What do MotoGP fans really, really want?


The findings of Dorna’s MotoGP fans survey landed at Misano, as did Pecco Bagnaia’s controversial helmet and the announcement that MotoGP will race in Saudi Arabia. What to make of it all?


Over 50,000 fans turned up at Misano on Sunday, not bad considering that the rider that laid the golden egg has flown the nest


“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” wrote legendary American writer and humourist Mark Twain.

Twain wrote these words before market research was invented but they can equally apply to this consumer science as anything else, because statistics and numbers can be made to do strange things, just like words.

At Misano last week MotoGP rights-holder Dorna made a lot of noise about the results of its MotoGP fans survey, published on Friday. A few months ago the MotoGP rights-holders asked fans to fill in a questionnaire to help the company plot a future for the championship.


MotoGP’s fan survey media conference at Misano: Motorsport Network’s James Allen, Dorna’s Carlos Ezpeleta and Nielsen Sports’ Marco Nazzari


A lot of fans – 109,000 – completed the questionnaire, which provided statistical nuggets like: “92% of our fans have told us they are avid followers”, “94% of fans say that the sport provides exciting racing, “79% call MotoGP the world’s most exciting racing” and so on.

Impressive stuff. And yet, like all statistics, the numbers should be examined in context. Dorna says nearly half a billion households watch MotoGP, so if we assume an average of two people per household that means around 1% of MotoGP fans filled in the survey. And there’s little doubt that everyone who spent 15 or so minutes filling in the survey must be a hardcore fan, so in fact the survey’s reach is extremely limited.

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Nothing particularly wrong with that, except that Dorna’s real desire is to expand MotoGP to new audiences – and super-fans aren’t the right people to suggest how that should be done.

In fact the way forward is surely fairly obvious: better racing in the premier class, more engagement with people via the social-media platforms used by youngsters and more creative management of MotoGP rounds to turn them into festivals, not just race meetings.

How to make the racing better? Rewrite MotoGP’s technical regulations to reduce the extreme aerodynamics that make drafting mostly pointless and overtaking difficult. This, however, wouldn’t be popular with current MotoGP dominators Ducati, whose engineers worked so hard to create downforce aero that helped transform its Desmosedici into a winner.

Does it matter that Ducati wouldn’t agree? Yes, because the Bologna company’s bikes fill more than a third of the MotoGP and the entire MotoE grid, so Ducati has Dorna by the balls. And congratulations to its management for working hard to put themselves in that position.


Festival atmosphere: Iggy Pop performing with The Stooges at the 2013 Bol d’Or

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Social media? Easy – hire a few social-media geniuses with a proven track record. Formula 1 has done it, why not MotoGP?

Building MotoGP events into three-day festivals? Easy – hire a rock promoter or a music-festival promoter who knows how to make this kind of thing happen.

It’s no coincidence that three of the best-attended MotoGP events – Assen, Le Mans and Sachsenring – are as much festivals of music and Bacchanalia as they are race meetings, even though they don’t happen in countries where MotoGP is huge.

Huge numbers of motorcyclists attend these races because they like to camp, drink, jump around to rock bands, roll around in the mud and pull naked wheelies. Dorna has never really connected with these real motorcyclists because, you know, they can be a bit grubby.

The French often get it right: the Le Mans MotoGP round is a fantastic biking festival, like when the Bol d’Or 24-hour race was at its height, with bands like Iggy and the Stooges, Motörhead and The Stranglers working the fans into a frenzy.

I’ve heard that Dorna’s plan to increase fan engagement from next year is less Sunday morning track action (an eight-minute warm-up session, a bit like a club race), followed by a meet-the-fans stage event for the riders. There is literally no worse time to ask professional MotoGP riders to smile and wave for the fans than Sunday mornings, when their minds will be focused on a million other things: physically, mentally and technically.

Surely a Sunday evening stage show would be better: less-stressed riders onstage, followed by a rock band or three. Has any real thought gone into this?

Which brings us back to the fan survey. The biggest result of this survey is Dorna’s decision to introduce a Saturday afternoon sprint race. This may be a great idea, but it makes life much more stressful for riders, mechanics and engineers. The very least Dorna should have done is consult the people who make the wheels go around. But they didn’t bother, which is why I think the riders should now be called ‘riding content providers’, while mechanics should be referred to as ‘walking content providers’.


Bagnaia with his controversial Dennis Rodman-inspired helmet at Misano


Possibly the most popular word in the fans survey report is ‘female’. Easy to see why. Most motorsport fans are male, which leaves an untapped market of 50% of humanity.

Dorna is happy that many already women like MotoGP, but the company want lots, lots more to start enjoying the sport.

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Which is one reason I was somewhat surprised at Misano to see the rider who may well be crowned 2022 MotoGP king wearing a helmet livery that pays homage to a sportsman notorious for his violence towards women.

Is this a good way to make women like MotoGP more? To identify with its riders more?

Therefore I had to ask Pecco Bagnaia about his choice. I was hoping he wouldn’t qualify on the front row, so I could question him during his Saturday media debrief in Ducati’s hospitality unit, away from the glare of the TV cameras. But of course he qualified on the front row, which put him in the televised QP conference.

