Riccardo Tafà is the Managing Director and founder of RTR Sports Marketing, a sports marketing agency that celebrates 25 years of work in motorsports, specifically in Formula 1 and MotoGP, boasting collaborations with big players such as Williams, McLaren, Ducati, Yamaha, Honda and many others. Tafà’s agency, which started in London in the mid-90s in the PR field, is a reality that has been able to ride the changes thorough the years, to accept and understand them, thus remaining a relevant player in the world of sports sponsorship: still today RTR is one of the trusted partners for the organizers and for the MotoGP and Formula 1 teams.
Riccardo Tafà: 25 years is an enviable goal in the world of sports sponsorship. How has your industry evolved over this period?
The world has changed a lot, and quite a few times, from the 1990s to today. When I started, with Formula 1, the economic situation was very positive and favorable, both in Europe and in Italy: back then sponsorships were “traditional” and they didn’t go much beyond the exposure of the brand. Overcoming the idea of traditional sponsorship was my obsession and my objective, from the very beginning, and the main road was that traced by creativity and flexibility. We have always tried to create new forms of collaboration and partnership with companies, to anticipate technological changes, to look at every possible opportunity even during major economic crises. And, we have always been ready to change ourselves when this was necessary.
Is this what is happening right now, a moment deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?
No one could predict this pandemic, and especially its short-term effects. But we have equipped ourselves, like everyone else, to try and offer new answers to questions that were new for everyone, even for us. In the previous years we have pushed a lot on the digital development, and it’s paying off so far because we have found ourselves in a better position than others. For our partners, then, we have thought of innovative solutions and opportunities: we have just launched, in partnership with Visiva, “Sponsorsim”, an Augmented Reality sponsorship “simulation” app that will allow teams to manage sponsorships remotely.
What year will it be for motorsport?
The initial shock of this pandemic has inevitably hit many sectors, that faced and still are in crisis. We are now in a more “mature” phase of pandemic management, in which we are asking ourselves at all levels when and how we will really start again. In this uncertain context, motorsport was one of the few sport to go on: the 2020 championships have been all concluded, and the 2021 MotoGP and Formula 1 calendars are already ready to start. Some pieces of the puzzle will be missing, but we will start again in March.
There will be no live events, and, above all, they will be behind closed doors: do these elements affect the sports sponsorship market?
Yes, there is no point in hiding that. On-field activations and events are among the most important opportunities for many companies that invest in sport. The sports that are doing better so far are those in which the television rights can cover the costs of the organization: NBA, NFL, football, tennis, MotoGP and Formula 1. Among these, those without less or no contact are privileged because of the creation of safe “bubbles” and the less ease of transmission of Covid-19 the fewer unforeseen changes of events on the calendar. In this sense, MotoGP and Formula 1 remain a remarkably interesting platform to invest in sponsorships: some bits are missing, but visibility can be gained in other ways. Paradoxically, this could be “the best worst moment ever” to invest in motorsport.
The best worst moment…meaning?
We can look at 2021 as a year of sowing, and the following years as those in which the ripe fruits of new partnerships will be harvested: this is a shared idea in the industry, and teams and managers are showing great flexibility in communicating with brands. Moreover, interpreting the MotoGP data, one can foresee the trend of the near future: in 2020 the audience has increased, people are glued to the TV, and these numbers are destined to grow further. At this stage, the duration of the activity despite Covid ensures the stability of these numbers, together with the growth of visibility in the media. The number of enthusiasts and therefore those interested in the products will grow. In the medium term, as soon as the doors can be reopened to the public, there will be a “hunger for events”, which will determine a strong response from customers. Today digital activities and social media networks are even more important than before and will be essential to keep users close to the product. Finally, it should not forget that sport remains an important B2B tool for companies, especially in a year in which B2B will be practically erased. When you sponsor a team, in fact, you become part of a restricted club of people for which the teams organize virtual sponsor days, webinars and other opportunities for discussion and interaction at this stage.
Motorsports still is one of the most important showcases in the world, right?
Of course, and not only in terms of brand exposure but also in terms of credibility. They are itinerant platforms able to create market breaches in many countries of the world, and to create direct communication with customers in the reference markets. As for customers, some figures may give you an idea of the power of the platform: 80% of the MotoGP audience recognize a brand as a sponsor, and 70% buy the products seen in the world championship. This means that every euro invested in these sports becomes much more profitable than any traditional communication activities. The user and the spectator of MotoGP and Formula 1 are not interrupted or distracted by the sponsor: the brand is part of the sporting action; it appears there but without distracting you. And then, there is a professional organization in all its parts, to improve the result. The collaboration of teams, organizing bodies, and advisors such as RTR, tends to create a virtuous circle: the fantastic, fast and sparkling world of two and four wheels progressively becomes real, it is a sort of large family in motion…