A Curious Missive: FIM And Infront Motor Sports Announce They Are Officially BFF

The most common question asked of hardcore motorcycle racing fans by their partners is surely this: "Is that the one that Rossi's in?" That deceptively simple question encompasses just about all of the problems and challenges faced by world championship motorcycle racing both at present and into the future: The similarity to the casual observer of the World Superbike and MotoGP championships; the primacy and importance of Valentino Rossi within motorcycle racing; and the fact that both series appear to be fighting over the same core audience.

That battle is part of a greater struggle, an extended Cold War between the two series over which is to be the dominant motorcycle racing series. This cold war is about to hot up, with the new rules for the MotoGP series which are due to take effect from the 2012 season (see our analysis of the 2012 MotoGP rules, for a full explanation). The admission of 1000cc bikes, and more importantly, the dropping of the stipulation that engines must be prototypes, allowing the possibility that teams will be able to enter MotoGP bikes powered by existing, production-based engines such as BMW's S1000RR or Aprilia's RSV1000R, has raised the hackles of Infront Motor Sports (the commercial rights holder for World Superbikes), and put the organization on a war footing.

The FIM, as sanctioning body and partner, and as the party who sold IMS the commercial rights to WSBK, has a very thin line to walk. The FIM has to ensure that both WSBK and MotoGP receive the promotion they need to ensure motorcycle racing has a strong future, while avoiding the appearance of favoritism between the two competing organizations. 

That balancing act has been made even more difficult by the effect of the global economic crisis on the MotoGP series. The financial crisis and ensuring global downturn has seen a host of measures rushed through to help cut costs, the most prominent of which include the allowing of production engines in the otherwise prototype series. Moto2 was the first exception, with specially-tuned Honda CBR600 engines being used to replace the former 250s, but the greater sin, in the eyes of Infront Motor Sports, is the allowing of production engines under the 2012 MotoGP rules.

These changes have introduced a lot of tension into the relationship between the FIM and Infront. Both parties are expending a lot of effort on this situation: IMS to ratchet up the pressure and force the FIM to prevent the use of production engines - something which they claim they have an exclusive right to - and the FIM to soothe the troubled waters, and reassure IMS that the MotoGP changes will not encroach on Infront's territory.

One of the signs of this tension has been the issuing by the FIM of a rather strange press release by the FIM, in which they affirm their support for the World Superbike championship and their appreciation of the work that Infront has done in promoting the series. The press release came after a visit by Infront's top brass, including CEO Phillipe Blatter, nephew of the controversial FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, Stephan Herth, and former FGSport owners and IMS CEOs Maurizio and Paolo Flammini. The high-powered delegation were met by FIM representatives of the same caliber: FIM President Vito Ippolito, deputy president Jorge Viegas and CE Guy Maitre, just to name a few.

The meeting apparently resolved nothing concrete, hence the woolly - and rather aptly, warm and fuzzy - wording of the press release, though both parties apparently came away feeling they had gained something from the meeting. The two key passages in the press release allow both sides to claim a victory: IMS got a statement from the FIM affirming that the World Superbike championship's "unique identity" is because it is "the only Road Racing World Series for production motorcycles." The FIM merely affirmed what it has said all along, that WSBK is a series for production motorcycles [my emphasis], and not production components.

What effect this will have on the changes to MotoGP, and whether Infront can prevent the use of production engines from 2012 will be discussed in a new piece of analysis coming shortly on MotoMatters.com. Stay tuned.

Below is the full text of the press release from IMS and the FIM:

FIM & Infront fully aligned to further strengthen the FIM Superbike World Championship

The strong position and unique status of the Championship will be reinforced with joint efforts throughout the next years

On the occasion of a top-level meeting this week, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) and Infront Sports & Media expressed once again their joint commitment to further strengthen the unique profile of the FIM Superbike World Championship (SBK) and its position as one of the leading international motor sports series. FIM acknowledges the efforts Infront has taken in enhancing the competition throughout recent years and will continue to support the international sports marketing agency in all its activities for a sustainable development of the FIM Superbike World Championship.

A key property for both partners

Sanctioned by the FIM and promoted by Infront Motor Sports, the annual FIM Superbike World Championship is the only Road Racing World Series for production motorcycles. This uniqueness and its popularity amongst motor sport fans make the championship a key asset for the FIM and a valuable property for Infront, as one of the leading international sports marketing agencies. In addition, the series fulfils a clear market need as it uses the same bikes as millions of passionate motorcycling fans around the globe.

