For some time, rumours have been circulating that the MotoGP might come into the hands of Liberty Media.
Dorna Sports is still commercial rights holder of the MotoGP, or the premier class of motorcycle racing. The CEO of Dorna Sports, Carmelo Ezpeleta reveals to the Italian Repubblica: "It is indeed true that there are rumors about a possible takeover of Dorna. I can confirm that, but I always wonder who starts these rumors. I get two or three phone calls every day, mainly from banks. However, they don't want to buy anything, but to take on a role as an intermediary."
"I can say that nothing has happened for now. Anything can always happen, at any time, but for now it hasn't. What is certain, however, is that our product is valued," said Ezpeleta, who logically does not reveal much in his role. The Spaniard himself also owns shares in Dorna Sports and will want to sell his business for the highest possible price in the event of a potential sale. In 2023, Liberty Media was mentioned several times as one of the parties that would be interested in wanting to buy over Dorna Sports and thus automatically MotoGP.
Not an odd idea, given that Liberty Media has been very successful financially in Formula 1 in recent years. After all, if you can be successful in the top class of motorsport, you could become so in the premier class of motorcycles? Yet there still seems to be no talk of selling Dorna Sports. Rumors of the potential takeover have subsided in recent months, so either they are keeping their lips tightly sealed or no talks are currently taking place between the two parties.
Normally in such negotiations there are always people or parties involved who let something be known about the process. So that is not the case for now and so it does not yet appear that we will see a MotoGP race during a F1 weekend in the near future.
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Formula 1 & MotoGP in action at the same time?
That provisionally unrealistic idea was once raised by the owner of the COTA circuit, Bobby Epstein. When we asked the American again about that idea in October 2023, he quickly quashed any possibilities.
Indeed, Epstein now thinks it will be difficult to have MotoGP and F1 in action on the same weekend at the same circuit. This is mainly because both classes face different safety measures, these cannot simply be switched around between the sessions of the two classes.
The growth F1 has experienced since Liberty Media's arrival is, however, a big reason for the Americans to perform the same trick with MotoGP. The top class of motorcycle racing seems to be a sleeping giant at the moment. Despite having grown its ratings and spectator numbers in 2023 compared to 2022 and seen a big increase in revenue, it is still facing a large debt.
As revenue has increased substantially over the past two years and Dorna communicates that the ratings and spectator numbers are growing, it also seems to be interesting for investors to sell their shares if a party like Liberty Media will come forward with a concrete and realistic offer. In recent months, for example, rumors circulated that Dorna would like to talk about a €2 billion offer with a takeover party. Definitely not a tip, especially considering Dorna's turnover in 2022 was "only" about 425 million euros. So a new owner will have to make quick changes that generate more sales and profits in order to quickly recoup the 2 billion investment amount. By comparison, in the year Liberty Media took over F1, the turnover of the king class in motorsports was $1.8 billion.
In 2022, Liberty ensured that revenue rose to $2.6 billion in F1, an amount they likely surpassed in 2023. So the investment they have made has been more than worth it. It is still unclear whether a possible investment of €2 billion in MotoGP will be easily recouped. Financially, MotoGP does not seem to be an interesting option for Liberty Media at this time. This leaves only a relatively small indication that Liberty might take the step to MotoGP.
Liberty Media bought QuintEvents last year. That company operated very successfully in both the F1 and MotoGP worlds in recent years. For example, the company owns F1 Experiences series, offering F1 fans exclusive hospitality tickets since 2017, where you can even get into the pit box or paddock. That investment shows that Liberty Media not only believes in opportunities in Formula 1, but also in opportunities in the MotoGP world.
'Growing popularity of MotoGP'
This fact, however, is still too small to estimate whether Liberty Media also wants to take the next step and buy out Dorna. In F1, Liberty Media also put the sport on the map in America with the Netflix series Drive to Survive.
MotoGP has also released some series on different platforms, but with much less success than F1. Therefore, it will not be easy to make MotoGP "just like that" big in financially interesting countries like America. The question is how Liberty Media would like to really put MotoGP back on the map.
It was made great over the past 20 years primarily by Valentino Rossi, but since the nine-time world champion bid farewell to the sport, no-one has emerged to those heights in that regard. As an eight-time world champion, for example, Marc Marquez does not enjoy nearly the same level of interest that Rossi enjoyed.
So Liberty Media or another investor will not be able to set its sights on one or more riders in the current field who have already built up world renown. For a party looking to buy out Dorna, it is necessary to come up with a big idea, because you cannot piggyback on the success of one or more big names.
By 2023, according to MotoGP, attendance at the GPs would increase by 20%. Especially on Saturdays, there is a clear growth in the number of spectators. This is probably due to the fixed sprint race that was introduced on Saturdays in 2023. Every GP weekend, a sprint race is scheduled in the MotoGP class. Also, the number of people watching MotoGP on TV would have increased by a good 20% in 2023 compared to 2022. That sounds like a nice number, but in Spain "only" 209,000 people would have watched the Catalunya GP on DAZN (they own the TV rights).
On the open channel the race was watched by more than a million people in Spain and the race at Mugello, which was also broadcast on the open channel, was watched by 780,000 people. This shows that there is great interest in the country that produces many champions in motorsports, but relatively speaking, not many people take out subscriptions. In addition, only a few races a year can be watched live on the open net.
Even in another motorsports country like Italy, we see only okay numbers during the last race of the year in 2023 where Francesco Bagnaia became world champion. On average, 826,000 people watched the race in which their compatriot became world champion. By comparison, the same day the Abu Dhabi GP was run which an average of 777,000 people watched on Sky Italia.
A number that would be many times higher in any good year for Ferrari, as Bagnaia had in MotoGP. Another comparison, Rossi's farewell race at the 2021 Valencia GP was watched by an average of 860,000 people in Italy. There, however, he did not compete at the front for a long time. He did in 2015 during the last race of the year, when a whopping 2.45 million Italians tuned in to Sky Italia to watch the last race of the year.
Those numbers show that in the relatively largest motorsports countries, MotoGP is watched much less than years ago for a variety of reasons. There was an increase in 2023, but the question is whether that increase will continue into 2024. After all, there won't be any more sprint races in MotoGP.
Marc Marquez defining factor for potential takeover parties?
With the number of viewers not extremely high in Spain and Italy, the question is therefore whether channels such as DAZN and Sky Italia will continue to pay top dollar in the future to bring in the rights. It is an important revenue source for Dorna or a party that will buy Dorna and so it is important that this revenue source absolutely does not collapse.
Fact is that at the beginning of this new year, there were quite a few rumors circulating about a possible takeover, which were especially revived by Ezpeleta's statements. These statements were quickly taken to mean that Dorna is about to sell the company. However, if you read the Spaniard's words carefully, he does not give a millimeter away. He admits that it is true that there are rumors about a possible sale, but not that they are actually in talks with a party. So it will have to wait and see until there are clear indications about Dorna's possible interlocutors.
Whether it will be Liberty Media, at least, remains to be seen. The circumstances described show that it will not be easy to make MotoGP as successful as Formula 1 has become commercially in recent years under the leadership of Liberty Media. No doubt Dorna will hope that Marc Marquez will compete for the world title this year as a challenger on a customer Ducati. If the eight-time world champion can pull this off, worldwide interest is sure to increase. Perhaps Marquez can then also give a potential investor just the final push to buy out Dorna.