November 17, 2006

The Sorry State of Tijuana Bullfights

Last week, in Bullfight World, Gary Sloan wrote a wrap-up column, reviewing the “bests” of the 2006 Tijuana bullfight season.

Bullfight World
by Lyn Sherwood

But, let’s look beyond this past season, put on our wide angle lens, and look at the bigger picture of the condition of Tijuana bullfights.

Many moons ago, this reporter, assisted by my close friend, Constantine Hassalevris, was the publicist for both Tijuana bullrings. My advertising budget for north of the border was $5,000, per corrida de toros. Every media press release was accompanied by a pair of complimentary press passes.

The empresa even picked up the expenses of sending a matador to Los Angeles, for prearranged print and broadcast interviews. He handled the Tijuana scene advertising, and worked closely with local manufacturers and merchants, especially the maquiladoras, providing discounted tickets for the executives to award to their employees.

Tijuana bullfights became an unqualified success. Every Sunday, any attendance under 10,000 was considered a failure. Most Sundays, the only tickets still available were on the sunny side and general admission. We had 16-18 corridas de toros, per season. Attendance by aficionados from this side of the border was 50%-60%. Today, that figure is halved.

What happened? Well, those Mexico City executives who control so many Mexican plazas de toros decided, in their infinite wisdom, that ticket buyers from north of the border weren’t really that important.

So, they eliminated the publicity budget for California (Alta?) and concentrated, exclusively, on the Tijuana market.

Attendance figures immediately hit a slippery slope. Except for the occasional appearance by a Spanish or Mexican figura, the company offers mostly modest cards. Most Tijuana families can’t afford the high prices, charged when a figura is appearing. Oh, sure, Eloy, El Zotoluco, and others appear, but most cards are dominated by tremendistas and greenhorns, who demand very little money for their frenetic, suicidal performances.

Ears have become easy to cut. Indultos are given to bulls that merely perform the way that bulls of brave blood are supposed to perform, because the public doesn’t realize that the indulto is an award to the bull and its breeder, not the matador.

But, the crowds are happy. And, happy crowds buy more beer. Such has become the anthem of Tijuana bullfights. Nobody in the Mexican interiors takes Tijuana bullfights seriously. Such are considered merely commercial presentations, of little importance, for either toreros or toros.

Worst of all, any crowd in excess of 5,000 is considered a success, at least a commercial one, for the “company”. Those from California who still insist on attending Tijuana bullfights have to look forward to two or three-hour traffic jams to get back across the border, a situation that could be resolved, politically, if only those in charge were interested enough to become involved. But, who needs the ticket buyers from California, anyway?

Those in charge don’t understand the market on the frontiers, and they’re not willing to invest the money in those who do understand it. It’s tantamount to a flea, scratching a dog.

How well, I remember the days when Mexico’s greatest (also the most controversial) empresario, Dr. Alfonso Gaona, was in charge. He, uniquely, knew how to design cards that would attract ticket buyers. He, uniquely, understood that to earn money, one must invest money.

Of course, under Dr. Gaona’s administration, the bulls were usually shaved novillos. But, we saw genuine figuras: Carlos Arruza, Paco Camino, Diego Puerta, Mondeño, and many others. Dr. Gaona gave opportunities to gringos, such as Robert Ryan and Jeff Ramsey. Hell, he even brought Sidney Franklin, who turned in a far less than memorable afternoon.

I do hope that my prognostications represent mere pessimism. But, nevertheless, I see no light at the end of the tunnel. I predict that we have seen our last bullfight in Plaza Monumental de Tijuana, which, as its sister plaza in Juárez, will become the site of still another innocuous Wal Mart.

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