In order to reinforce an aligned approach for the upcoming years, high-ranking FIM representatives – including President Vito Ippolito, Deputy President Jorge Viegas and CEO Guy Maitre as well as other members of FIM management – met with members from the Infront management – including its President & CEO Philippe Blatter, Stephan Herth, Executive Director Summer Sports, as well as the SBK founders Maurizio and Paolo Flammini representing Infront Motor Sports as President and CEO – at the FIM headquarters in Mies, Switzerland.

Fulfilling a clear market need

The participants agreed on the high potential of the FIM Superbike World Championship and both entities are fully committed to support the future development of the series. The aim is to strengthen the profile of the competition and a unique position within the portfolio of FIM sanctioned top series.

Vito Ippolito said: "During the past three years, Infront has invested considerable efforts into promoting the series as well as enhancing it in various fields – be it the brand positioning, the TV coverage, the marketing or the fan interaction. We highly appreciate the significant contribution and comprehensive know-how of the Infront Group and will closely co-operate in ensuring the successful future of the championship. It is clearly a core asset for FIM."

Philippe Blatter added: "This meeting has been extremely valuable and the reinforcement of our joint commitment is a clear sign for the sport itself and all stakeholders of the FIM Superbike World Championship, including manufacturers, sponsors, media and racing circuits. Together with FIM we will further develop the unique identity of Superbike and make sure that it remains its strong position within the motor sports realm. The much increased TV audience in 2010 and the raising popularity among motor sports fans, clearly indicates the potential of this competition. We are prepared to further invest into the property creating more added-value for commercial partners and further excitement for the fans."

Successful development of the series

In May 2007, Infront made a considerable investment in the FGSPORT Group, promoter of the FIM Superbike World Championship. It subsequently re-branded the company as Infront Motor Sport and has since then continuously invested in enhancing the competition – with very positive results. Under Infront's tenure, live coverage has increased by 27% since 2007 and the number of broadcast partners has grown by 40%. Onsite attendance also remains at high levels, with one million fans visiting the circuits.

The FIM Superbike World Championship is today broadcast in approximately 175 countries and the 2010 season saw a TV audience increase of 33% compared to the previous year. With more than 3,000 broadcast hours of coverage, it reached a cumulative audience of 498 million viewers for the series. Following a website re-launch in 2009 and a comprehensive new media strategy, online interaction with fans has also risen. As a result of these developments, sponsors benefit from a much enhanced visibility and brand exposure - even beyond the actual races. 

Back to top


What do you figure is the percentage of the MotoGP audience that ONLY watches MotoGP David?

I watch MotoGP, WSBK, AMA, and I would watch BSB & Aussie SBK if I could get it here in NYC, as does everyone else that I know that watches motorcycle racing. I understand why there are legal wranglings between In Front - FIM - Dorna, but I don't feel like they're fighting over an exclusive audience as long as the races aren't scheduled on the same day. Even if they were, people like me DVR all the races anyway and still watch them all.

Maybe it's different in Europe, especially Spain & Italy, I don't know...

Just think of how much attendance/viewership supposedly suffers when Rossi isn't there (ie he's injured). It seems quite a few people are only there to see #46, and won't even bother watching the race on TV if he's not going to race.

...the souvenir stands sold ONLY #46 merchandise. Rightly or wrongly, misguided or not, that's how things are (or at least were) out there in the real world.

I'm sure that IMS are looking forward to when Rossi "graduates" to WSBK. They can hear the money raining from the sky...

The last WSBK race I attended at Assen had memorabilia for other riders, although #46 souvenirs were certainly some of the top sellers.

I've been twice and there was mechandise from almost all the riders and teams. On the opposite side of the track from the tunnel entrance, under the main grandstands. I don't see how anyone could miss it.

In the press release, Infront claim an audience of nearly 500 million for the series, which presumably means for the entire season. Dorna claims an audience of 300 million for each race. Similarly, attendance at races is usually around a third for WSBK rounds at the tracks where MotoGP also races, with a few exceptions. Hardcore motorcycle racing fans (and if you're reading this, there's about a 99.999% chance that that's a fair description of you) watch both series, and AMA and BSB and Aus SBK and IDM and CEV and CIV if they can get them somehow. Casual viewers only watch MotoGP, as a rule.