Bagnaia explained to me that he’s always been a fan of Dennis Rodman’s basketball playing, so his helmet celebrated that, not his life outside the basketball court. But Rodman, like Bagnaia and everyone else, is a human first and a sportsperson second. You cannot separate the two; you cannot separate Oscar Pistorius the successful Paralympian from the man who murdered his girlfriend in cold blood.

I have no problems with Bagnaia being a Rodman fan, but his decision to glorify him to hundreds of millions of fans was foolish. However, the real failures in this sorry saga are the people around him. Ducati has a huge PR team, aimed at selling the brand to people around the world, including women. Why didn’t they step in and tell him that wearing the helmet was neither in his or their interests?


Aston Martin F1 driver Seb Vettel on the grid in Hungary, where the government is passing laws that discriminate against gay people

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Any of them could’ve spent a few minutes researching Rodman’s life. This is what they would’ve found out… Rodman has been convicted of spousal battery, has been accused of domestic violence by all three of his wives (Annie Bakes, Carmen Electra and Michelle Moyer) and twice arrested for this offence. He has settled out of court in several sexual assault cases and been charged for a hit-and-run accident.

He’s also twice been arrested twice for drunken driving, which you would’ve thought might have pricked up the ears of the Ducati PR team, because Ducati runs its own don’t drink and ride PR campaign, already sightly compromised by Bagnaia’s recent Ibiza faux pas.

And then there is Dorna and the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme). In recent years the FIM has spent huge amounts of money on “inspiring women” onto two wheels, using “role models from the world of motorcycling”.

There were dozens of high-ranking Dorna and FIM officials at Misano and not one of them thought to have a quiet word with Bagnaia and tell him that promoting a wife-beating sportsman to close to a billion people isn’t such a great idea.

To get an outsider’s view on the situation I asked Formula 1 stalwart Matt Bishop, currently Aston Martin F1 Chief Communications Officer, for his thoughts on the failure to act on Bagnaia’s choice of helmet.

“Obviously neither Seb Vettel nor Lance Stroll [Aston Martin’s current F1 drivers] would ever dream of wearing such a helmet,” said Bishop, who has worked in F1 for more than a quarter of a century and is also a very active Racing Pride Ambassador. “But if they or indeed any other driver I worked with ever proposed to do so, I would very firmly urge them to reconsider.”

Pretty straightforward, eh?

MotoGP is currently very jealous of F1’s recent success in breaking out beyond its usual fanbase of die-hard race fans into a new world of younger fans and female fans.


The glitzy Saudi Arabian F1 GP, funded by the country’s £400-billion sovereign wealth fund

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How has F1 done this? The Drive to Survive TV series and a super-successful social media campaign have certainly helped, by making F1 stars more accessible and more attractive to non-hardcore fans.

F1 is also working to make itself more inclusive, with a Diversity and Inclusion initiative, which is spending millions to improve diversity in the sport, although so far it’s the efforts of individual drivers that have made the headlines in this area.

Lewis Hamilton’s work for Black Lives Matter, while baiting some alpha-males, has no doubt had a positive impact on those outside the sport. Hamilton and Vettel have also been very loud and proud in their support of LGBTQ+ matters, especially in countries where the establishments have appalling records on gay rights.

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What was MotoGP like 50 years ago?

What was MotoGP like 50 years ago?

They say history is another country, and MotoGP in the early 1970s was so different to its modern-day counterpart to be barely recognisable

By Mat Oxley

This takes us onto yesterday’s announcement that MotoGP will soon follow other sports by staging events in Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death and where a young woman was recently sentenced to 34 years in prison for having a Twitter account that followed and retweeted dissidents and activists.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has a £400-billion sovereign wealth fund that splurges money at all kinds of sports, hoping to distract attention from its human-rights abuses. So far the country has welcomed F1, golf, boxing and WWE (wrestling), with MotoGP next and no doubt a football World Cup coming soon.

Does Dorna’s Saudi announcement make the case of Bagnaia’s Misano helmet irrelevant? Absolutely not. Perhaps it places a great onus on riders to open their minds to the wider world and find their own moral compasses.

And what of Dorna’s decision to go to Saudi? Because I certainly saw no mention of this in the fan survey. Where was the question, “Which nations do you want to host a MotoGP race? 1) Saudi Arabia, 2) North Korea, 3) Russia?”

In my opinion, racing in Saudi is wrong. However, I do see the other side of the argument (which doesn’t mean I agree with the decision taken according to that argument).

2019 Formula E race in Saudi Arabia

Over half of Formula E’s income is said come from its Saudi Arabia race deal

Germain Hazard / DPPI

Much of the world is in financial crisis and I’m sure Dorna isn’t exempt. Massive increases of costs and loss of revenues due to the global pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rampant inflation have battered Dorna like everyone else.

A colleague who works in the electric single-seater Formula E championship tells me that the 11-nation series makes more than half its money from its Saudi round. So it’s not hard to see why other sports are bedazzled by the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

Three to four thousand staff work in the MotoGP paddock, a number dwarfed by those further down the line (working in factory race departments, manufacturing motorcycle components, cooking tyres, sewing leathers, moulding helmets, building race trucks and so on). The total? Who knows, but let’s take a wild guess at 25,000, which makes 25,000 families needing feeding, clothing and housing.

However keen the bosses at Dorna are about buying their own golf courses I suspect they do feel some responsibility for these people. At least I hope they do.