#valentinorossi

In rare support of Nike

Who could forget Nike’s political stunt in favour of the kneelers supporting BLM? Recall the millions it paid Colin Kaepernick to tell us about the bravery of those sacrificing everything if they believed in it. Social justice is a thang at Nike, at least among the marketing department. Naturally, it provoked a lot of anger from real Americans who served their country, some who paid for it with their lives. Taya Kyle, the war widow of legendary sniper Chris Kyle, wrote a stern letter to Nike which was on the mark.

Now some are taking Nike to task over the sponsorship contracts it holds with superstars, especially females. Nike does not appear to sacrifice everything, especially when it believes it.

Six-time track and field Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix penned an op-ed to The NY Times telling of the cold realities of re-contracting while considering having a child. Sadly the Nike contracting team is probably staffed with icy cold hard-nosed realists compared to the cuddly socially active marketing department.

33-yo Felix said Nike wanted to contract her 70% less after her pregnancy. She wanted the original value to stay in force even if she suffered slight underperformance in the months after childbirth. Her request is totally understandable. Surely Nike could have done some celebrity mother and child adverts to pluck at the heartstrings of the average person? Get all those mothers with newborns to sport a pair of Nike kicks and leotards as they push their strollers to yoga. Just the sort of mush that a marketing department craves.

High-end endorsements are extremely hard to get. The bigger the payout the higher the pressure and expectations thrust upon the star. Contracts are driven by athletic performance and the ability to drive sales off the back of it. These performance-based targets are likely to be written clearly in black and white. It sounds like Felix needed a much better sports agent to negotiate such clauses. Serena Williams had a child and her Nike endorsements rolled on unaffected. The tennis champ even narrated a “dream crazier” advert solely looking at women in sport.

Is Felix’s 70% haircut anything more than Nike’s endorsement team taking a view on her future performance when it comes to which brand ambassadors will keep driving sales? It must have made a judgement call that Felix was past her prime. If we looked at all the females sponsored by Nike, what rank is she within the long list of names? Usain Bolt hung up his golden boots at age 30.

It is unclear how many millions that Felix received from Nike every year. Sponsorship is slightly different from employment. There are lots of caveats in sports contracts which ensure that athletes behave responsibly “outside” the game to reflect the values of the organisation. One might feel some pity that the choice to have a child ruined her contract terms but Nike has not done anything illegal.

It is unlikely that any two Nike superstar endorsement contracts are the same. Michael Jordan ended up with his own brand within Nike. Undoubtedly he was paid better than an up and coming college NFL star. It is most likely that Serena Williams’ contract had many different term and conditions to Allyson Felix. If Felix signed her contract she took on all of the legalities within it, including the fine print. Unlike an employment contract, sponsorships terms can change on a whim.

The Nike sponsorship Rolodex is undoubtedly littered with stars – male and female – in their 30s, re-contracted at far lower rates than when they were in their prime. Felix wouldn’t be alone. Age, rather than maternity was probably the bigger driver for the Nike decision makers. The world of sports is brutal. Unless one is a Valentino Rossi of MotoGP fame, a Roger Federer/Serena Williams in tennis or an Usain Bolt in track & field, ongoing sponsorship tends to fade as these stars get put out to pasture.

Yet we are not Nike and we do not have the full facts of how it grants its limited marketing dollars. Perhaps we should ask why Adidas or Puma aren’t beating a path to Felix’s door to contract her and get some mileage out of the controversy? Nike knows the endorsement field probably better than most. The risk of her defection is minimal at best, therefore, Nike can drive hard bargains. Take it or leave it.

Hats off to the Jorges

The performances of Spaniards Jorge Martin (Moto3) and Jorge Lorenzo (MotoGP) at the Austrian Grand Prix yesterday were nothing short of master classes.

Martin may have finished 3rd on the day but he rode with a broken left arm, operated on some 8 days ago. Talk about grit. The acceleration forces may not be huge on a Moto3 bike but the braking and cornering forces are. It must have pushed mind and body to the limit. Such is the will to win that pain took a pillion seat.

His main championship rival in the Moto3 class, Marco Bezzecchi doffed his cap to Martin after qualifying such is the respect he holds for such heroics. How demoralizing for the rest of the field to be trailing a guy with metal plates, stitches, swelling and muscular pain in this left arm?

As for Jorge Lorenzo, he rode as aggressively as CM has ever seen him. Lorenzo has generally been one of the riders everyone loves to hate. Cold with the media, never smiling at the camera, making an excuse for everything and detailing a littany of complaints when he was dusted up on track by the other riders. His 2015 world championship was one full of scandals including trying to weigh in on getting the race stewards to penalize his team mate and main rival Valentino Rossi so he could win it. So bad was the reaction that on winning the 2015 crown in Valencia, Spain an all Spanish crowd booed the Spanish rider as he received his trophy from the Spanish King. Instead of soaking up the accolades Lorenzo ran off the podium as quickly as possible. It was an ugly affair.

