In the 1990s, cigarette sponsorship ran the world. Massive corporates, incredibly rich and powerful, went to war on the sidepanels and fairings of the fastest machines in the world. We remember a time when fag ash was king...
Cancer victim and timeless racing superstar Barry Sheene was the world’s greatest smoker. He even had a hole drilled in the chin-piece of his helmet so he could have a last few puffs on his Gitanes (the filter broken off) on the start-line. Sheene was also the unashamed pioneer of securing sponsorship money.
It is slightly surprising then that it wasn’t Barry who first pocketed the generous cash available from cigarette logos. That prize had already been taken by the time Sheene joined the 500 class in 1975, by illustrious incumbent Giacomo Agostini. Fifteen times world champ Ago raced in the twilight of his career with a small but highly significant logo on his fairing. It said: ‘Marlboro’.
The first appearance had been at the Isle of Man TT in 1972, with Ago and MV Agusta teammate Alberto Pagani. Present MotoGP race director Paul Butler remembers that the new sponsor took time to understand the ethos of bike racing. “They thought Douglas was somehow like Monaco, and they hosted a big party on a yacht in the harbour. They’d forgotten about the ten-foot tide, and the Manx Maid ferry coming in and out.”
Seasickness aside, the British-owned cowboy-boots brand was the first to join big-time bike racing, at a time when the whole concept of outside sponsorship was in its infancy. Thirty-six years later, cigarette advertising is banned almost everywhere except Qatar and Malaysia. But Marlboro alone is still there.
In between came the glory years, a cigarette war that escalated throughout the 1980s. Rothmans, Marlboro and Lucky Strike all tried to outdo and outspend the others. Off track, the hospitality suites burgeoned and the parties became more and more elaborate whenever there was anything to celebrate, and often when their wasn’t.
Bikes painted as fag packets dominated the grid, and the money flowed. Into the pockets of not only the top riders, but also a slew of ancillaries from technicians and team managers to a whole layer of free-spending PR schmoozers as well. The lunches were not only free but also very tasty. By the start of the 1980s, cigarette companies were already facing increasing restrictions on advertising, so they had to find another outlet for vast marketing budgets.
Car racing came first, and the bikes soon afterwards. And the money was like nothing anyone had ever seen. Informed speculation puts the fee paid to a top factory team like Yamaha at something like $15-million back in the early 1990s. Today, even with inflation, the same money would buy two or more years of the factory Honda or Yamaha teams, and a lot longer from Suzuki, rumoured to have accepted just half-a-million per annum from Rizla.
Read on for more on the former glory of cigarette sponsorship
"We shall not see their profligate like again"
Sure we will!!!
Drugs are the new drug. I wouldn't be surprised to see these huge Drug companies looking for new ways to market their "Stay Hard", "Lose Weight" and "Be Happy" Pills.
Posted: 14/06/2011 at 16:46
Become a fan of Visordown
Follow us on twitter
Other Immediate Media Sites
Our eCommerce Platform
© Immediate Media Company Ltd 2012. This website is owned and published by Immediate Media Company Limited. www.immediatemedia.co.uk