Sponsor clash in Yamaha Factory MotoGP team

Telefónica Movistar returns to MotoGP as primary sponsor of Yamaha Factory Racing team, but Monster Energy refuses to move its logo placement.

Telefonica Movistar used to be a major sponsor in Grand Prix, and helped the careers of many riders, including Dani Pedrosa (second from left), Toni Elias (second from right) and Casey Stoner (far right).

Telefónica is the world's third largest telecommunications company (by access lines), and is Spain's largest telecom corporation by far, with operations in Europe, North and South America, and Asia. Its Movistar brand is the fifth largest mobile provider in the world, and was once a huge sponsor of teams and riders in the World Grand Prix Motorcycle Championship. The Suzuki 500cc Grand Prix team was sponsored by Telefónica when Kenny Roberts Jr. won the title in 2000.

Telefónica Movistar was also a major sponsor of a rapidly growing Spanish talent farm system, creating the Movistar Activa Cup in 1999 that allowed younger riders to develop and showcase their skills on 125cc two-stroke GP bikes. The Movistar Cup helped many current Spanish stars progress to the world stage, including Alvaro Bautista, Toni Elias, Jordi Torres, David Salom, Julian Simon, and Joan Lascorz. The series wasn't limited to Spanish riders however, and other non-Spanish stars have used the Movistar Cup as a stepping stone, including two-time MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner, Chaz Davies, Leon Camier, and many others.

But the company's star pupil was a rising young talent named Dani Pedrosa. Telefónica spent huge sums of money sponsoring Pedrosa in his ascent through the World Grand Prix ranks, with the Spaniard quickly garnering the 125cc GP title on a Honda in 2003. He then moved to the 250cc Grand Prix series in 2004, again on a Honda, and despite missing pre-season testing due to fracturing both ankles at the season-ending 2003 Australian GP, won the first race in South Africa, and went on to win the 250cc title that year. Pedrosa won a second consecutive 250cc title in 2005, despite injuring his shoulder in practice for the Japanese GP.

So all was set for Pedrosa to make the big move to the premier MotoGP class in 2006, with Telefónica looking to cap off its star rider's story with another championship. The problem was that the factory Honda MotoGP team was (and still is) sponsored by Spanish petroleum giant Repsol, and it was not going to let a separate team sponsored by another Spanish company be created within the factory Honda squad, and Honda was not going to produce another RC211V specifically for Pedrosa. Pedrosa and then-manager Alberto Puig decided to make the move to the factory Repsol Honda team, angering Telefónica executives, who saw it as a betrayal by rider, manager, Honda, and Dorna.

As a result, the company then abruptly pulled the plug on any activities associated with motorcycle racing. This was a huge loss for the sport, as many teams and riders in all classes of the World Grand Prix Championship were heavily sponsored by the Spanish telecom company.

Fast forward to 2014, and Telefónica has been part of a big push in Spain for hybrid broadband TV set-top boxes with its Movistar TV channel. Movistar TV acquired TV broadcast rights for MotoGP in Spain, but since some races will still be shown on over-the-air free TV channels, the company has decided to back the Yamaha Factory Racing team as the primary sponsor in order to help promote its pay-per-view MotoGP broadcast.

The problem was that energy drink company Monster Energy up until this point was the primary sponsor of the team, as well as being personal sponsors of riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Monster Energy is rumored to be paying somewhere in the realm of $2 – $2.5 million to sponsor the team, but it's expected that Telefónica is coming in with well more than twice that to be the primary sponsor of the Yamaha Factory Racing team.

When the Yamaha team asked Monster Energy if its logo on the YZR-M1 fairings could be moved to make way for the Telefónica logo, Monster steadfastly refused, citing existing contract language. The issue became sticky enough that Yamaha Motor Racing Europe managing director Lin Jarvis had to travel to the US a few weeks ago to negotiate a solution directly with Monster executives.

Luckily an agreement was reached to end the standoff, and the new fairings (and rider’s leathers) are being created to reflect the change.