Jorge Lorenzo is an avid tweeter,...
Jorge Lorenzo is an avid tweeter, but it's doubtful he can top NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, who tweeted from his car during a red-flag period in this year's Daytona 500.
When I was a teenager, it took forever to get race results from Europe. You had to wait months for a glossy magazine to show up in the mail, and even then you were lucky if it had more than just straight results. The couple of column-inches devoted to a report often left more questions than it did answers. Fast-forward to the Internet age, and results are instantaneous. With live timing and social networking sites, you can get lap-by-lap updates and commentary from people on the scene, and you can watch most racing live via streaming video. The amount of information about a race event available even while it’s happening is almost overwhelming. A seemingly infinite number of blogs and news sites issue reports, and the riders, teams and manufacturers all publish their own versions of what happened. Many riders even tweet or post on Facebook their own updates over the course of a race weekend.
This year, it seems that coverage of MotoGP especially has ratcheted up a notch. Every practice session gets its own individual reports and analysis, even if it’s rained out and no riders actually practice. The slightest rumors begin, mushroom into headline news and then die, all within hours. With some digging, I bet you could find what each rider has for breakfast. The absurdity of it all reached a pinnacle for me when a mouse in Cal Crutchlow’s motorhome made the news. The mouse even has its own Twitter account now, with about 1000 followers.
Google has a couple of tools that help identify what’s popular and how that popularity changes over time. One is Google AdWords, which helps advertisers pick keywords to use in their ads; the tool shows how often a particular search term is used each month. We use it for our own website to help pick keywords for search engine optimization. For example, you can get an idea of how popular each motorcycle manufacturer is by seeing how often each is searched for through Google. Or you can see how often a word like ninja or sportbike is used in combination with Kawasaki.
The second tool is Google Insights for Search, which shows how those search terms trend over time. Most motorcycle-related search terms have shown a steady decline in popularity over the last few years, not necessarily in absolute terms but relative to the total number of searches in Google. MotoGP, on the other hand, has shown a steady and noticeable increase in the same time period. In 2011 there was a sizable jump, and — as I suspected — the data available for this year so far shows another hefty increase. Part of the jump in 2011 I’m sure is due to Valentino Rossi’s switch to Ducati, and it doesn’t take much further investigation to see that a fair amount of MotoGP’s current success is tied to the Italian star. As a search term, the popularity of “Valentino Rossi” dwarfs that of any other rider in either MotoGP or World Superbike. However, even that popularity is decreasing over time when compared to MotoGP as a search term.
It’s interesting that, in spite of all the turmoil in MotoGP with the rules changes, small grids and processional races, the series is still increasing in popularity compared with any form of Superbike racing — according to Google’s tools, at least. These trends are also indicated by data such as the number of Twitter followers for racers and people associated with each series, or activity on Facebook and YouTube. On our own website, MotoGP articles are definitely the most popular racing stories, and anything mentioning Valentino Rossi generally has a step higher traffic numbers. I have to wonder if, in a medium that is increasingly driven by search optimization and traffic results, authors are including Rossi’s name in stories just to help increase the number of views. Of course, this in turn raises those articles higher in search results, which is then reflected in the Google tools, which in turn encourages authors to use his name more... Maybe Rossi’s popularity is all due to this cycle and snowball effect.
While I’m not so much interested in reading about Cal Crutchlow’s mouse or what Casey Stoner had for breakfast, evidently plenty of other people are. The current glut of information about MotoGP and other racing series means there is plenty of useful news for almost anyone’s tastes. But with an ever-increasing number of copycat websites (and I mean literally copycat — there are sites that simply strip content from other sites and re-post it) and sensationalist blog postings, finding that useful information without getting distracted or bogged down in nonsense can sometimes be difficult. I have to wonder what effect this increasingly microscopic media coverage is having on the riders and how much of a part it played in Stoner’s decision to retire at the end of this year. I know any press is supposed to be good press, but at the MotoGP level I’m not so sure. SR