Saturday, April 28, 2012

It's not the rain in Spain that will dampen MotoGP

MotoGP returned to its European 'home' this weekend, and Spain was in the news -- but it wasn't good.

This report from Bloomberg summarizes Spain's precarious economy. While Americans are bemoaning the 8% rate of unemployment here, note that Spain's unemployment is about triple ours. And the situation's far worse for young people; less than half the Spaniards under 25 have jobs.

I don't know if Spanish race promoters are as exaggeration-prone as American ones, when it comes to attendance figures. And, even if they admit that Jerez' attendance is way down this year, it might only reflect the rotten weather. But I have to wonder how long it will be, before the dismal performance of the Spanish economy deals a death blow to MotoGP as we know it.

Four of 18 events in the 2012 championship will be held in Spain. Add in one race in Portugal and three in Italy -- two other economies on the brink -- and you've got half the series taking place in the so-called PIGS part of the Eurozone.

It's not as if, just because Spaniards are unemployed, they won't want to attend races. When I first traveled there (can it really have been in the '60s?!?..) Spain was a third world country -- at least it was, if you left Madrid & Barcelona. Many, if not most, homes lacked indoor plumbing or phones. And yet, Spaniards packed huge bullrings hundreds of times a year -- not at high ticket prices, mind you, but they came.

If anything, the desire to attend MotoGP races might increase in times of economic frustration. The threat's not really to live attendance, as much as to the sponsorship that is the real engine of the sport.

Six of 21 MotoGP riders are Spanish. Of the 32 Moto2 riders on the web site, 10 are Spanish. So are 10 Moto3 riders. Right now, the de facto Moto2 development series is a class in the Spanish national championship. A huge chunk of the money that supports those riders and teams comes out of the Spanish economy. A collapse of that sponsorship would, very likely, follow the sort of austerity measures that the EU would impose on Spain if it has to be bailed out, as has happened in Greece.

Forget the rain. Spain's economic problem is the thing that will really put a damper on MotoGP over the next few years.

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