After he won the double world championship in 1985, American Freddie Spencer wanted, briefly, to run his own team with sponsorship from a Global/American company, but one not affiliated with tobacco products.
Spencer and his team had an NSR500 Honda painted in Coca-Cola colors and Freddie was able to “get a meeting” with the Coke brass in Atlanta who expressed interest in talking about sponsoring a Freddie Spencer Racing Coca-Cola GP team with Spencer and a second rider.
It’s said that when Freddie had the NSR500 rolled out in front of the Coke brass, they were mildly enthusiastic about the effort and the proposal.
Until the subject of machinery costs was read from the proposal.
HRC and the rest of the Grand Prix manufacturers were then using tobacco money to subsidize (or profit from) their involvement in Grand Prix racing. It was a marketplace where seemingly insane figures were proposed and paid in an effort to get top level machinery. Lease costs on a complete NSR500 Honda program were in the neighborhood of several million dollars per season. Or more.
This was in 1986-1988. Several million dollars bought a great deal of visibility in many forms of motorsport from NASCAR to F1.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Spencer said later in 1990, the Coke execs were speaking freely with Freddie and his team. They confided that they had some interest in moving forward on the Coke/Spencer/Honda project but the machinery lease costs were not what they were expecting for “a motorcycle race team”. One of the suits asked Freddie, ‘C’mon, what does this really cost to do? What are the real costs? What are the real numbers?’.
Freddie said those were the numbers provided to him by Honda and they were already discounted because Honda wanted to see a giant non-tobacco brand come into GP racing. He showed them the faxes from Honda and HRC regarding lease costs.
The Coke execs knew that this level of spending was not going to be easy to justify to their board and quietly ended talks with Freddie Spencer.
This conversation was given the “Groundhog Day” treatment at many of the companies Spencer petitioned to sponsor a team. Pepsi did come to Grand Prix in 1988, which was widely heralded as Grand Prix’s “new beginning with mainstream sponsorships” but Pepsi only lasted a short while and their inability to pay tobacco-level money saw Lucky Strike take their spot on the Suzuki GP bikes.
Knowing all of this failed sponsorship history, and factor in just how hard it is to get even a motorcycle company to sponsor a race team, you’ve got to say that Monster Energy’s CEO Rod Sacks is probably the biggest MotoGP fan in the corporate world, or perhaps MotoGP’s most important fan, period.
Sacks has been a huge MotoGP fan for the last six years or more. And his support of the sport is unparalleled. Monster sponsors Grand Prix events and teams with lots of Monster dollars, but Sacks has also overseen personal services/contracts with many MotoGP riders, including Rossi, Cal Crutchlow and Jorge Lorenzo, among others. Those contracts are said to be negotiated by and under the care of Sacks himself. For example, Cal Crutchlow’s Monster deal is directly with Sacks. How lucrative is Crutchlow’s Monster deal? So lucrative he had little motivation to leave LCR to replace Dani Pedrosa on the factory team in order to become just another Red Bull rider. There are a great many motorsports athletes who have Monster sponsorship deals. How many of them are directly through Rodney Sacks? Very few.
Rod Sacks is a big MotoGP fan, isn’t afraid to spend Monster’s money to support the sport and has been known to spend an off-weekend taking in a MotoGP race, in person.
God love him.