How is racing, marketing?

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This is a subject that I end up thinking about, and often struggle with.  I guess the broader question is why is racing important.  There are many reasons to go racing though.  I think the most basic is that it is a constructive avenue for our urge to do battle and prove ourselves superior.  Or, just as basic, to get behind a night whom is about to do battle and brag about how they, their horse and it’s breed, and sword smith are superior.  And, it’s a lot of fun.  But does that justify spending $250,000 on prototype motorcycles, or $60 million, in the case of Honda’s MotoGP program?  And just who pays for this?  A very traditional way of paying for it is sponsorship.  Put someone’s name on your bike and or gear and you get money in return.  The better you are, the more you are in the lime light, and the more money you make.  The face of marketing is changing, and while the coverage of sports is better because of technology, ironically that has lead us to where people looking to get their products name out there have more efficient means of doing so.  I feel this is one reason why electric motorcycle racing has had such a hard time taking off, and strangely also why I am typing this at this very moment.  I do not have the money to build a bike and go racing, much less build my own electric conversion.  But I can spend my spare time interviewing people in the industry and writing about them and putting just that little bit more information out there in an attempt to do something to help. 

A month or so ago I was writing that post about eCRP’s new Energica, which boasts some impressive numbers, and looks.  I had to think back about what eCRP had done and reflect a bit to try to make sure I had some perspective.  As I was doing this I remembered trying very hard at one point to find anything to write about them.  Not because I was desperate to write a blog post, but because I didn’t want them to be one of those companies that faded away. 

Now CRP isn’t going anywhere, and the eCRP branch probably wasn’t either, but I have watched so many times when something or someone is out of the news, people think they no longer exist.  Self important delusions or not, this got me thinking as to why I had nothing to talk about, when before I had so much.  Then it hit me.  They were racing before.  The development process is slow, not very exciting at all, and often times hush hush.  If companies want to be talked about they have to give us something to talk about, it’s that easy.  And they want to be talked about, or they are forgotten.  Since eCRP stopped racing, I have had no need to talk about them.  In the case of Mission motors, the only reason I still mention them, or that they are being talked about is because of the record lap time they still hold at Laguna Seca, and the rash of ride reviews that came out in 2012.  But to be fair, their market switched from electric motorcycle customers to OEM manufactures who wanted help designing electric drivetrains.  Only now A&R has reported they are having financial difficulty.  Makes me wonder if spending a bit on another race or two would have helped keep the buzz up.  I have heard Steve Rapp would have been willing.  The acceptation is MotoCzysz.  Their main race is the Isle of Man, and in the past they have done maybe one or two more races a season.  Yet, they are in and mentioned in major motorcycle magazines, online rags, and blogs every year.  When’s the last time you have read a write up about Brammo’s Emulse RR in Cycle News, or heard of Motorcyclist interviewing Zero’s or Brammo’s people for insight for an article on electric motorcycles?  Any conversation about electric motorcycles or elmoto racing almost requires a mention of the bike.  If you were a savvy business person would you risk your bike and waste the money of doing additional races if you were getting more mileage out of the press than anyone else?  No, you wouldn’t because it doesn’t make sense.  But, I’m not sure how much sense racing makes to the savvy business person, not that MotoCzysz aren’t a bunch of racers.  I feel their winning solution comes from motorcycles that capture people’s imagination, and winning.  This gets them wide spread press in major moto rags, who aren’t really going to question a whole lot, or get too deep because their readers are not elmoto fans and just want to read about the pretty electric bike.  Despite not showing up to many races which means that my 80+ readers and I shouldn’t have much to talk about, we still do.  However, the industry, competitors, and elmoto fans know you’re only a threat on the days you show up, and not to any championship and leaves that PR land up for grabs.  But really, what is showing up to races worth for them?  I think it is worth something in the history books that might eventually pay off.  But might and eventually don’t pay bills, get start ups off the ground, or get your team to additional races.  But lets not just pick on eCRP and MotoCzysz, I really have to wonder what Lightning was thinking this year.  If they had shown up to the last NA TTXGP round at Miller last September, they could have pretty easily won the North American Championship back from Brammo (although Brammo might have something to say about that).  And then, their bike would have been ready for Daytona, and if the banking had as little affect on their battery packs as it did on Brammo’s they could have been World Champions.  But instead they went to the last FIM ePower round in France, and ended up with what for their effort?  How many people went away remembering, in their drunk French Endurance racing stupor, what a Lightning was, and could they even get one in Europe?  The biggest excitement over here was not that Lightning went to France.  That may not have even been news worthy.  It was that they have former AMA champion Miguel Duhamel riding the bike.  If I had to guess it was pressure from their sponsor to go to a big venue, and probably some cash flow from the FIM that got them there.  I am sure it worked out for the FIM, but I’m not sure if their sponsor shot themselves in the foot.  Instead of them being the sponsor of a 2 time North American TTXGP Champion and the first American team to win the TTXGP World Final, that’s Icon’s claim to fame.  Who knows, maybe the race in France got Lightning a lot of press over there.  Anyone in France know?  But then last year Lightning missed only one race all season, lost the championship, and was/is wrongly perceived as being a half hearted participant in the series.  They did a lot of testing and work last winter and as far as the racing goes, came away empty handed for it. However other things seem to be going on over at Lightning that may make, in their eyes, 2012 anything but empty-handed.  Like, just what are those little red bikes in the background of his TV interviews.  Not to leave anyone out, MotoZero probably saved the TTXGP this year by bringing 4 bikes to every round.  I say MotoZero because the company is not fully behind the racing effort.  It is a teams of Zero employees who got some official support, and we may see more this year.  Now there is a company I had no reason to mention until the 2012 race season.  And finally, Brammo darn near ended their season before it began when their bucking bull of a bike launched not one, but two AMA pro riders before the race.  If they had finished that race Lightning would not have been in such an easy position to win the NA Championship.  But that is an example of racing, and what makes a championship series so exciting.

