The Bull: How Red Bull help KTM go racing
Two of the biggest names in their fields – motorcycle racing and energy drinks – have linked up for over ten years to hit the tracks. Here is a small examination of how and why.
Watch an orange bike going at tremendous speed or being handled with delicate skill across all types of terrain anywhere in the world and there is a very good chance that a distinctive red mammal will be stamped on the side. KTM and Red Bull have been a powerful and recognisable combination for over a decade and since the early years of the drink company being launched in 1987 in Fuschl a short distance from KTM’s blossoming Mattighofen HQ.
Red Bull is synonymous with so many other sports and activities, from cars to winter sports, stunts, flying, action sports, dance, basketball, football and extreme projects. An article recently published by Forbes states that Red Bull sales reached 5.2 billion cans in over 165 countries with $6.7 billion of revenue, based on 2012 figures. Further conjecture indicates that the company spend a third of profits on their marketing and communications in which sport – and thus motorsport – play a part. At the heart of Red Bull’s two-wheeled interest is KTM and the symbiosis represents a ‘meeting of minds’: a shared ethos that underneath the quality of the product is the importance and value of the brand.
The International Motorsports department staff in Fuschl makes sure that the Red Bull philosophy continues to link up nicely with the KTM ‘DNA’. “Motorcycle sport is very important for us especially in disciplines like Motocross, MotoGP and Dakar where we have a long connection”, they say.
Red Bull can be found in KTM’s principal activities in Motocross, Supercross, Enduro, Extreme Enduro, Rally, Moto3, Stunt and Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup; basically anything that rolls out of the doors at Mattighofen and Munderfing and is ready for the track. Under the watch of the Pierer Group this influence has also crept into the white of Husqvarna.
“It is a highly successful relationship that has been running since 2003 and has links back with Heinz (Kinigadner, FIM Motocross World Champion and also former successful Rally rider) to 1993”, reveals KTM Motorsport Director Pit Beirer. “You know, it is a relationship that helps us in many ways, for example our athletes have access to their sporting and recovery facilities for training and other aspects. Then there is the sponsorship and lastly the fact that the association makes our brand more attractive. There is a range of positive effects.”
With the collaborative process established how do each company go about organising the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ of the racing programme? According to Beirer it comes down to an important annual meeting, and then a close dialogue thereafter. “We don’t decide an amount per team or athlete or project”, he reveals. “We meet and discuss what we can to cover everything that we want to do. A lot is based on trust and they do not ask us for every detail. We might want to cover another rider here, enter another team there or start another junior project and it comes down to the shared vision we have and the discussion.”
Red Bull corroborates the ‘round the table’ approach to the teamwork that has celebrated countless victories and a championship in every single discipline aside from the AMA 450SX Supercross (the next big nut to crack). There are over 100 motorsport athletes on their books and a healthy percentage come through KTM channels. “It’s very friendly, together with Pit and Heinz, and there is a good collaboration”, the Red Bull Crew from Fuschl say. “They have ideas that we like to develop and then we also have our feedback and ideas; the meetings are occurrences where just one of the parties is talking. To summarise it is a good mutual agreement and there has always been an effort to find a solution together. We have a pretty good track record so far.”
KTM relies on a bank of partners and sponsors to go racing at more or less every level of high profile competition. Red Bull, as we have learnt, is undeniably a major ingredient of this potent cocktail. The racing overseers in Mattighofen clearly do not underestimate the contribution. “We have our own racing budget, and of course Red Bull is a vital part”, Beirer opines. “We have to appreciate that Red Bull do not want to put everything into KTM and have other ideas and associations. We are always pushing the teams and the structure of MX every year and we face limits sometimes, of course. Red Bull has such a wide range of athletes and activities. Offroad and racing is our core business but they have much more going on.”
Naturally there is fruit from the union. Red Bull benefits from the edgy and technical racing stance that KTM bring to their competition (there’s that image factor again) and they also get to cast stone in the important stages of the sport: “We have been working to develop our own talent through junior programmes in motocross and things like the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup and success from these schemes are a direct result of a Red Bull and KTM partnership.”
There could be people that know Red Bull as much for their prominence in Formula One as their effective product. So is there pressure for KTM to continually satisfy their leading partner with acts around the racing as much as the results themselves? “There is not really any pressure, we trust each other with what we do and I would say it is great for KTM to be in the same ‘image sphere’ of all the things they have going on”, says KTM Motorsport Identity Manager Juergen Weisz. “If they ever need a bike or machinery then first option is a KTM and that’s great for us to have entrance and presence also in other motorsport disciplines or lifestyle platforms. You will see KTM Bikes in an F1 paddock for example.”
At first glance one of the stark common denominations between Red Bull and KTM is the parentage. It is harder to imagine two more internationally known Austrian companies joining forces. Their roots and source is another of the natural ‘fits’. “That link matters”, says Beirer. “To have two Austrian brands, in different segments grow so much together. Red Bull has been extremely successful and KTM is also becoming a worldwide brand.”
The last words belong to the ‘wing makers’: “We are two Austrian companies – locally based some 50km apart – and are very much the same. You also have the fact that KTM is well established in many racing categories and it just makes sense for us. We share the same visions.”