Lately I have written mostly on the build up to races and the events that have unfolded at the races. However this will not be one of those posts as I want to get in to a topic that may take more than just one post to figure out and frankly it may not be figured out at all, but I feel as a supporter of the sport that I should, at the very least, try to understand just what is going on.
The topic I am speaking about is the debate of why WorldSBK is just not keeping up with the standard of MotoGP, and for this reason is not as popular.
Now I could get in to all the technical and mechanical aspects but that has been discussed over and over and in all honesty, not being the most technically minded, it goes right over my head and that can be said for a lot of people that follow motorcycle racing. We don’t all understand the in’s and outs of the bikes as much as we love them. Not only that but I really do believe that the difference in the performance of the bikes is not to blame for the difference in popularity between the two championships.
If it all came down to speed in sports, Golf and Tennis would have no hope, yet they are two of the biggest sports in the world. So why is that?
First of all the WorldSBK championship bikes are really close to that of the bikes we can ride straight off the shop floor. Yes they have been modified in some way to improve their performance, but we talking about the likes of the Kawasaki ZX10, Ducati Panigale, Yamaha R1, BMW S1000RR, the bikes we all love and dream of riding. So why would a championship filled with our favourite machines not be as popular as Golf and Tennis or the MotoGP series?
There is a lot that the WorldSBK can actually learn from Golf and Tennis. But wait a minute, what could a championship of fast and loud motorcycles learn from Golf and Tennis?
That answer, I think, is simple, and it comes from the way we live our everyday lives in the new age, on social media.
Golf has the likes of Rickie Fowler and Rory Mcilroy at the helm of it’s social network, Tennis has Rafael Nadal. You feel like you really know these guys from the way they interact on social media, as if you live just around the corner or they are a friend of a friend. These guys are not just popular on the field of play but off it too, they are true modern icons of sport. MotoGP has the ‘Rossi factor’.
Valentino is easily the most popular and possibly most recognisable sportsman on earth. The reason for this, well not only is he the greatest motorcycle racer of all time or GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), as he is also known, but he is also a marketing and social media genius. What he does off the track has played just as big a role in the building of the Rossi empire as what he has done on the track. After all these years he has managed to stay relevant, and it doesn’t seem as if that will end any time soon. Rossi is not just a racer but he is a brand, in fact VR46 now does all the merchandise for the entire MotoGP brand. You can be a part of the Rossi experience whether it’s a race weekend or off season, he is on top of his social media game. Yes he probably has a great marketing team behind him but it works and in a big way!
The image that these guys are creating for themselves on social media adds in a big way to their popularity, and to boot, the popularity of their respective sports.
Yes, I am afraid, gone are the days of sports being pure, all about what you do on the field or on the track. You could just be good at what you did and that’s that. Nowadays you need a following, you need to inspire even when you are not performing. Rossi is fully aware of this and now other young riders are following in his footsteps. Not only them but MotoGP itself has created a great social media presence. These days it’s all about how much ‘stuff’ you can get your hands on. Images, videos, constantly updated information because we now always need to be in the know, feeling like we are a part of what is going on. I for one am one of those people, never satisfied, always needing more. MotoGP gives me what I need. Their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and more is always up to date, constantly keeping you in the know and feeding you with video and images. English football is most probably the leader at this. WorldSBK on the other hand is not quite on the same levels and it is certainly an area it can improve on in order to attract the new generation of media addicts. It must be said that WorldSBK has started to improve slowly and with riders like Nicky Hayden coming over from MotoGP to spread the social media presence in the SBK paddock, it sure to improve even more.
That does bring another topic of discussion to the forefront and that may be a touchy one. The riders. Are they as good as the MotoGP riders? There is something, maybe just my passion for the sport, that makes me want to say yes but the proof is most certainly in the pudding. From past experience it would suggest that the levels are just not the same, especially when comparing the top WorldSBK riders to the top ‘Aliens’, as Rossi, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Marquez and formally Stoner are known, in MotoGP. Some believe that Jonathan Rea could be the guy to bridge this gap but it is yet to be seen and I somehow doubt it will be true, as good a rider that he is.
Now the reasons for this could be in the development of the riders. The reason I say this is that the development of the MotoGP riders is evidently of the highest level. They are primed and built for the most intense form of racing from the very outset. The competition and the battles you see in the lower classes are unbelievable and are most definitely going to produce outstanding riders. The rider academies are top class, and again Rossi has his hand in this with his VR46 rider academy producing some of the best talent on the MotoGP rosters. I just don’t think WorldSBK matches these levels.
I will admit that of late I have not made it a priority to catch the WorldSBK races like I do the MotoGP and it has to do with the factors I have mentioned. I just don’t get the same kicks out of it, as much as I still love any form of motorcycle racing. This really is a shame, and I for one should be doing my bit to support it because in the end these guys are top athletes putting their lives on the line for the sport they love and for their fans. Unfortunately the racing, like Formula 1, has become as predictable as the cold in winter.
Why the performance of these bikes differ so much in the same race is beyond me, why it is allowed to differ so much is actually what is beyond me. Like in MotoGP you have the factory bikes and the private bikes but the performance within these classes in the race is quite close. In WorldSBK the Kawasaki’s are in a whole different league and having possibly the two best riders on the bike, it leaves the rest of the field battling it out for third which pretty much comes down to Ducati and Honda, Ducati more often than not. Are the Kawasaki engineers and mechanics just that good? What is it that is separating these teams by such distances that is so obvious on track? Maybe it’s time I get a bit more technical.
This is my word on the WorldSBK versus MotoGP debate.