... partners (i.e. your girlfriend). I know when I flip on SBK my girlfriend always asks "which one is Rossi?" or "what place is Stoner in?"
From there I have to explain that I'm watching SBK which is different than MotoGP. Then I have to explain why it is different. "Well babe, they race on some of the same tracks, the bikes are production not prototype, and they don't get paid as much" etc. etc.
Or if I don't feel like explaining it I just say "It's kinda like Minor League MotoGP" but I feel that is a disservice to SBK riders hahaha.
The fact that she pays enough attention to know who Rossi and Stoner are is enough for me ;)

...coming up with enough superlatives to express how much I agree with you.

My wife knows the difference, doesn't give two shakes about WSBK, and ALWAYS asks, "How's Nicky doing?".

And that suits me just FINE. :) Nicky may not be my favorite rider, but I'm glad that she pays any attention at all... :)

My wife loves both and knows all the riders. She falls asleep occasionally because it's usually late at night but she always wants to know the results when I go to bed. She also loves world rally and that's a bonus!!

Chances are that people reading this site will not need explaining the difference between GP's and SBK.

My F1 loving colleagues have a clear view of what F1 is, due to the massive difference in speed (lap times) and look with other race cars.

Bikes seem to have reached their current design limits and no progress is forth coming - all bikes look the same...to the casual viewer.
Unless Superbike becomes a true showroom to racetrack format - with minimal fiddling (which I think it should be), and GP bikes go for hub steering or something obviously different - the problem will always be there.

The UK switched from being dominated by Supers to GP's around the time of Fogarty's retirement and Rossi going mainstream, so maybe it will only ever be about the most interesting riders, and not the series.

I wonder how the MSMA are going to approach this issue. A dismal Rossi/Ducati failure in GP this season may well be the end of prototype GP,given grid sizes and budgets.
Will Max Biaggi have the last laugh ? The whole 2012 platform,from factory to CRT and everything in between makes for a GP 2001 season revisited.
A nothing season it was,as far as I'm concerned.
Get them all on a level playing field,manufacture's,tyres and riders.
Just as GP enters its final phase of the 800 edition and easily its most anticipated and most competitive,the ruling bodies conspire to mess it all up for the experimental 2012 version. 2000 vs 2001, 2006 vs 2007, 2011 vs 2012.
I certainly have no solutions,but the sport desperately needs to have one premier class cast in stone like 500cc had for many years.
Look forward to the next update and the Portimao/Sepang tests.

What rules changed from 2000 to 2001 in GP racing?
You must mean from 2001 to 2002 when 990cc four strokes were allowed.

Imo, the FIM has just informed InFront that the MSMA will mass-produce SBK race bikes. InFront is very happy to hear the news.

In other words, it's back to the 1990s. The manufacturers will build special runs of bikes with titanium engine internals, frame bracketing, racing swingarms, racing fuel tanks, race transmissions (maybe), race cooling systems, race oil systems, racing electronics, etc. The international and national teams will be responsible to make contracts for brakes, suspension, exhaust, bodywork, chains, sprockets, crash protection, and wheels. Tires and fuel basically come from the organizers now.

If I were to take a guess, the homologation papers will regulate static compression to increase longevity (same as Moto2 low-comp engine), and the electronics will have a rev limit (same as Moto2). Both comp and rev limits will reduce performance slightly, but it will hardly be noticeable. The game will be policed by black box (same as Moto2). They might restrict the number of engines per season, but I'm not sure b/c of the crash problems they cause.

It's back to the 1990s. All SBK series on earth use roughly the same equipment which will hopefully encourage an international field of riders like they had in the 1990s. InFront wins b/c costs plummet and everyone has access to top equipment. Imo, InFront will also win b/c Supersport will become 600cc SBK (like AMA FX). Teams win b/c costs plummet and they can buy race-winning equipment. Manufacturers win b/c race bike construction is centralized (major cost reduction). Fans win b/c racing will return to the 1990s, and we won't even notice the minor performance reduction. WSBK race-bikes might be available for public sale (if you can afford them).

That's my shot in the dark. Sounds almost too good to be true. I'm sure the FIM, the MSMA, and InFront will figure out some way to screw it up. If they get it right, WSBK will be something truly special, and the international sportbike marketplace could be rehabilitated.

I like your hypothesis. I hope you are right, the 90s were indeed great SBK years. Great motorcycle years in general. But...

"Imo, the FIM has just informed InFront that the MSMA will mass-produce SBK race bikes. InFront is very happy to hear the news."

Where did you read that?

Seriously -- I really do!
My wife LOVES bike racing every bit as much as me and knows as much as I do, apart from BSB, which she doesn't follow to the same extent as me.
Because of my interest (in MotoGP in particular) quite a lot of the people that I work with take notice of it too, although their questions invariably centre around Valentino!

