Marlboro to Monster – The rise of Energy Drink sponsorship
Is your favourite rider sponsored by an energy drink? I am sure they are, if they are not, they will have been in the past.
For the 2021 season there are 10 riders in MotoGP sponsored by Red Bull (potentially 11 if Lecuona keeps the sponsor) and 8 sponsored by Monster Energy, 4 riders do not fall into these categories yet they will have been/will be sponsored by one of the two giants, aside from one man, Aleix Espargaro, who is sponsored by Raw Energy and was sponsored by Battery Energy Drink at one point in his career.
Danilo Petrucci was supposed to join Red Bull at Tech3 however the team have been dropped by the energy drink giant and will run a ‘classic’ Tech3 livery instead. Bradley Smith who may ride for Aprilia has been sponsored by both Monster Energy and Red Bull in his career and Iker Lecuona was sponsored by Red Bull in 2020 with the Tech3 team as part of the teams sponsor.
Jorge Lorenzo was sponsored by three major king-pin sponsors during his career, he donned the Rockstar Energy star in 2011 and 2012 before Yamaha bought his contract out so Rossi and Lorenzo could wear Monster Energy, when Lorenzo moved to Honda he dropped the famous Monster claw in favour of the 2 Red Bulls you see on their logo. After leaving Honda he reunited with Monster Energy and is back on their payroll.
Jorge Lorenzo running the Rockstar logos in 2011
You see the trend here? Energy drinks are the biggest form of sponsorship revenue in the sport currently with countless riders in the lower ranks also being backed by the sponsor as well as teams such as the Red Bull KTM Ajo set up and a rumoured Moto2 Monster Energy backed team to go with the Sky VR46 Team who also bear the Monster Energy logos.
This is not to mention MotoGP teams running these sponsors as their title sponsor such as Red Bull KTM, Monster Energy Yamaha plus even Repsol Honda carry Red Bull logos. Not forgetting the return of Rockstar Energy who will sponsor Max Biaggi’s Moto3 efforts with the team running Husqvarna’s who have a relationship with the brand in the Motocross world.
These brands are also known to sponsor entire events such as the Monster Energy Grand Prix at Brno or Jerez who run huge Red Bull logos around the circuit including on their ‘space ship’ on the start/finish straight, we also have the Red Bull rookies cup, a championship which aims to bring young talent into the world championship with Red Bull’s funding allowing them to ride for free.
This Red Bull sponsorship of the cup can also be a downside with many riders having to give up their rookies seats due to conflicting sponsors such as Jaume Masia who ran Monster Energy when he joined the Monlau Estrella Galicia CEV Moto3 efforts or Xavier Artigas who left the rookies after joining the Leopard Energy team in the CEV Moto3 Championship.
This is much like the late 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s when tobacco sponsorship was rampant in the paddock with Rothmans, Lucky Strike and Marlboro sponsoring many riders and teams creating some iconic liveries, the two-stroke era was funded by cigarette money and helped to push the sport to the same level as F1. Cigarette sponsorship was already banned on TV at this point, therefore cigarette companies had large budgets sat ready and waiting and nowhere to put their logos until they discovered motorsport sponsorship.
The Rothmans sponsored Honda NSR
The money from cigarette sponsorship aided teams in development and also on marketing to gain new viewers of the sport. Photos of riders and teams were in glossy magazines with the tobacco sponsors logos in full view which was exactly what the sponsors wanted, it was a loophole in the system.
Riders were paid handsomely by tobacco sponsors, just like they are today from their wealthy Billionaire Energy Drink sponsors. Red Bull set aside an advertising budget in the billions of dollars every year meaning they have more than enough money to pay riders what they are worth plus more. This is much like in the days of tobacco sponsors when the satellite teams gained access to these sponsors and their massive pockets which gave them the funding to arrive at the front of the grid with the factory teams due to the money behind them, even in 2020 this continues, proven by the Tech3 team in 2020 who were able to win 2 MotoGP races running a Red Bull livery.
The ‘golden era’ of tobacco sponsorship soon came to an end with the World Health Organization putting an end to the sponsorship as we knew it, the sponsorship however continued at a much lesser level with brands like Fortuna and Rizla still appearing on the side of motorbikes, plus we cannot forget about the famous Marlboro Ducati Desmosedici which is a truly iconic combo which still exists today. Marlboro’s logos did not stay for long however and they were replaced by a barcode on the fairing of the motorbike which when scanned took you to Marlboro’s website.
Everyone knew what the barcode was even without scanning it, it was a genius piece of marketing to get past the rules which were in place. Even now Phil Morris and his company are sponsoring the team with a loophole appearing in 2019 when Mission Winnow appeared on the side of the factory Ducati GP19’s.
Marlboro’s barcode sponsorship
Following the removal of tobacco sponsorship, a new form of funding had to arrive, and arrive it did! Red Bull slowly but surely started to appear on liveries and riders helmets, the famous Red Bull Yamaha YZR500 was one of the first teams to spark this major change with rider John Hopkins wearing a Red Bull helmet, coloured in the style of their can.
Slowly but surely more and more riders would appear with these wealthy sponsors on their leathers and riders would change between them also, John Hopkins left a long term relationship with Red Bull to join Monster Energy in 2008 when he rode for the Monster Energy sponsored Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR and still runs their logos on his caps and t-shirts even in 2021.
One of the first major MotoGP riders to be sponsored by Monster Energy was Valentino Rossi who picked up the claw in 2009 in the form on a sticker on his visor, with Monster seeing how Red Bull were benefitting from sponsoring riders when Nicky Hayden won the 2006 world championship in a helmet covered in the Red Bull logos they had to get in on the action.
Rossi’s visor stickers eventually changed to be logos painted into his helmet design once Monster Energy realised their investment was paying off and started to put even more money into Rossi as their cash cow given that his popularity within MotoGP and Italy was unparalleled, therefore more logos on his helmet meant even more publicity for the brand.
These days it is hard not to spot a Monster Energy or Red Bull logo, whether these logos be on a rider suit and/or helmet, bike livery or a sponsorship banner at the side of the track, the logos are everywhere, times have changed dramatically since the banning of cigarette sponsors with the new wave of energy drinks taking their place, it makes you wonder what is next for the sport in terms of major sponsorship.
Featured image – www.motogp.com