His first year at Ducati in 2017 showed he had lost none of those bad habits. His face was full of being shown up for a rider whose talents were not worth the €25 million shelled out for his services. It was eating him up. Then it all came together. His first victory on the Ducati GP18 in Mugello was the sweetest of his career no doubt. Not only did he prove his detractors wrong, he proved to himself that he could overcome all of the odds. All of a sudden he was smiling. Someone who had lost the weight of the world off his shoulders.

He has since lost the chip on his shoulder, often smiles at the camera and CM truly respects the 180 degree change. Three slices of humble pie and deepest apologies for writing Lorenzo off in joining the Bologna factory. He deserves everything he gets.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Harley-Davidson needs a major overhaul

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Harley-Davidson (HOG) is the classic case of a divine franchise. While still the world’s largest maker of cruiser motorcycles, it is being swamped by new competition. HOG’s EBIT performance has slid for the last 4 years and is even below the level of 2012. BMW Motorrad, KTM AG, Ducati and Triumph are all growing unit sales and profits. HOG has a very defined product line whereas its competitors are flush with sports, adventure, cruiser, heritage, cafe racers, scooters, off road and much broader engine sizes.

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The further complication is that the Japanese are getting their act together. Honda is targeting over 20mn units in 2018 (mainly driven by emerging Asia). Honda has received rave reviews of its new CB1000R which should keep the fires burning. Several years ago, Yamaha introduced a budget cruiser called the Bolt but HOG responded with a competitively priced bike made in India which showed the desperation of a strategy where it doubted its brand power. Kawasaki has a 12 month waiting list on its Z900RS cafe racer which is a replica of the 1970s classic. Kawasaki has no interest playing in scooter markets and remains focused on its core larger bore segmentation.

Yamaha and Kawasaki have gone down the path of profitability than pure unit growth while Suzuki is the real laggard, lost in me too group think product. Honda has had a real resurgence in product which harks on its history. Honda now has 75% market share in Indonesia, 72% in Vietnam, 80% in Thailand and 82% in Brazil. Only 28% in India. Still, the market share, resale and brand power in Asia no maker will usurp them for decades. Put another way, the risks associated with dethroning Honda in Asia by a dealer channel push would be astronomically high. Yamaha has the other 10%.

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Profitability is starting to look much rosier for the Japanese too. Even Suzuki has managed to pull itself out of loss.

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Sadly for HOG, 1Q 2018 has shown even worse numbers. Global unit sales were 7.2% down on the previous year and 12% down at home.  Japan and Australia were soft. Looking at the strategy it looks like throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping it sticks. It looks like some consultant has rattled together some funky catchphrases.

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HOG’s problems are simple. It is not listening to customers. When grandson of the founder, Willie Davidson, took over the reins after the near bankruptcy under AMF stewardship in the 1980s, the company really consulted customers and worked out they wanted more reliability and capability. It delivered. Sadly HOG is hanging on by its fingernails on brand alone today. The Polaris-owned Indian brand is coming up with excellent product lines which have all of the cachet of HOG given it was its fiercest competitor in the 1930s.

HOG’s product line up is relatively stale in terms of real innovation. While the Milwaukee 8 engine is a very good start and the Fat Bob is a proper philosophy change, the rest of the line up needs major revamp. At the moment it seems the brand is stuck in an echo chamber.

In closing Harley’s are a cult. There aren’t many brands where customers are prepared tattoo it to their bodies. In all the bikes CM has owned, the Harley had 10x the number of people wanting to ride on the back vs the rest combined. Yet it goes to show that brand only goes so far. Product still matters.

 

Marc Marquez memes have mutated

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The memes have already started for the dodgem car race style of Marc Marquez. The fallout from this is likely to be huge. He is without doubt the greatest talent on track. To be able to do a ride through penalty after only 6 laps of a short track and still come out of pit lane ahead of a 5x world champ Jorge Lorenzo who is riding the most powerful bike on the grid speaks volumes about his skill. Yet he punted the 21 year veteran of the game who has more fans, history and records than most of the grid combined. Marquez will soon feel like the the barber in The Untouchables who cut Al Capone while shaving him. Deliberately cutting up Capone in front of the mob isn’t something they’ll forgive easily. The booing in Argentina was severe. Marquez is a 6x world champion but the question is can he act as one when it matters? He may have been forgiven in 2015 but not after yesterday.

Marquez said the move on Aleix Espargaro earlier on was far harsher than that on Rossi, just that the latter crashed in a racing incident (in his view “nothing crazy”) that copped the biggest penalty. Marquez tried to cover his mistake saying, “Honestly speaking I don’t care, I’m just focussed on my box and I know what happened. Of course today I did a few mistakes – a few of those mistakes were from Race Direction and a few were mine. And I recognise and will try to improve for the future.”

Yamaha Movistar Team boss Lin Jarvis said,

“I think it’s pretty obvious from anyone watching the TV images that it’s a move that is totally unacceptable…So it was the number X of many moves that were unacceptable throughout the weekend. We had issues in free practice when he very nearly missed Maverick one time…There have been several incidents against other riders – not our riders – but other riders throughout the weekend. In the race there was a big one with Aleix. There was another one with Nakagami and then with others. Finally he ran Valentino off the track. That’s just not acceptable – period.”

