For whatever reason, we just had a difficult time taking Jorge Lorenzo seriously anytime he wore his RockStar bucket cap. Those days are over. Yamaha announced this week that Monster is now the energy drink sponsor of the factory GP team and that means Lorenzo will be wearing a new cap.
How did this happen? Even though he has a good relationship with Red Bull, Monster Energy has been a personal sponsor of Valentino Rossi for a few seasons, and the energy drink giant also has sponsored the Tech 3 Yamaha satellite team since 2009.
So Monster's decision to expand its sponsorship to include the Yamaha Factory Racing team and reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo for the 2013 season appeared pretty straightforward.
If only it was that simple.
The Monster-Yamaha Factory Racing deal is a case study of how teams sometimes need to get aggressive to work around potential conflicts with riders' personal backers, especially in the ever-expanding world of energy drinks.
Monster reportedly was very keen to sponsor Rossi's Yamaha once The Doctor, who has a lucrative personal services deal with the energy drink, announced he was returning to the Crossed Tuning Forks for the 2013 season.
The two Yamaha bikes almost certainly would carry different liveries if that deal was made, as rival energy company Rockstar signed Lorenzo to a healthy, multi-year personal sponsorship deal before the 2011 season.
Lorenzo never was seen in the paddock without his Rockstar hat, as the brand equity between Rockstar and Lorenzo continued to build over the last two seasons as Lorenzo stood alone as a Rockstar athlete in the premier class amid a sea of Red Bull and Monster-sponsored riders and/or teams. The deal was working for both parties, as Rockstar extended last June its contract with Lorenzo for 2013 and 2014.
Most paddock observers - and Monster and Rockstar officials - figured the rival sponsorships could co-exist at Yamaha, much like the conflicting personal deals between Lorenzo and Rockstar and Ben Spies and Monster during their time as Yamaha factory teammates in 2011 and 2012.
But Monster decided to up the ante at the 2012 season finale at Valencia by proposing to sponsor the entire Yamaha team, including Rossi and Lorenzo. Monster officials reportedly were worried that another race-winning, championship-winning season from Lorenzo would generate more publicity for rival Rockstar, relegating Monster to the shadows.
But the very big fly in the ointment remained - Lorenzo's deal with Rockstar.
Still, Yamaha had leverage over Lorenzo and Rockstar to make the overall sponsorship happen with Monster. Reportedly, there was a clause in Lorenzo's contract that allows Yamaha to veto his personal sponsors if they clash with the team's sponsors.
So Yamaha reportedly invoked that clause - at the cost of buying out the remaining two years of Lorenzo's deal, said to be 1 million euros per year.
Yamaha still made out in the deal because Monster reportedly increased its sponsorship offer from 1.5 million euros per season to sponsor Rossi's bike to 4 million euros per year to sponsor the bikes of Rossi and Lorenzo. This presumably covers 1.5 million euros each to sponsor Rossi and Lorenzo's bikes and 1 million euros to compensate Yamaha for buying out Lorenzo's personal Rockstar deal.
Monster also presumably is shelling out separate millions of euros as part of Rossi's existing personal sponsorship deal and a new personal services deal with Lorenzo.
The Monster sponsorship puts the Yamaha Factory team on its strongest financial footing since title sponsor Fiat left after the 2010 season.
Fiat reportedly paid 7 million euros per season to sponsor both Yamaha factory bikes, a deal helped along by Fiat's heir Lapo Elkann who is a Rossi pal and VR46 fan. While the Monster deal isn't considered at title sponsorship, Monster and existing associate sponsor Eneos - a Japanese oil company - supposedly are paying 4 million euros each to the team this season, lifting Yamaha to slightly greater loot levels than during the Fiat era.
Monster's primary sponsorship of Tech 3 will continue despite the new deal with the Yamaha factory team, and Monster will continue to sign personal services deals with other MotoGP riders.