The place to be? VIP Village
I’m at a MotoGP race and I’m going where I shouldn’t be allowed. Contrary to expectation my presence in the VIP Village at Jerez is met with an award-winning smile from the hostess at reception and I’m guided towards a wall rack of breakfast options. High-standing tables and stools are flanked by clear and purposeful décor, shimmering cutlery, HD pristine televisions and outside the burr of Moto3 bikes barrelling down the short start straight at Jerez filter through the large glass windows. To my right I can see a veranda of white ceramic looking furniture and a bar area, to my left a man sitting at table gestures animatedly to his guests/colleagues…perhaps he is about to close a large deal.
We are in another sphere of MotoGP. A world of corporate hospitality, entertainment, back-slapping, business and high-end movers. It is an environment largely out of reach to the average race fan – but like travelling in business or first class on a plane – it somehow has to be tried just once.
My brief exploration of the VIP Village permits a swift munch of a croissant and a tour around some of the private areas hired by partners and sponsors of the series and the opulence within.
At Jerez it’s a busy place and I cannot help but wonder how an elite enterprise such as this has steered its way through the austerity of recent years and even some of the cost-cutting hours and meetings that have shaped MotoGP itself. Do people want or can afford or relish the kind of treatment found in such an establishment and with the howl of engines and smell of race garages in close proximity? The answer mostly comes from the amount of seats occupied and the shoulders of Armani shirts rubbing with the yellow of garish #46 t-shirts but to gain more knowledge on the role of the service we were kindly afforded some time with Dorna Sports’ Griselda Foguet (Corporate Hospitality Director, Commercial) and Manuel Ortiz (Corporate Hospitality Director, Production); the two principle overseers of the VIP Village.
Apparently a team of just eight people look after corporate hospitality throughout the championship and the department based in Sant Just just outside Barcelona is divided into three areas: commercial, production and operations. They enlist partners at each race for marquees, structures and catering; the food companies use their own teams and the staff numbers depend on the size of the event and attendance. Dorna also hire reception staff and BMW drivers for additional extras like the service road tour and shuttles.
“The VIP Village has evolved quite a lot in terms of structures and catering services; which are the fundamental parts of our packet of services,” says Foguet, part of Dorna since 2004. “We have been adapting to the new circuits and the needs of the clients and partners. There have been some important changes in general to MotoGP. The series has grown and changed a lot, especially with technology and the shape of the categories and the VIP Village is always trying to move with the necessities of the championship and our clients. There is always space to improve and change.”
Ortiz has accumulated twelve seasons with Dorna but on the logistics side and dealing with infrastructure with the circuits. “I was working with Philip Morris before and could see the VIP Village from the other side, that of a client, sponsor and agency and slightly differently. When you are on the inside then you get an appreciation for how it has evolved in terms of catering, organisation, the structures of the marquees and materials, sales and so on.”
People might see the VIP Village as just a nice plate of food and a decent place to watch the race so there has to be some marketing involved to reveal the full range of advantages like the parking, tours, guests etc…
Griselda: The hospitality is created to offer a space for comfort where a client can be all day – or just for the time of the sport event – that is more premium than any other entrance ticket. We offer gourmet catering to a high level in an accommodating, air-conditioned environment and – as you mentioned – the parking space is fundamental because some circuits have very restricted space so to be able to enter and park your own car is an authentic VIP service. There is still a wide road to explore when it comes to entertainment and the technical side. Everything is evolving very fast and we are continuing to look how we can tie into the sport and make it part of the hospitality package.
Has their been progress in terms of what the circuits can offer, the materials to enable full possibilities to the client and the general experience of the customer?
Griselda: I think the VIP service was born to offer something important to our best and biggest sponsors and where teams and partners could invite their closest clients and perform PR. It has grown, even if the goal of the service has always been the same with respect to the space and what we offer and in relation to the price and market value. I think we have really improved a lot with the level of service when it comes to making a space that is tailor-made to a client. We’ve looked at other events and then what we can provide and what requirements we can satisfy and I think it is a really competitive product, very much in line with the big brands and companies and what they desire from an event like ours.
Manuel: When it comes to the circuits then I’ve seen a big evolution. Whether it is new places like COTA or some of the older places like Misano then the provisions have changed. If you talk about something like Apps then perhaps that technical part is an element that we are just beginning to explore a lot more and we’re in a transition phase because MotoGP is obviously a sport that pushes the technical edge. We are quite traditional in some ways but we are also exploring new ways and trends.
How is the priority within Dorna for the VIP Village? If you see something like the TV package and department then it is cutting-edge and all-encompassing…
Manuel: We have a good budget and I think the company is very conscious of the need for good corporate hospitality but as we’re responsible for the VIP Village we always want more! More budget and more possibilities to offer something better, however we’re quite content with the distribution of resources comparatively among the departments of the company. MotoGP is a sport of passion and is enjoyed from the stands and the TV and I think we offer another important experience, and I know other departments recognise this when it comes to sponsors and customers that come to the race.
Is there a real diversity within the VIP Village? You must be victims to the circuit infrastructure?
