In conversation with Ian Wheeler (part two)

My conversation with Ian Wheeler, who is the Marc VDS Marketing and Communications Manager, continues (part one can be found here).

In the second and final part, we talk about social media and how Dorna have increasingly helped MotoGP’s teams over the past few seasons.

IW: The other good thing about social media is that all of our partners have an active social media department as part of their marketing department. So what we do on social media is very visible to our sponsors. Not only that, but they can also see our metrics, and where they can’t see the metrics, then we supply the metrics. For them, the most important metrics we have are TV, the EAV (equivalent advertising value), which we give to our sponsors, I don’t know if any other teams do. The other thing is the social media metrics because they know that their social media accounts are also there, they want to see how our metrics compare to theirs. So, again it’s another way of measuring their return on investment in the sponsorship, it’s a very visible way of communicating.

F1B: It’s good to see the reluctance has disappeared, it really is.

IW: It sort of happened overnight. We were all invited to a social media workshop in Jerez last year, they [Dorna] brought a couple of people from Facebook, a guy from Twitter.

F1B: Were all the teams there?

IW: It was all the MotoGP teams.

F1B: Wow. I think that shows that Dorna really wanted to do something about social media.

IW: They brought in specifically Aiste Milasiute as the Social Media Manager. In the past, they’ve had a community manager, but not with the seniority to set policy. This was a change I guess quite high up at Dorna to change the policy and to bring in a Social Media Manager. She came in and the whole system changed overnight. They’ve provided the link to Facebook and Twitter, which we would have never been able to have as individual teams. All of a sudden the doors were open. Now I speak to the guy at Twitter, not frequently but if I want to know something, I sent him an e-mail and within a day I get an answer.

F1B: From what I gather, it sounds like things have changed for the positive.

IW: The biggest thing for a race team when working with sponsors is that we are limited by budget on what sort of support infrastructure we can have. The marketing department in the team is basically me. Our team principal Michael Bartolini, he’s involved in the commercial and marketing side and that’s about it. When you look at one of our sponsors, for example Estrella Galicia or Total, these are big companies with a big, active marketing department as they’re big consumer brands. For them, social media is one of their key channels of communication. For us to be able to go to them and say “okay, we have these chances now, we can promote your involvement in MotoGP through these channels.” But it’s not just us, it’s when MotoGP helps us out sharing this information, the figures are incredible. Sometimes we put things on social media and we don’t highlight it to MotoGP, we save it for something when we know the numbers are going to be good. The difference between that and something that is shared by MotoGP is huge. For us, it’s the biggest step forward in terms of providing our sponsors with ROR (return-on-relationship).

F1B: MotoGP without Valentino Rossi. How will that effect things going forward, will sponsors leave?

IW: It’s a difficult question. I don’t think sponsors will leave. Valentino Rossi is the most recognisable figure in MotoGP. Sometimes we speak to companies who have never had any involvement in motor cycle racing. You speak to them about MotoGP, you explain to them what it is and as soon as you mention the words Valentino Rossi “ah, yeah, we know him.” He is a massive part of our sport. He’s the biggest rider out there, he transcends MotoGP. He’s a little bit like what Barry Sheene was for the British in the 70s and 80s. He’s gone outside of the sporting environment and he is a real celebrity. To lose a celebrity like that, especially somebody as clever as he is. To lose his persona is always going to be difficult for the championship. But it’s not going to have a massive negative impact. Yeah, we won’t see the yellow smoke across the grandstands in Mugello. But those grandstands will still be full, they’ll just be full of people who are supporting other riders. I don’t think we are going to see a big downturn in interest, maybe we will have a small dip at the start where the fanatical Valentino Rossi fans will maybe think about whether they want to continue supporting, but I think the core following MotoGP will not dip so much and I think it will continue to grow. I think it’ll be a long time before we see another Valentino Rossi.

F1B: He’s a once in a generation.