Rossi also sounded off after the collision,

“I’m okay but this is a very bad situation because he destroyed our sport, because he doesn’t have any respect for his rivals, never…If you take for example what’s happened this weekend, one by one these things can happen to everybody. You can make a mistake in braking. You can touch the other guy. Happens. This is racing…

…But from Friday morning he make like this with Vinales, Dovizioso. He made like this with me on Saturday morning. And today in the race he go straight into four riders…He does it purposely – and it’s not a mistake – because he points the leg, between the leg and the bike, because he knows that he don’t crash, but you crash. He hopes that you crash.

“So, if you start to play like this, it’s like you raise the level to a very dangerous point… Because if all the riders race like this, without any respect for the rivals, this is a very dangerous sport and it can finish in a bad way

 [His apology is] a joke. First of all he don’t have the balls to come in my office alone, but he come like always with his manager, with Honda, in front of all the cameras because what is important for him is this. He don’t care about you…So I don’t want to speak with him. I don’t want to see him close to me because I know it’s not true what he say to me…I hope that he is clever enough to don’t come…

MotoGP is worried that it is without a star to replace Rossi when he retires in several years. So much of the sport’s growth has been down to him. Marquez was supposed to be the coming rider to fill his boots. In skill he has it in spades, his ability to smile for cameras is a strong suit but these incidents against the man he was supposed to replace will create headaches for race organizer, Dorna Sports. He is now a villain and rebuilding that image looks like a lost cause. All smells a bit like the Aussie Cricket team antics in South Africa.

Grand Theft Moto

Current Moto GP World Champ Marc Marquez relived the video game Grand Theft Auto (Moto) in Argentina. He was the quickest rider by a good 1-2 seconds a lap throughout the entire weekend. Yet the red mist from his own screw ups got the better of him during the race seeing him collect three penalties – a ride through penalty for stalling on the grid (as above).

After serving the ride through he was lucky to escape penalty for ramming Aleix Espargaro on the charge back through the field.

Then Marquez received a one position penalty for overtaking on the grass.

Then he clattered 9-time World Champ Valentino Rossi needlessly out of the race when he would have swallowed him safely in two corners to take 5th position after he which he was handed a 30 second penalty which knocked him back out of the points.

It was an ugly display. It was almost a reversal of the 2015 Malaysian GP when Marquez, out of reach of the title, carved up Rossi in a way that wasn’t racing but ensured he’d lose time to eventual World Champ Jorge Lorenzo (who in that race wasn’t penalized for overtaking on a yellow flag). Rossi ran Marquez wide in an attempt to stop him playing games and allow a fair fight for the championship Before the latter crashed in the infamous ‘kicking incident’.

Rossi was relegated to the back of the grid for the final race and lost the championship as a result. He almost caught up through the field in the final race in Valencia but even then Marquez cut up his own team mate Pedrosa in the dying laps to slow Rossi, denying a 10th title. When the Spanish King crowned a Spanish 2015 world champ in Spain and a Spanish crowd booed at the lack of sportsmanship it told us everything how the fans felt at the poor governance showed by the race organizers, Dorna.

While Marquez did go to apologize to Rossi for his blatant stuff-up in this race his team wasn’t having any of it.

Race Direction actually ruined the entire Argentina race for pole sitter Jack Miller by him being the only one to opt for slicks and all others on rain tyres. They stopped the race as all others dived to change to slicks causing a restart which ruined Miller’s chance of winning through a better strategy. Marquez should have started from the pits after the stall but Race Direction botched that too.

Throw in Marquez’s multiple indiscretions and one wonders how he wasn’t black flagged. Rubbing may be racing but Marquez was ramming not riding. Will he be summarily punished? Yes, Marquez is without a doubt a far better rider than anyone else out there but he needs to work on winning at all costs.

 

Monstering the Red Bull war?

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Today’s motorsport sponsorship is now the domain of the energy drink makers. Long gone are the tobacco sponsors. Race teams were synonymous with their cigarette brands – Marlboro McLaren, Rothmans Honda and Lucky Strike Suzuki. While tobacco sponsorship was banned for promoting unhealthy habits one wonders when carbonated energy drinks will meet the same fate?

Monster has been the company experiencing the fastest growth. While Red Bull holds the top share (43%) , Monster has taken 39% of the market in 2015 up from around 12% in 2006.

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MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi is sponsored by Monster. A yellow ‘Rossi’ version of the drink is sold amongst the other Monster flavours. If this convenience store is any guide, Rossi Monster is all that seems to be selling in the energy drink market.

Record setting pensioner

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You have to hand it to Valentino ‘The Doctor’ Rossi, the 38-yo pensioner scrapping it with kids almost half his age. I’m an unashamed fan as I have been since 1996 when he was in the 125cc class. He managed to win the Dutch GP in Assen today in a typical strategic race, weighing up and wearing down his competition. 9-time world champ, 115 wins and the only rider to win races across a 20-year career. It is no wonder he’s paid €20mn per annum given the fact he hasn’t lost his edge. Sure he isn’t winning with the ease of his youth but he’s still majorly competitive. He is still in the hunt for a 10th championship. Forza Vale

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