Manuel: It depends on the track but we basically have two locations, which is the terrace of the main building or grandstand or the ground level somewhere. Dorna’s contract with the circuits is for only one week, so from Sunday before to the Sunday of the race but construction needs two weeks, one before and after. In a back-to-back like Mugello and Catalunya one team has been building while another has been dismantling and moving straight to Holland and Assen. We have a partner – ENG – that has been twenty-five years as part of the world championship and is able to offer the quantity of material to double or triple the structures and the personnel to be able to do the job. In the Grand Prix of Catalunya – for example – we’ll count on a team of about 130 people with about 25-30 for catering. Logistics gets very complicated for back-to-back races and even when there is just one weekend between GPs.
In Valencia the VIP Village is its own compound and two floors: is that the trickiest one?
Manuel: No, that’s actually one of the easier ones! It’s perhaps the biggest, together with Misano, but because we are on ground level we don’t have to worry about cranes or lifting and moving all the material around tight places. Also being outside of the paddock has its benefits and the build is more simple and straightforward.
Griselda: Valencia is one of the best attended but Misano and Catalunya are also popular. Misano has a good attendance but we’re limited with space and usually have a nice spot around the circuit. On the terrace there in Italy we cannot accommodate 1300 people. We’ve seen a lot of demand around Misano in the last two years.
Is there room or possibilities to offer a lower spec of the VIP Village?
Griselda: I wouldn’t rule it out and we’ve looked at other options to offer hospitality but we haven’t found a way to make it work or would be attractive to the market. It’s very possible but if I think if we created something different then it would be a pack that is even more exclusive. Groups that have prominent presence in the VIP Village can now take part in the podium ceremony with access to the Parc Ferme alongside the teams. We’d like to offer more experiences like that but of course it couldn’t be for every client of the VIP Village.
Manuel: Other possibilities for this type of thing also depends on the tracks and whether the ‘extra’ we could offer would work financially. A place like Brno is very restricted and we’re already at the maximum with 600 places so to move outside and do something extra means looking at the balance of cost and income.
How has the reaction of the people been in the last five years? Do people want more for less? How is the market?
Griselda: We have noticed a big growth in individual clients since we opened sales through the website and in international purchases for other events, which shows the wide fanbase we have for MotoGP and the amount of people that are prepared to pay an average of 800 euros a race. There have been critical moments in the market, especially in Spain and Italy, but there has been sufficient interest in MotoGP for people to keep taking the [VIP Village] space for their clients. The championship itself and what is happening among the riders means we have some incredible events and there is big interest in making business here.
Back in Jerez and the size and resources offered to companies like Estrella Galicia, Ducati, Monster Energy, Repsol, GoPro, Red Bull and more is dazzling but there are many other ‘residents’ occupying space. One such client is Pole Position Travel, an agency specialising in MotoGP event experiences and packages. “We have been official agents since 2004 but selling since 2003 and I would say we’ve sold over 3500 VIP Village [tickets] from 2005 and from the point where we started trading as Pole Position Travel,” says MD Gordon Howell. “Add the early years plus private suites and staff and other miscellaneous sales and we at about 4000.”
“I would say especially for the fly-aways, the value for money is superb considering the paddock access,” he adds. “For those events the VIP Village is the only way to go for most. All – apart from Phillip Island – give you full paddock access and general admission. In general, the food is always great, and the bars are almost always the best at the circuits.”
“Like all purchases, it comes down to client needs – for corporate purposes, the VIP Village should be a first choice. It also features pit lane walks which are generally not available elsewhere,” continues Howell who ranks the three best European MotoGP VIP Village experiences as Austria, Catalunya and Sachsenring for views, paddock, general admission and service road drives. “We consider ourselves ‘Honest brokers’ and try to get to know our clients’ concerns and then recommend the best hospitality option; but we always consider the VIP Village in any recommendation.”
Asking other VIP Village users for their views reveals a few interesting comments flying around on the range of facilities really on offer (grandstand seats and viewing possibilities) to small details like availability of race programmes and information to clients; a more important factor to the casual visitor as opposed to say a MotoGP fan who will know the schedule, names and numbers. Encouragingly Dorna embrace the chance and opportunity to advance.
How do you feel about feedback? Especially about such a premium product where it can be very hit-and-miss with first time MotoGP visitors?
Manuel: We ask for it because it’s important for growth.
Griselda: We send an email after an event to all clients asking for feedback and their level of satisfaction. Normally we have comments that people have enjoyed the experience and really like what was on offer…but it also depends on the race and whether it rained a lot of whether the client found the parking further than they imagined, heavy traffic arriving or leaving the circuit. There are always areas or circumstances where the client might not have had the best experience and we hear everything, even if they concern issues that are not directly related to us. In general the level of satisfaction is high. The main suggestions normally involve better access to the paddock or closer access to the riders and we look at them and others to think how we can improve.
Have you ever had to deal with any rowdy groups?!
Manuel: Ha! They are pretty well behaved but each has their own identity. For example Monster Energy always like DJs and live music…but we are open to any kind of idea and suggestion that respects the rest of the VIP Village.
I have 1000 euros to enjoy a VIP Village experience: where should I go?
Griselda: I would say Mugello
Manuel: I would say Jerez
Griselda: Well, the VIP Village area and structure is actually the same at both events and there is little change but the circuit at Mugello, for me, is spectacular and the impact of the ‘Rossi Effect’ and for how long it lasts is very special in that Tuscan area.
Manuel: For almost the same reasons I would say Jerez! The atmosphere, the passionate fans and the track is pretty special with a lot of bike tradition for a lot of years.
Photos thanks to Dorna