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MotoGP

How can Silverstone solve its MotoGP problems? Our verdicts

by Matt Beer
11 min read

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While Formula 1’s British Grand Prix is absolutely thriving at Silverstone, the track’s MotoGP round has been visibly struggling for spectators.

Silverstone’s been working hard to turn that around, while admitting that MotoGP is a tougher sell in the United Kingdom than F1 right now.

Early indications from the 2023 event last weekend suggest it’s made some progress.

But is it enough? And is it fair to compare F1 and MotoGP crowds these days?

Here are the thoughts of three members of The Race Media team who attended MotoGP’s British GP in different capacities.

THE MOTOGP CORRESPONDENT’S VIEW

Simon Patterson is The Race’s lead MotoGP correspondent and a veteran of covering and attending many, many British GPs as well as every other round on the calendar and the British national motorcycle racing scene

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After spending quite a bit of time with the senior people at Silverstone over the past few weeks, it’s actually hard not to feel more than a little sorry for them over this year’s British Grand Prix because while numbers were up considerably on last year, they didn’t hit what anyone was hoping for.

And when you see the quality of the event that they put on, that’s absolutely not Silverstone’s fault.

The combined package across this year’s race weekend was superb. Kicking off with Thursday’s Day of Champions, where you not only get unprecedented paddock access but also a guaranteed presence from the whole grid on stage to entertain and auction stuff off as part of the fundraising for MotoGP’s official charity Two Wheels for Life.

Into the weekend proper, prices have been reduced and viewing has been improved, and there’s an awful lot of value for money to be had, considering that general admission tickets include a grandstand seat and that the nature of the track means there are plenty of places to watch from.

If there was ever any doubting it, Sunday was also a big reminder of Silverstone’s single most important metric for motorcycle racing: it creates absolutely fantastic battles. All three classes produced great races, and with the MotoGP race in particular going down to the wire, you could only walk away from it enthralled.

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In fact, I think it’s fair to say that most people who were there had a good time – but the problem isn’t the hardcore audience that Silverstone is more than capable of drawing in. Instead, it still feels like the fundamental issue that the race faces is exposure and visibility, or rather a lack of it for MotoGP within the UK.

It’s no secret that the biggest harm to MotoGP in this country has been the move from free to air to pay per view TV. When it went out on the BBC a decade ago, audiences regularly peaked at over a million viewers. Sunday’s epic battle between Aleix Espargaro and Pecco Bagnaia drew in a tenth of that – according to figures seen by The Race – and, as they’re paying £30 per month for their TNT subscription, you’d imagine that those 100,000 people are already hardcore fans.

Beyond just that, though, the way in which the series is marketed and sold clearly needs a kick up the arse as well. Media presence in the build up to the race was minimal. Poster campaigns? Unheard of. And a presence from British racers on national TV selling their sport simply doesn’t happen.

The secret to rave success at Silverstone in the future doesn’t lie with working even harder to make the event great, because it already is a fantastic weekend out – even if the British weather did conspire against it, something that’s not in the hands of anyone.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

Instead, it’s about showcasing our amazing sport to more people. Silverstone sold out for F1, cramming in 400,000 people for the weekend; four times what came from MotoGP.

So let’s see more ways to engage those fans with two wheels. Hell, given the price of F1 tickets, let’s try and bring in some of its fans who can’t afford to attend but still want to see amazing motorsport live.

It’s not going to be a quick fix and it’s not one that Silverstone can do all by itself, with MotoGP needing to buy into it as well. But all the makings of an amazing event are right there, and hopefully sooner rather than later a critical mass of people who love it will be shown that.

THE FRESH-FROM-F1 VIEW

WTF1 content creator and The Race contributor Dre Harrison is also a huge MotoGP fan and attended the British GP as a media guest of event sponsor Monster Energy. Having also been at F1’s British GP three weeks earlier, he was well placed to compare the events

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It’s clear that Silverstone has made a genuine effort to take a page from MotoGP’s German Grand Prix weekends at the Sachsenring. And it showed with a 20% increase on race day compared to last year’s Sunday. That’s a solid improvement.

Making the weekend more of a festival with live music like The Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight and Chase and Status was a smart move to get a little more bang for your buck, even if the crowd wasn’t really into the latter when I attended. The choice of groups might have been a bit out of touch with younger attendees, as many of the adults I was around just stood and watched standing still.

I attended Silverstone on the Friday of the F1 weekend, and even on a practice day, there was a genuine buzz heading into the track. The concession stands had long queues, the merch shops were busy with many lines selling out, and the grandstand seats were half full (not bad for a Friday at all), and there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Practice Day Silverstone, England

I stood at Copse, then Maggots and Becketts on the same day during MotoGP’s weekend and it just felt flat. Hardly a shock given the attendance was maybe a quarter of F1’s was, but there was a noticeable difference. MotoGP can’t hold a candle to F1 in generating an audience compared right now… and that’s OK.

In 2023, I don’t think it’s a fair fight to compare the popularity status of F1 and MotoGP. F1 is in the middle of maybe its biggest cultural relevance in the UK, ever. Drive to Survive took advantage of the lightning-in-a-bottle timing of its second season being heavily promoted as the global pandemic took hold, and it bridged the accessibility gap with a sport that a lot of people knew about but didn’t necessarily care about. It’s become the banner example that other sports are trying to follow to try to cultivate a new generation of fans.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

Add in a transcendent star in Lewis Hamilton, the cherry on top of a cake of homegrown interest supported by Lando Norris, George Russell and Alex Albon (sort of), and a dedicated audience more than prepared to stomach the expensive TV paywalls to watch, and its no surprise that F1’s British Grand Prix is getting 160,000 on race day. And that’s with ticket prices that better resemble mortgage payments.

