The Superbike’s crisis it’s not just about technical regulations, race format or TV broadcasting; it is more about the end of a love story. Its main supporters, the fans, are not the same anymore. It’s not yet an official breakup, because some people are still following, reading and leaving comments. But they are not doing it for sharing an exciting experience anymore, it seems they are just doing it for the sake of seeing how it will end. How did we get to this point?
THE ORIGINAL SIN – The problem’s tangle is this: how is it possible that the International Motorcycling Federation could let the same company promoting MotoGP to have all rights reserved for the WSBK too? It’s like if FIA (the same as FIM, but for cars) had given the management of Formula E to Liberty Media. It is obvious that the owner of F1 has no interest in promoting an alternative category, and therefore will not encourage investors to support electric cars racing. The Formula E is growing, and it is directly in competition with F1. The same can be said of Superbike, that has been competing with the MotoGP World Championship for the past 25 years. Giving all rights to Dorna was a suicide. Vito Ippolito, the outgoing President, is still shamelessly claiming that a one-actor management favors the sport’s development. But it is actually FIM that takes a loss first because today the WSBK rights are worth considerably less than 5 years ago.
DORNA – Since it started managing the Superbike, back in October 2012, the Spanish promoter did it all wrong. Dorna was born as a sports events’ managing company, and they have been optimizing their organizational skills managing the MotoGP World Championship since 1992. The Spaniards are real experts in producing captivating images, selling TV rights and economically exploiting a racing asset. The WSBK is very different from the MotoGP: it is not a global sport but a market niche. The TV rights are not very valuable and there are very few sponsors. This is no big news, it has always been like that. The WSBK can’t grow without a specific promotion and Maurizio Flammini was great at it, but the Spaniards have no clue how to do that properly, simply because they have never done it. The MotoGP, for a variety of reasons, has no need for it.
KNOWLEDGE – Dorna took in its hands a Championship that had always considered a direct opponent, even an enemy, and therefore they made no efforts to get to know it better. 5 years after the start of the new management, the situation hasn’t changed a bit: the Spaniards still have no idea of what a Superbike is. They changed the race format to meet TV needs, going against the wishes of the many long-lasting enthusiasts, e.g. the million Italians who are still supporting the WSBK by going to the races, watching them on TV or buying bikes and accessories. In one word, the market. Dorna changed the Championship regulations to make races more intense, but this is pushing constructors away as they can’t trust a series where rules can change every 3 rounds according to an algorithm that should ensure technical equality but that nobody has ever understood.
CHARISMA – Dorna didn’t understand that the WSBK is not just a sports event. It used to be a way of life, a race philosophy, and a lifestyle. Its fans could identify with the riders, and it wasn’t important who was racing or who eventually won, the important was to be there. Everyone wanted to be able to go home and say: “I was there”. And all this was working. There were 85 thousand spectators in Monza back in 2003, even after all builders except Ducati had unexpectedly withdrawn from the competition taking with them iconic riders such as Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards. There were no more cult figures on the track, but that didn’t matter because the Championship hadn’t changed. A Dorna’s big once said on TV that “Jonathan Rea is fast, but he has no charisma”. He couldn’t be more wrong. Rea is a true star-player, the problem, unfortunately, is the World Superbike Championship.
CONCLUSIONS – Success is not a matter of rules, format, sponsor or broadcast. To give new life to the WSBK what’s needed the most is knowledge and background culture; meaning a management that knows the historical Superbike’s strengths and that has the right competence to adapt them to today’s world. It’s not enough to wish for a relaunch, it would be necessary to find someone that knows how to achieve it.