. . . but my Missus also knows a bit about the bike racing and enjoys it. My racing passion extends to working corners, etc. at the track. She's always been great about supporting me to do that. In fact, it extends to her going and working the event as well. She seldom complains, even when there's more than a few reasons to do so.

As for this press release, it's what many call "fluff".

The problem is simple while the solution might be difficult. First, they've let SBK get too far away from the original NASCAR-style thing it started with. To any but the most committed viewer it's too hard to tell SBK from MotoGP. Back-in-the-day it was easy to tell Superbikes from GP bikes in the same way one can tell the difference between NASCAR and F1 cars. With riders moving back and forth between the two series and the same makers involved, other than a two-race format on race day there's just not a lot of difference these days. I would suggest SBK go back to its roots with only bikes made in real series production (1000 or more units perhaps?) for road use being used. Let 'em yank off the mufflers and run 'em!
Prototype or one-off machines should be in MOTOGP where they can write some rules letting them do a lot more, including build their own prototype engines - but if a team can modify a road machine enough to make it competitive in MOTOGP they should be allowed to run it.

Larry the bolt makes a good point. I realise that when I was watching production series racing in NZ in the 70s (Roger Freeth etc) they really did race proddy bikes. You could tell, because they used standard mufflers and it was eerily quite as they whish-whish-whished past, and bunched up at EACH corner!! Funny as hell, really. But that was proper production racing.

All I want is good close racing, I'm one of the female racing fans, and I don't care what series or what bikes are doing what; I want to see 4 to 6 bikes slipstreaming down straits, safe block passing into corners and competitive speeds its all about the racing, while it is great to see champions like Valentino, and Jorge and Casey battle it out with anywhere between 10 to 50 seconds back to the next battle, the racing spectacle is just not good enough.
Thats why I enjoy the superbikes, and hopefully the supersports this year they usually have good close racing for most of the race, with only stretching out in the final laps. And I reckon most bike racing fans will agree

Interesting post from pheonix and Larry, who make good points about what most hardcore fans think is the problem..how close are the bikes to our street models and how much does it cost to put them on the grid in this 'semi-prototype' format?

There was a lot of hoohar last year regards Aprilias gear driven cam and the bike not rolling off the production line with that set-up. Initially, I don't think there was a kit available although it is available now at around 25k euro, knocking on for twice the price of a brand new RSVR... What are the homologation rules for kit parts like this, if any? Surely the kit must be produced in sufficient numbers and made readily available, say the same number that applies to the bike itself. The cost of a kit part should be limited, to pick a figure lets say no more than 50% of the production engine if it's an engine part.
A lot of the bikes are running expensive 'race specific' electronics such as Marvel..what happened to the homologation process here? If they want to run traction, launch and wheelie control make them run the similar pre-set maps that they roll off the line with. I'm no electronics expert, but I can forsee a spec ECU being difficult to implement fairly across a wide range of engine configurations, so police it with homologation.

I don't particularly want to watch Superstock spec bikes race for the SBK world championship, when I know if I won the lottery I could build something, and put it on the road, that is faster round a track than the championship winning bike.
If that means SP versions, produced in sufficient numbers, of all the models as pheonix is hoping for then great! I have my doubts however..as the MSMA doesn't include all the manufacturers currently competing in WSBK, not least the champs. GP is their baby..and let them have it, with 21litres, dwindling grids and stratospheric costs. The Japs got a bloody nose in SBK when they got kicked off the rule making panel and IMO that's the way it should stay.

Infront and the Famminis are doing a good job, but the lap time isn't everything.
If GP want sterile, wheel in-line racing, fine...But with a few tweaks I reckon SBK could steal the march on them in terms of sheer spectacle and entertainment, especially if a certain rider decides to move over in a couple of years.

Give the rider his throttle back and let the fans have some tyre smoking action where they can see who's the best at balancing too much power with not enough grip..which is what I always thought riding big bikes was all about.

That's an interesting question... I had always thought it was MotoGP, by virtue of it being a prototype series, more money involved, they're faster, etc.

I think if WSBK ever makes a big push to try and position themselves as the dominant series that they will be in for a world of hurt... Is there really a problem with the way things are? Alot of problems are created when you get too greedy...

