May 20, 2024

Anthony Dealtry, group director at Octagon, based in the agency’s London office, on major moves in the motorsports industry

Liberty Media purchasing the rights to MotoGP is a major move in the motorsports industry and it presents unique opportunities for the series, teams, brands, and fans alike. While there is still some way to go before the deal is fully ratified, including approval from the EU competition regulator, there is certainly cause for optimism considering the positive commercial and marketing impact Liberty has had on Formula 1 since it took ownership in 2016. 

That being said, MotoGP is a different type of beast to F1, and Liberty cannot simply replicate the same approach here. For example, where F1 required a significant technical overhaul to facilitate on-track action, that’s not an area of concern for MotoGP, so Liberty’s focus will likely turn towards the wider marketing and commercialisation of the series.   

This, in turn, should create a more compelling platform for brands to invest in, which may open a few key opportunity areas for brands to consider: 

Win With Fans  

MotoGP boasts a more modest fanbase than F1 (e.g. estimated cumulative TV audience of 500 Million vs. 1.5 Billion) but the hardcore MotoGP followers are arguably more passionate and loyal. This could work both ways. We have already seen the fanbase’s initial mixed reaction to the prospect of Liberty’s ownership, yet there is hope in the response. Among this same group of sceptics, 78% believe that sponsorship contributes positively to the championship1. Provided that brands are able to engage in an authentic way with the sport and engage positively with its fans, the commercial opportunities are significant. 

Harness The Action 

One of the series’ greatest attributes is the quality of racing. Despite its effort to level the playing field, F1 finds itself in a predicament with Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s continued dominance risks alienating some casual fans. Conversely, with at least seven different riders and four constructors winning races in the last two seasons, the guarantee of on-track battles in MotoGP makes it one of, if not the most exciting and closely contested championships in the world. This is one of the series’ greatest selling points and offers brands a strong intrinsic platform to entice and engage with the next generation of fans.  

Nurture Star Power  

With the exception perhaps of six-time World Champion Marc Márquez, MotoGP is suffering from a lack of transcendent “stars” like the Valentino Rossi’s of the past. Given the success of Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” in raising the profile and building the marketability of drivers and other personalities within F1 (e.g. former Haas F1 Principal Guenther Steiner), it would not be unrealistic to expect the media giant to have similar designs for MotoGP. Both Liberty and brands will have a role in championing the athletes and creating content and experiences around them. 

Target Key Regions 

It’s no surprise that the current series calendar is largely dictated by markets where the manufacturers are based and where two wheels are the primary, or a major mode of transport – as 85% of the 21 races in 2024 will be hosted in Europe (12) and Asia (6). However, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta recently alluded to a desire for more races outside of Europe, and we have seen Liberty Media’s inclination to expand the global calendar in F1.  

So, what kind of changes to the race calendar could we expect? Given the audience and OEM profile, the series’ continued presence in Asia is not only assured but, noting the comparative lack of F1 races in region, Liberty may look to double-down here. Alternatively, having seen Liberty’s F1 marketing focus and with Nashville’s own Trackhouse Racing team joining the grid in 2024, a second U.S. race could be in the cards, as well as the possible reintroduction of a race in South America. Brands looking to consolidate or expand their presence in any of these regions should take note of future MotoGP schedule developments as they come to light.   

Find White Space 

From an entry point perspective, at a team level MotoGP’s rights offering is comparable to F1 but at a significantly lower price point. However, bikes have limited branding real estate and in the case of the top teams the partner landscape is already cluttered. So, brands may need to dig deeper into their pockets to secure premium exposure.  

At a series level there is currently more white space from a partnership standpoint; with just five “Official Sponsors” at the start of the 2024 season joined recently by Qatar Airways. Liberty will undoubtedly want to build on this, including the potential for the introduction of regional partnerships; particularly if supported by investment in virtual signage and the aforementioned geographic expansion of the calendar. However, like F1, a series deal provides no access to teams or talent, so complementing a series deal with a team partnership could be advisable. Whichever route brands choose, the arrival of new brands is sure to disrupt the partner landscape in the sport, including interest from both a B2B and B2C industry perspective such as technology, financial services, clothing, and accessories brands, among others. 

Liberty’s ongoing bid to secure the €4.2Bn controlling stake in MotoGP will be an area to watch over the coming weeks and months, as the opportunities for growth could be vast, but timing will also be crucial to any deal. 

It will be some time before the takeover is completed and we fully understand Liberty’s intentions for MotoGP, and there are other factors still at play. The advent of new regulations to be introduced in 2027 and rumours of a potential BMW team entering the field are sure to shake things up, so there’s no need to move too early. 

At the same time, many teams rely on sponsorship revenue for financial stability and interested brands will be keen to secure a top-tier rights package at a sympathetic price point. If Liberty successfully transforms MotoGP’s commercial landscape, an influx of companies looking to capitalise is sure to follow. This could lead to more congested categories, inflated fees edging out smaller partner deals, as well as more restricted and costly access to at-track experiences and broadcast. So, while there is a desire not to miss the boat from a brand point of view, the commercial growth of the sport could also create challenges with fan engagement and access in the future.  

In the interim, brands should remain vigilant of Liberty’s ambitions and potential acquisition of MotoGP and be prepared to take action when they feel the time is right. 

1 2022 Global MotoGPTM Fan Survey 

Anthony Dealtry is a Group Director at Octagon, based in the agency’s London office.