MotoGP can’t compete with that on any level. It’s never recovered in terms of popularity from losing its free-to-air TV slot on the BBC a decade ago, and this year’s race getting culled on ITV for a John Wayne western flick won’t help. MotoGP’s own transcendent star Valentino Rossi is gone, and Marc Marquez is generating very different headlines compared to half a decade ago.

Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith had niche followings when they were active riders but were never on the level where they could single-handedly move the needle for the whole sport. Jake Dixon is as near as Britain gets to that now and it’s still up in the air if he ends up in the top flight at all.

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MotoGP tried its own DTS-clone in MotoGP Unlimited but the technical problems associated with its rollout led it to be culled after one season.

It’s easy to get distracted by F1’s golden carrot. Silverstone’s own CEO Stuart Pringle admitted as much when talking about the two events. And the sporting climate that MotoGP is in right now is doing it no favours.

But for me, Silverstone needs to stay focused on adding more to its MotoGP weekend experience, reducing ticket prices to get more people through the door to care about its product (which given the 2023 British GP was arguably the best of the season so far, proves it can still be as captivating as anything in motorsport today), and convince bike fans that this is a staple round worthy of returning to year-on-year.

Because say what you will about the state of F1 as a sport, it’s undeniable that more people than ever are emotionally invested in it.

Bike racing hasn’t got that luxury anymore.

THE FAN’S VIEW

The Race Media’s creative lead and graphic designer Oliver Card (pictured below right with British GP winner Aleix Espargaro) went to Silverstone purely as a MotoGP fan, attending a round of the series for the very first time

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Growing up, motorcycle racing had been a curiosity for me, but my first love always had four wheels.

However, since learning to ride a motorcycle in recent years, I found myself more drawn to go beyond the headlines and invest my time in MotoGP.

This new-found love resulted in my attendance at the 2023 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which was my first live MotoGP experience. I was rewarded in spades with a plethora of on track action, authentic racing, daring overtakes, and of course, Britain’s finest summer weather (ie. 24 hours of persistent rain).

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There was a real sense of camaraderie as motorcycles of all shapes, sizes and decibels rolled off the A43 and arrived for the weekend. You don’t have to be a biker to appreciate the sport, but learning to ride certainly planted a seed that put into context the absolute mastery, bravery and skill of top level riders.

But finding myself not having to fight through crowds felt oddly civilised. I was left with a curious sense of ‘this is great, but where is everyone?’

As a spectacle, it was fantastic.

Whilst the safety improvements in modern motorsport have brought essential protection to drivers, they have created visual barriers to seeing what it takes to wrestle a car into submission. For better or worse, there is no such issue with motorcycle racing. Seeing humans manipulate machinery at speed is mesmerising and the vulnerability of the riders creates a giddy thrill.

Across MotoE, Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP, the racing was courageous and tactical. The sensory overload of 22 1000bhp bikes roaring off the line is unbeatable.

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However, with Silverstone’s capacious acreage it was not always easy to identify riders in person. The big screens offered Dorna’s MotoGP TV feed, but using the default graphics, the timing data was mostly illegible from where fans could stand. I would have struggled without the FM radio I brought, which only offered the more TV-centric commentary.

My fellow attendees were friendly, but surprisingly chilled. There were no casual MotoGP fans here; it was mostly male dominated, with a mixture of ages, but noticeably fewer 18-25 year olds than any other age bracket.

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Off track, there were a few aspects that felt somewhat dated. The headline artists for Saturday and Sunday on the main stage were the hottest new bands of 2004, crowd pleasers that they may be.

It has also been a long time since I’ve seen so many women in such ornamental roles. It felt antiquated and whilst I wouldn’t want to take away a model’s job, it was jarring.

I would love to see better representation for young people with female riders on track or even in the fan zones. I’d feel more comfortable taking my goddaughter next year if I could point to active riders and say “Look at all these incredible women you could be like! Don’t tell your Mum I said this…”

Even from a merchandise perspective, more than any other number, punching through the British drizzle was a sea of fluorescent #46s adorning caps, tees and jackets. Valentino Rossi still reigns supreme and his legacy is so potent.

But how much longer can the sport lean on its historic icons? On the VR46 stand, Rossi clobber occupied 98% of the shelf space, with a single Marco Bezzecchi cap and t-shirt if you looked carefully. It feels like if VR46 wants to champion the next personalities, it needs to give fans the chance to invest in them and wear their colours with pride.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Formula 1, which is going through an extraordinary renaissance and even with eye-watering ticket prices is meeting the fans where they are.

Despite the dated aspects and there being less ‘stuff’ at MotoGP than an F1 weekend, the entire weekend provided extraordinarily good value. To put that into context, our three-day grandstand tickets at Club corner with podium views were just over one-third of the price of general admission for the F1 this year.

MotoGP doesn’t have to be compared to Formula 1, and the beauty is that it doesn’t need to be. It is a high quality spectacle and offers a different and potentially more authentic flavour of top tier sport. However Dorna can learn lessons by breaking through its own self imposed barriers to increase exposure.

There is simply no presence or promotion outside specialist publications. Where is the city based fan event to build up hype and nudge casual fans to give it a go? Formula E this year had excellent poster coverage throughout the London Underground network in the weeks leading up to the race weekend.

As an event, it is good value to attend, but following the series the rest of the year is cost prohibitive with limited options. Drive to Survive clones only go so far in telling the story, and Dorna needs to be brave enough to do what it takes to make it more accessible. Making the Saturday sprints free to stream would be an easily achievable first step to teasing a new audience to engage.

I will be back again next year, I will tell my friends and family that it was great, but anecdotal word of mouth will only get MotoGP so far.

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