IW: It is. Maybe once every two generations. But we have the riders, we have the close racing, it’s just this personality we will be missing. So, yeah it will have an impact on the championship but I don’t think it will have a negative impact that some of the doom-mongers would have you believe.

F1B: One last question: have you heard of virtual reality?

IW: Well it’s funny you should mention that.

F1B: It’s meant to be the next big thing.

IW: I have heard of virtual reality. One of the things that social media has done is forced MotoGP and other sports teams in general to reconsider how they deliver content. When I first started in 2001 as a press officer, you only really had one way to do it then and that was an e-mail to journalists who you’d hope would pick up what you sent and put it in their print content. Or you soft soaped the TV people and hoped they mentioned your riders, teams and so on more than anybody else. Now, it’s completely different. We don’t have to rely on the TV to speak to the fans, to promote our sponsors to our potential customers, because we have that audience ourselves. But that audience, their demand for content is different to how the journalists worked in 2001. They don’t want them to send them a press release because they already have all the information about that session, that race aggregated by websites which turn the information around so quickly. Even the teams can’t compete with that. What the teams are being forced to look at now is what content works best on social media. It’s photography, it’s short paragraphs of information, it’s video. And now teams are having to look at this and say “okay, we weren’t really set up to do this.” We were set up to communicate in a traditional manner, where we send press releases, we put them on the website and then we take the links from the website and post them onto Facebook and Twitter. And we still do that, because the press releases are our document of record and the website is our repository for that. But we’re all being forced now to come up with new ideas for content.

One of the ways we’ve changed massively over the last two years is that we put a lot of resource into new content. Short, not produced to Hollywood standard, but just to try to get a behind the scenes look. Dorna have reacted to this, their TV rights are very important, safeguarding those TV rights is critical to the future of the championship. But they also realise that the teams need to promote themselves, and by extension promote the championship. So, for example one of the things that has been relaxed in the past year is filming. Before, it was impossible for us to film, unless we organised a private test at great expense and then went and filmed there. Now, they realise that we need this opportunity to film the sponsors. We can film, we have to ask for permission and get the footage authorised by Dorna, but now we can film during MotoGP tests. This is a huge advantage to us. I think when it was allowed us, LCR Honda, who are also very progressive, and a couple of other teams were straight onto this since it benefits the sponsors.

Now, every time we go to a test (Brno and Austria before the Summer break), every team is doing it. Whether it be a professional video camera, we invested in some equipment so that we could slow-motion for MotoGP because it’s quite interesting. We’ve got Pramac with GoPro, they’re quite inventive about what they do, the content is very, very popular. The teams have changed, and it’s not just to the benefit of the teams, it’s for the benefit of the people who invest time into our race weekends, because its popular content that promotes the championship. And Dorna, quite rightly, have opened this up but also kept some control regarding the quality of the videos that goes out, which is also important to protect the championship. We’ve never had them say “no, you can’t use this.” We go and film at a test, we share it on social media and Dorna then step in and help us again by sharing the content again. So it’s win-win for us. They got a lot of criticism, but with the changing social media policy, their understanding of what the teams need to do to secure the sponsorship, to secure the racing outfit, there is a massive difference now compared to three years ago – a positive difference. I can’t fault them for that, I really can’t, it’s been a very clever thing to do.

F1B: Is there anything further you want to add that we haven’t already talked about?

IW:  The only other thing is cost cutting. We’ve seen cost cutting measures brought into the paddock and in reality, they might cut costs initially but teams will always find a way of spending money. It’s just the way it is, you cut costs there but increase costs here. It’s only going to cost us this amount of money, so we go and do it. To race at this level costs a lot of money. What I think Dorna have done well is give the teams the tools they need to bring this money. Some teams use it more effectively than others, not so much in MotoGP because you don’t get to race in MotoGP without being able to generate money. But in Moto2 and Moto3, you see that some teams are much more effective at what they can produce to secure the budget they need, and all of it helped by Dorna, and that’s probably the most profitable change.

My thanks go to Ian Wheeler for spending the time with me on the above interview.


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