in his tenure to address the issues from 2022.
However, there is still more room for improvement when considering that 480,000 people attended the Formula One race at the same circuit earlier this year.
“The thing that’s important and that we’re trying to stress is that the success of the sport is contingent upon the entire ecosystem working together,” Rossomondo outlines. “Circuits, promoters, riders, teams, the league, IRTA [International Road Racing Teams Association], FIM [International Motorcycling Federation], our partners, our media partners.
“It’s a very complicated ecosystem, but we’re working together to try and build the sport more efficiently and effectively.”
Real racers love the track. ��@landonorris just couldn’t stay away from his home circuit - we caught up with him after he swapped helmets with @FabioQ20 before today’s MotoGP race.#MotoGP #BritishGP #F1 #Silverstone pic.twitter.com/AF53SvgC4g— Silverstone (@SilverstoneUK) August 6, 2023
This collaborative approach has helped deliver some record-breaking attendances this year. For example, the race at the Sachsenring saw a record crowd of 233,100 attend. MotoGP’s 1,000th race at Le Mans drew the largest crowd in the history of the series as 278,805 spectators watched Ducati’s Marco Bezzecchi win.
While difficult to attribute to weekend attendances, the introduction of sprint races has certainly increased the eyeballs on MotoGP. The impact of the new format is more apparent in the series’ broadcast figures, with the most recent data showing a 27 per cent year-over-year (YoY) increase in weekend audience viewership. Saturday audiences have increased 51 per cent YoY thanks to the format shakeup.
Some validation for those changes came when Formula One decided to mirror the MotoGP format for its sprint events after originally framing them as races that set the grid for qualifying.
But with the Formula One paddock resembling “the Oscar’s red carpet”, Rossomondo knows there is still much more work to be done to propel MotoGP back into the wider public consciousness.
This all forms part of a wider repositioning of the series designed to lay the foundations for future growth.
Still, it’s important to acknowledge free-to-air broadcaster ITV’s decision not to show Sunday’s British Grand Prix due to clashes with soccer’s Community Shield and the Fifa Women’s World Cup, choosing instead to broadcast the season-ending race at Valencia.
The UK audience has been somewhat underserved in recent years, with all coverage hidden behind a paywall on BT Sport – now TNT Sports. That may have been a contributing factor to the record low crowd at Silverstone last year. MotoGP would regularly average one million viewers on BBC Two in 2013. The series’ return to FTA on ITV in 2021 only saw a peak audience of 472,000 tune in. At 277,470 viewers, the average audience was just over a fifth of what it was in 2013.
Forget motorcycling, forget motorsport: [we want to be] the most exciting championship. If we can shoot for that, then all of the numbers, the financials and the success will follow.
Dan Rossomondo, Chief Commercial Officer, Dorna Sports
A better-defined media strategy is required across the board, which is something that Rossomondo is acutely aware of.
“We have to strike the balance of revenue generation and increased consumption of our product,” he says. “In some markets it’s going to look different. Sometimes we’re going to be able to overlay a companion product on top of what the broadcasters do, sometimes we’re going to take ourselves direct-to-consumer, sometimes we’ve got great broadcast partners who do it all themselves.
“It’s going to be a combination. Digital media has to be interwoven throughout our entire business, and how we approach marketing, how we approach partnerships, how we approach licensing, all has to work together in order to generate more eyeballs for our sport.”
This points to a shift in attitude at MotoGP itself. Upon starting his role, Rossomondo noticed that MotoGP sent invitations to VIPs encouraging them to experience ‘the best motorcycling world championship in the world’. If the series had any aspirations of competing on a wider scale, the American was quick to point out that this needed to change.
“We have to say we’re the most exciting championship in the world,” he asserts. “Forget motorcycling, forget motorsport: the most exciting championship. If we can shoot for that, then all of the numbers, the financials and the success will follow.”