Maybe the fight between the people of IMS and FIM will continue for long time, as i'll concern i dont give absolute prefference, i'll like to watch both series GP and SBK, in my point of view dont matter what series is, is about speed, adrenaline, and emotions, in my case i'll cannot saw SBK races on TV, so i constantly look for online tv tranmissions and keep watching, the thing in common for a hardcore fan is the speed, more and more speed. so the difference between speeds of a Honda RC212V and aprilia RSV4F for me dont matter.

Right than in GP there is the living leyend of rossi, but he is not the only one living leyend, i'll give recognition to troy bayliss, he is also a leyend of SBK, when his red ducati was considered the monster in the series, also dont forgive max "Emperor" Biaggi, the eternal rossi's enemy, is the recent champion and as i see looks like than we have more races for biaggi and his alitalia RSV4F.

for me there no GP vs SBK, is GP and SBK, more races to watch that's all.

Have the Japs started developing 1000cc bikes yet? There has been the odd murmour from Suzuki, but that could be to negate their expected withdrawl and throw Dorna off the scent, but nothing from Yamaha and Honda who have actually talked about running their 800s.

Do Infront have a stronger position than first thought and is this the opening salvo that will see the CRT/1000cc proposals withdrawn? Ducati have hired Rossi and have supposedly started on the new bike, they won't be happy but may consider dumping GP and return to SBK with a new bike and Val, who has said in the past he fancies a shot at it. Given the 800 statements from the other two, would there be any argument from them if the FIM indicated they were batting on a sticky wicket with litre production engines? maybe the MSMA are actually behind it all and have changed their minds(again), with Ezpeletas blessing, keeping GP as a rolling R&D testbed and 100% prototype for their precious electronics and fuel economy experiment.
Could it be that the 24 litre allowance for CRT, which is messy and undefined, has given the MSMA the collywobbles?
If we get a season of brilliant racing now the 800s have had time to settle, as a few fans seem to be saying "why change it?"

Just a conspiracy theory and time will tell..but it certainly looks a bit black over Bills house, or should that be Carmelos..

I speak from the old daze (early 1980's) of AMA Superbike where fan identification was a lot like NASCAR used to be - the fan could imagine his/her machine out there -- since the cars/bikes actually began life (in most cases anyway, some of the Honda and Kawasaki bikes even then were rumored to be factory team race bikes with VIN's stamped into the frames) as road machines anyone could buy. Even back then Honda had dry clutch and dry sump kits for their inline 4's and had more horsepower than pretty much any privateer team could buy...but the racing was exciting and VERY different from the GP series with fully-faired, prototype machines with no connection to a road-going bike.
I think a return to something closer to this spec would bring SBK back to its roots and set it apart from MOTOGP. Let 'em yank off the mufflers so the crowd "enjoys" the noise, mount up proper racing tires, use the most refined suspension guts that'll fit inside what comes stock on the bike, remove the air cleaner and RACE. That's the best chance to bring back the "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" idea.
MOTOGP should be open to one-off chassis and suspension designs with either prototype or production-based engines. If your bike and rider can qualify within X % of the fastest time, you're on the grid (this could be adjusted to keep the field to a reasonable size) otherwise, go back to the shop and work on it some more. Control the electronic rider aids to make racing a test of who can RIDE their machine better instead of who is riding the better machine. If we let so-called "evolution" run unchecked what's to stop someone from adding two more wheels to the thing? F1 cars get around these circuits far quicker than motorcycles EVER will.
Sport is supposed to be a set of rules designed to create inefficiencies -- to allow the competitors to show their ability.
And now I take my step down from my soapbox!

Sounds like most people here, quite predictably, watch and are fans of both series. We have attended race events of both series. So why the territorial pissing? I just dont get it.

As for how my wife discerns which series is which. Again who gives a damn. She is not the FIM, IMS, Dorna or the sponsors target audience. I am. Admittedly it used to be easy - GP is two strokes and SBK is four strokes. But now trying to describe prototype versus production blah blah blah. Forget it. Its just moto racing dear let me watch in peace. Which I mostly do, after everyone else has gone to bed.

But heres a thought, with the shrinking economy and the emerging parity between series, do we have a CART v INDY situation, with an inevitable merger down the line at some point. As a casual 4-wheel fan I follow F1 pretty closely, NASCAR a bit, but rarely INDY. I can tell a F1 car from a NASCAR they obviously look vastly different. But to the layman the F1 and INDY cars look strikingly similar. Do they suffer a similar distinction war? Does F1 have to maintain its supremacy over INDY through the FIA?

I dunno, all this just smells like noisy posturing by big egos when all we want is lots of moto racing, whatever it looks like