By Mike Nicks

MotoGP promoters Dorna are to host a unique one-day summit conference to answer the question that everyone is posing: why isn't the sport whose action is setting the world alight getting more and bigger sponsors?

Dorna Sports CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta plans to invite two members from each of the 12 teams in MotoGP's premier 800cc class to attend the workshop in Barcelona on April 12.

"They will have a brainstorming session with our TV, marketing and commercial people to see what they need, how they can use our viewing figures, and how we can present MotoGP to sponsors," Ezpeleta said.

"Many people are approaching us right now about sponsorship. We have a lot of contacts and discussions that don't finish. We are passing from a time when we had tobacco sponsors, and it's more difficult.

"At the workshop we will try to understand the problems involved. I'm sure that in the future, new sponsors will come in."

The blue-sky session comes at a time when one of the sport's most famous names, Kenny Roberts Senior, has said that he may pull Team Roberts from the series unless he can find a last-minute sponsor to fund a 20% share of his estimated E10 million costs of running a single-bike operation this year .

"We have never had so much interest in what we are doing, but after they kick the tyres it still takes time for them to sign a piece of paper," Roberts said. "But I need the money in my bank account.

"I used to race motorcycles and made money, and I ran teams and made money, but I've spent all that now. I've probably spent half my net worth in the last three seasons. How stupid am I? We spend so much time making presentations to different companies, but you never know which one will come through and say, 'Yes, we'll do something'. And yet I've never seen so much interest in MotoGP. In my opinion it's going nowhere but up. But you have to find a partner who shares that vision."

Ezpeleta says that this year Dorna, holders of the commercial rights to MotoGP, will distribute $50 million to teams in the 125cc, 250cc and 800cc classes this year - a massive $20 million more than in 2006 in an effort partly directed at helping private efforts. But Dorna is aware that a sport that captured a worldwide public last year with the dramatic title struggle between Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi has the potential to win much more backing.

"We are viewed as being a Spanish and Italian championship," Mike Trimby, secretary-general of IRTA, the International Road Racing Teams Association, said. "So if you want to expose a global brand you go to Formula 1, the Olympics or something like that."

The solution, Trimby says, is for MotoGP to breed more non-Latin champions. "Formula 1 in Spain was dead until Fernando Alonso came along," he said, referring to the reigning world champion. "With a successful rider or driver, sponsors come in and it's self-perpetuating, because money is available for teams in that country to buy the best equipment. If you had a successful British rider you would get British companies as sponsors."

Dorna is trying to develop future champions from a wider spread of countries through its MotoGP Academy. The scheme is helping Brits Bradley Smith, 16, and Danny Webb, 15, to compete in the 125cc class this year.

"Finding a sponsor is not easy because we are selling something that is not touchable," said Lucio Cecchinello, owner of the LCR private team which guided Casey Stoner to second place in the 2005 250cc world championship and eighth place in last year's MotoGP campaign.

"It's difficult for a team to guarantee a sponsor a return on investment when it can only suggest what a rider might do, and not offer a concrete prediction," he added.

Cecchinello estimates that sponsorship will cover 85% of the E5-7 million that it will cost to run Carlos Checa on a leased Honda this year, with he remaining 15% coming from Dorna.

"We have to find out how to attract the biggest companies, such as Pepsi Cola, McDonalds, Adidas and Coca Cola," Cecchinello said. "MotoGP is very popular in Italy and Spain, but we have to increase the interest in other countries. Dorna is doing a great job because they are helping young riders coming in."

At the Barcelona conference Cecchinello will propose that MotoGP helps sponsors to interact more with race fans. "A company involved in betting, for example, could organise a mobile betting point at a track. A clothing company could do marketing research on what the public wants and get feedback on its brand.

"We have 1.2 million visitors a year to the tracks. We should have a database of motorcycle owners and organise some kind of activity straight from the factory to the owners: what the motorcycle user wants for his bike, the colours, the accessories.

"All these small ideas together can help to motivate companies," he added.


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