In 2009, with the introduction of the S 1000 RR, BMW began to participate in the FIM Superbike World Championship. The factory team had relative success, especially when considering that this was BMW’s first supersport motorcycle. Though the factory team no longer exists, BMW Motorrad Motorsport still provides “support and technical know-how” to teams in the competition.
However, in motorcycle sport, the pinnacle of competition is MotoGP. MotoGP is much like the motorcycle equivalent of Formula 1, except that it’s viewership is increasing whereas Formula 1 viewership is decreasing, according to NBC Sports.
As a consequence, competition in MotoGP is significantly more costly than in the Superbike World Championship. Bikes in the latter are road going machines which are modified for racing purposes. MotoGP bikes are purpose built for racing and require massive investment in research and development on a continuous basis.
Though the cost is much steeper, the exposure too is. In fact, MotoGP was able to achieve record global TV coverage in 2015. With a ‘star’ rider, a BMW MotoGP team could be massively beneficial to the BMW Motorrad brand, particularly as it expands into the sport segment of the premium motorcycle market. As I’ve already mentioned, it could also be a great financial burden.
Former BMW Motorrad CEO, Hendrik von Kuenheim, said previously on the subject, “MotoGP is the most watched motorcycle racing in the world. Next to F1, it is the benchmark for motor racing. But if you look at individual races and the number of spectators attending, such as in Jerez or Assen, there is no race in F1 in the world that even comes close to the number of spectators.” He then said, “it’s a clear platform for us…our engine, with the bore as well as the one liter displacement, is very suited to MotoGP racing.” However, he concluded “racing is expensive, so we have to think about it!”
Kuenheim’s replacement, Stephan Schaller, doesn’t share his predecessor’s view of the matter. Schaller, too, oversaw the elimination of company’s factory team in WSBK. When asked about what the future holds for BMW Motorrad and racing, Schaller exclaimed, “Let me clearly state this – we will definitely not establish our road racing factory team again, neither for MotoGP, nor for World Superbike.”
Clearly, this is a very complex determination to make, with very many facets to it. The big question is, which gentleman is right? Schaller or Kuenheim? Kuenheim’s establishment of the factory racing team and participation in motorsport added much credibility to the brand’s new sport bike and sporty image, arguably leading the S 1000 RR to be a commercial success. Schaller, feeling that the objective was already achieved, saw no reason to maintain such an expenditure and certainly no reason to increase it to participate in MotoGP. Schaller, instead, sought to redirect that expenditure into product development and “customer support.”
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