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I am not sure you can blame sponsors or teams wanting to only show up at races with big crowds.  They are simply looking for exposure.  Look at how busy Brammo’s PR tent was at Laguna Seca this year.  I believe that is usually the first place you should look if you are wondering why a team hasn’t showed up.  Are they going to get enough exposure for the money they will spend on the race weekend?  During the weekend at Daytona I’m not sure I saw anyone in the stands, and it was part of the final races of 3 rather large club racing series that were racing that weekend.  There were lots of people there to race, and milling about in the pits, but it certainly wasn’t a draw for fans of any kind.  But a whole lot of very serious motorcyclists who clearly spend money on motorcycling were watching and even practicing along side the TTXGP bikes.  And many of those watched the electric bikes as they passed them on the track.  I am going somewhere with this, but one more thing.  It is all fine and good to want to only want to show up to races with big crowds, but even AMA races want that.  But this is electric motorcycle racing in its infancy, and to say you want to do that but only in front of big crowds seems very unrealistic to me.  It is going to be nothing but time for the sport to grow and stand on its own two feet, and should do so.  It’s great that we get to ride on the coat tails of MotoGP once in a while, but MotoGP has earned it’s following, and the electric motorcycle racing has to earn its own.  This means the organization and teams putting into it more than they get out if they want it to grow.  I think this is why you see Brammo behind the racing as it is.  I believe they are planning on the long game, and being able to say they have X amount of championships is a marketing chip I am sure they are planning on cashing in.  So, my point is that I do not believe that sponsors who demand their teams only race at big venues are getting the  whole picture.  If they are after simply throwing the word out and hoping something sticks then a big weekend works. The issue is it feels like the electric bikes get buried at those weekends, as evidenced by my interviews with a few folks that have attended those types of weekends.  But if they are after a targeted audience, then supporting the teams going to smaller venues makes sense because, as I have experienced, fans gain a very up close experience.  What I would like to think is that sponsors who are looking to target the type of people who follow or would like to buy electric motorcycles, would see how supporting teams to attend every round would gain them greater exposure in the media by giving them something to talk about.  Also, by supporting the teams to show up to every round supports the series, which helps it grow which eventually means more rounds, more money, and with that more media exposure.  But I’m probably just being idealistic.

And finally, racing also projects a product as cutting edge, durable, and fast.  Look at Brammo, Lightning, and Zero.  Because of their racing efforts we know they can and do build fast bikes.  Some have even proven their reliability on the track.  How bad do some people want a production Mission R or MotoCzysz E1pc?  Umm, bad.  They know those are fast because they have proven it.  But bikes like eCRP’s Energica, Brammo’s Engage, and the Zero’s entire 2013 line are made by companies whom have proven their mettle before but these bikes are yet untested.  If more people had known that Zero had been testing the current motor during the 2012 race season I think there would have been more buzz and excitement for the 2013 line.  There are two unknowns I can think of; BRD and Amarok.  BRD is claiming that they are building an outright race bike that is street-able there’s little proof.  Now a few online blogs have had a chance to ride the bike, as well as some cool videos.  And the reviews are outstanding, but that’s not showing up to a track and proving your claims.  Amarok has been around for a while but are completely unproven, but they are taking a similar track to Lightning and in some respects Brammo.  They will bring their race bike to the track this year, with the next version due to appear half way through the season and prove their concepts and abilities.  The first step to production bikes, or so we can hope.

So basically, what I think I have figured out is that the biggest marketing reason for racing as a manufacturer is simply to keep people talking about your product.  The second seems to be product image such as is it fast, reliable, better than the competition, etc.  And then sponsors should be put in a place that they want to be associated with a reliable, fast and exciting team/bike/brand that regularly participates in a growing industry, sport, and series.  But sponsors often times have the money teams need, not just want, to go racing and have the right to dictate terms.  And then to complicate matters, traditional methods of sponsorship look to be going the way of the Do Do, making it even harder for the sport to get the influx of cash it needs.  I can see what people mean when they say the sport came about a few years too early, but still believe if it hadn’t started when it did I am quite certain elmotos wouldn’t be where they are as far as performance.  And, even if the world had waited, would it had done anything other than started later?  I think the racing will gain strength from factories and not from sponsors coming in, unless we can get sponsors who see the value of paying teams to show up for a whole season . . . and trip to the World Final.

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