With the news coming out today that Ant West will not be able to make the grid for the 2012 motor GP season, due to his inability to find funding for his ride, brings up an interesting take on where the sport of MotoGP, motorcycle racing, and motor sports in general fits in with life today in our current economic environment.
Young riders coming up today, and even current riders, need to understand that they are no longer being paid to race. This is a major change in mindset, what they are paid to do is work as a marketing tool for their sponsors and patrons. For most of the history of athletics and motorsports, one of two things had to happen for you to compete, you either were either wealthy, or, you had to have a wealthy patron. Patron, another term for sponsor, is something that disappeared, for the most part, post-World War II on a personal level. Post World War II sponsorship came from corporations rather than people though that really didn't become visible until the 1960s with the Lotus Formula One team.
In today's world, corporations aren't racing for anything more than exposure. And that exposure is not so much about what happens on the racetrack, it's what happens with that sponsorship at the track and off the track. In fact, most sponsors don't care a whole lot about what happens on the track as long as their brand is visible, it's about what you're doing with your visibility and your hospitality on a race weekend. Then, it's also about, promotion pre-race and post race. On top of that it's doing appearances for the corporation when and where they choose.
Hospitality might be one of the most under-appreciated items by racers and fans. Many times sponsors are looking to market themselves and strike business deals with other companies and sponsors at the race track. If you look at successful Indy car teams like Penske, Newman Haas and Ganassi, or most of the top F1 teams, you will find that the hospitality at a race is another location like the golf course for business people to expand contacts and strike deals.
It would behoove any person interested in racing going forward to dedicate as much time, effort and passion to cultivating sponsors and patrons as they do training physically to go racing. Without cubic dollars you will not be able to compete unless you are the very exceptional person. And while every athlete/racer thinks they are that exceptional person, 99.44% of those people are not. What is important is to develop deeper relationships with people using any connections at your disposal to develop sponsorship.
All sponsorship is a personal connection with a person, or a corporation or a person within a corporation. Many many times a person leaves a corporation and that sponsorship disappears for the racer/athlete with that connection. You have to make multiple connections within a company, not just rely on one person, and do it with more than one company. Just because something doesn't work out today, does not mean it will not work out down the road if you keep working it, never put all your eggs in one basket.
Is this the ideal situation? No. But it is reality in 2012. In an ideal world we all like to see racers and athletes rewarded for performance and talent, but that is not, nor has ever been reality. People with money will always have more opportunities, unless those who don't are exceptional at finding sponsorship through their ability to market themselves.
Ant West, Yonny Hernandez and many others, including fans, have to realize that racing is a business. It's a business for the team, for the sponsors, and for the racers. To deny this is to be naive. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you can't secure the backing to get yourself a ride, then it matters not.