Here's the great question that plagues MotoGP: How come Formula One teams - even backmarkers - generate many tens or even a couple of hundred million euros in sponsorship, while the most successful MotoGP team of recent years fielding the current World Champion cannot persuade a title sponsor to stump up between 5 and 10 million? The answer, of course, lies in the way in which the sport is promoted. MotoGP has a very strong appeal to its core audience, but it has struggled to break through into the mainstream. Somehow, most of the attempts to appeal to a wider audience have failed, and therefore the ability to bring in outside sponsorship has also struggled.
So Wednesday's publicity stunt by the factory Yamaha team must surely be applauded. Jorge Lorenzo, his pit crew and a few spare marshalls turned up, flash mob-style, to stage an entertaining little tableau which saw Lorenzo launch his Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP bike past one of the iconic buildings of the Barcelona skyline, Antoni Gaudi's Temple Expiatori De La Sagrada Familia, staging the start of a MotoGP race in front of a crowd of mystified but fascinated tourists.
The stunt was captured on video (shown below, as for once, an official MotoGP video has had embedding enabled, allowing the video to be shared on sites other than Youtube or MotoGP.com) and though technically it would not qualify as a genuine flash mob - the event was clearly staged and required too much participation from the authorities, from the standpoint of safety at the very least - it is still a stroke of marketing genius. Although Spain is clearly more open to having loud racing motorcycles parade in public than other European countries might do, by staging the event in front of an audience of unsuspecting tourists and in front of a building as iconic as Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, it takes motorcycle racing to the people, rather than having the people come to motorcycle racing. It should generate some excitement among non-fans, and bring more people into the sport.
That Yamaha should choose to suggest the event is telling. Though not having a title sponsor may be financially painful, it does give the company (and the team) a much freer hand to take part in activities such as this, which some title sponsors may be reluctant to get involved in. But Yamaha have been smart with promoting their brand through non-conventional means in MotoGP. Yamaha were the first team to jump on the social media bandwagon - before it was even a bandwagon - by heavily promoting the use of Twitter and Facebook last year.
Much of that came at the behest of former title sponsor Fiat and the agency (Hagakure) that Fiat hired to do the social media promotion, but the team jumped on the idea with a great deal of enthusiasm. Jorge Lorenzo is still extremely active on Twitter - genuinely answering questions from fans himself - while Valentino Rossi's mechanic, Alex Briggs, has moved beyond cult status to become almost a mainstream star on Twitter, interacting enthusiastically with fans, answering their questions and explaining some of the background of his work. Unfortunately for Yamaha, Briggs has moved to Ducati, following Rossi with the rest of his crew, but the efforts of Briggs, Lorenzo and even Lorenzo's crew chief Ramon Forcada have done much to promote the series and increase fan engagement.
MotoGP needs more of these kind of events, to help bring more people into the sport. It is hard to think of a sport more exciting than motorcycle racing, so it must be possible to capture the imaginations of people outside the sport. Once that happens, the sponsorship money will come of its own accord.
Here's the video of the event: