Valentino Rossi’s back, but where’s the money? Yamaha explains

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When Yamaha launches its 2013 factory MotoGP world championship effort in Jerez tomorrow (Friday), Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo’s YZR-M1 machinery will once again be missing a title sponsor.

The return of Italian icon Rossi, who remains unquestionably the biggest box office star in MotoGP, has not attracted significant fresh investment to the Japanese factory, which is preparing for a third successive season without a naming rights backer on its fairing.

That despite Yamaha winning six out of the last nine world titles with Rossi and Lorenzo.

The last time Yamaha had a title sponsor was in 2010, when Fiat supported the factory team before it withdrew as Rossi embarked on a disastrous two-year adventure with Ducati.

There is increased investment this year from Monster Energy but Rossi and Lorenzo will once again by entered under the Yamaha Factory Racing banner.

Speaking last month to MCN, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis gave his view on Yamaha’s current sponsorship situation and the difficulties facing factories seeking fresh investment.

The first issue in attracting investment from blue chip companies and globally recognised brands was tough in the current economic climate, with the global financial crisis continuing to have a major impact.

Jarvis also believes that the focus on MotoGP still remains too heavily biased in Europe, and in particular Spain and Italy where the economy crisis remains severe amidst crippling debt and escalating unemployment.

As Jarvis has stated numerous times in recent history, he believes MotoGP must shift its focus to the booming South East Asia market.

Not only are bike sales flourishing in the region, with Yamaha Indonesia targeting close to 3m sales in 2013, but interest in MotoGP is phenomenal and rising rapidly.

Rossi and Lorenzo took part in a promotional tour in Jakarta recently, which was attended by well over 50 journalists and TV crews and more than 3000 Yamaha dealers.

Record crowds at the Sepang race last season are also proof of the growing popularity of MotoGP in South East Asia, though a call by Jarvis to for two races to be held in Malaysia until new tracks in the region are ready is unlikely to be supported by Dorna.

Speaking about the sponsorship situation, Jarvis told MCN: “I think that’s a problem firstly due to the global economy and secondly a problem with the current status of MotoGP. It is still too much European focused.

"We now have three races in America, which is fine and positive but with the exception of Monster Energy there are not any other big American brands joining the sport. The key area of business for Yamaha is Asia. We need to be there more.

"I went to an event in Indonesia with Valentino and Jorge and I’ve never seen anything like it. There were 3500 Yamaha dealers present and it was phenomenal and this year Yamaha Indonesia is planning to sell 2.8m units. Then you have Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, so clearly South East Asia is key and we are not there enough yet.

"There is no culture there of sponsorship involvement. Our riders are incredibly popular and I can see it starting with some teams picking up Indonesian riders but this is a long process.

"Primarily the sponsorship has come from Italy and Spain. You have global companies involved but the driving force behind making those sponsorship deals happen is being driven by companies in Italy and Spain and the economy in both countries is in dire straits. Look at HRC this year; they don’t have any new sponsors on the bike.

"With the exception of Repsol, which has been there for years, there are not a lot of new sponsors coming in. And look at Ducati now. They have lost Generali, Diesel and Eni and this is probably down to two bad years and also the departure of Valentino but that sponsorship has not moved to another team.

"The recession is probably at its toughest moment in Europe. Monster Energy joining us is very welcome and our sponsorship situation this year is better than last year. This is stimulated by Valentino’s arrival but Monster Energy’s programme with Yamaha is a global programme and the one element they have been missing for years is direct involvement with Yamaha’s factory team.

"They had it last year with Ben Spies as a personal sponsor but we need these companies to also become a real partner of the manufacturer or team.”

Explaining what added value nine-times world champion Rossi can bring to Yamaha aside from his performances on the track, Jarvis gave an example of Rossi’s popularity during a recent stay in Malaysia.

He said: “I met a guy in the hotel and he is kind of a semi-fan of MotoGP and he follows a little bit. He was asking what was going on and he asked me about who was riding for us and when I mentioned Jorge and Valentino he said’ oh, Valentino Rossi, he is legendary and amazing’.

"So the perception of Valentino goes far behind the inner circle of motorcycle fans. Valentino is the only current motorcyclist that is truly legendary and that’s the value of him.

"Valentino’s following on Twitter is huge and Jorge’s is too. In terms of sporting performance there is no doubt at all that Jorge is at the top of his game and in my opinion he is still the rider with the biggest chance to win the championship this year again. Valentino will be in the fight but the marketing power of Valentino is phenomenal.”

Rossi’s immense popularity though has not translated into new sponsorship opportunities and Jarvis added: “What that can translate to in terms of sponsorship remains to be seen because the global economy is tough. But our history together has a real value and that allows us to continue to enjoy the heritage we developed in our previous seven years together.

"One of the biggest shames when he left was that had he left and retired it would have been one story. But when he left and went to another brand it meant we were unable to continue that value or use that asset we had built up over seven years. Now we can develop new stories.”

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt