It’s a question that needs to be considered. Despite the fact that we were all treated to a vintage masterclass in Rossi getting it just right at exactly the right time yesterday, he can’t carry on forever. More’s the pity.
When Bridgepoint (*) merged Infront (WSB) with Dorna (MotoGP) in 2011, it forced us to think about the future for both championships. In the red corner we have WSB. A bona fida world championship, packed with the kind of talent that can’t be questioned (this piece isn’t about lap times) but one that is indirectly linked to production bikes and therefore global sports bike sales. They might be showing signs of life, but in general, sports bike sales are tough. In the blue corner we have MotoGP. Bigger, better in everyway and showing little sign of slowing down anytime soon, it’s clear for all to see that MotoGP is the cherry on the Dorna cake.
Bridgepoint is an international private equity group. It is their job to turn large piles of cash into even larger piles of cash. It’s simple business. That simple business principle was the reason why within 12 months of Bridgepoint buying Infront and WSB for an undisclosed sum and merging it with Dorna, it had sold a 39% stake in Dorna to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. Another large investment group whose job is to turn large piles of cash into even larger piles of cash.
Men in suits are working flat out to protect their investments. They’re constantly studying form, looking to be able to predict trends and capitalize, or minimize risk for their clients by selling up and realizing a return. Like we said, simple business. If you were a betting man (which we’re not), what would you say is the next big thing that is going to happen in MotoGP? Jack Miller finding his form? Marco Melandri bagging a competitive ride? Bradley Smith sticking one on the top step? Aside from hoping that all these things happen, we doubt they’ll have much of a long-term impact on business at Dorna. For us, the next big thing that Bridgepoint must be trying to nail a date to is the one where Valentino Rossi retires from the sport. Regardless of whether you’re a fan, his value to the business of MotoGP is obvious. With a net worth reputed to be over $125m, Valentino Rossi is the highest earning two wheeled motorsport athlete on the planet. In business terms, he has his own gravitational field. Sure Marc Marquez might be the next big thing on track, but which do you think will have more of an impact on the sport, Marquez winning more or Rossi packing up his leathers and leaving?
With every investment there has to be a timeline. You buy, you build and then you sell at the best possible moment. When Rossi leaves, so too will some of the value in Dorna. Obviously Bridgepoint could sell Dorna to another private equity group and we might not even feel the difference. But what if we did? What if Rossi fans stop watching when he retires and this has an impact on the value of Dorna, what happens then? When Rossi was out injured in 2010, Auditel TV viewing figures in Italy alone showed that nearly half of them couldn’t be arsed to watch if the Goat wasn’t on track. That’s three million people in one country out of many, choosing not to watch the racing just because of one guy. When he came back, so did the viewers. The whole point of private investment groups is managing the growth of investments, as well as minimizing the risk of those investments along the way. With Rossi competitive this year, it’s hard to imagine him hanging up his leathers this season. But what about next year or the year after? As long as there are two motorbikes on the planet then we’ll have racing, but without Rossi, is it worth paying for? With rumours abound that Casey Stoner could make a return in 2016 with HRC or even Ducati, we can only hope that for now at least, both Rossi and the moneymen can see the value in him sticking around.
* We did call Bridgepoint to discuss this over a week ago, the nice lady said somebody would be back to us as soon as possible.
Words: Johnatsuperbike Image: Yamaharacing