U .S. MATADORS WAVE SPONSORS INTO RING

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If you thought the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement was highly charged, meet los gringos toreros.

Kirk Farrell, 35, and Tracy Viser, 29, say they are the only Americans currently bullfighting in Mexico. In addition to facing the country's estimated 5,000 matadors, they are now ready to take on longtime tradition by entering the ring with a sponsor's logo on back of their intricate suits of light. Damian & Delynn Advertising, San Antonio, is in the midst of forming a relationship with the duo.

"Nafta was the turning point for us," said Mr. Farrell, who fights in Mexico about 12 to 15 times a year. "There will be a deluge of companies going down there, and this [sponsorship] is a way to have their product become a household word overnight. This is a way for Americans to champion American products in the bullring. We're unique and different by being American matadors. Nafta gives us the opportunity to attract sponsors, and it will give bullfighting a shot in the arm."

A U.S. bottled water company is already said to be interested.

"They won't have any trouble finding sponsors," said James Swisher, Damian & Delynn president, whose father was a bullfighter.

While companies in Mexico often sponsor the arena and have signage around the ring, they have stayed away from commercializing bullfighting to this degree. Putting a logo on the suit jackets is akin to putting patches on a priest's vestments, Messrs. Farrell and Viser say.

The sport is steeped in tradition, and that tradition does not call for companies backing bullfighters, or bullfighters putting logos on their backs or hawking products. But sponsorships would seem a logical next step. Virtually every town in Mexico has a bullring, and Mexico City houses the world's largest arena with a seating capacity of 60,000. It's a sizable market, second perhaps only to soccer.

"I'm really kind of surprised that it has taken this long," said Carl Kravetz, president of Cruz/Kravetz:Ideas, a Los Angeles Hispanic agency. "I think there are products for which American matadors could be valuable spokespeople-like beer and brandy and maybe cigarettes. I think advertisers have to be aware of the attendant risks-like death and backlash in the U.S."

The gringo matadors say it will take $250,000 to sponsor a yearlong series of 10 to 12 fights at small to medium-size arenas. The big exposure will be on the backs of their suits, which are custom-made in Spain for about $6,000. They will each need two. The corporate logo will be splashed on posters, handbills and tickets, and naturally, an opportunity for product sampling at the event.

"Bullfighting is almost a sacred tradition-it's an art form. You didn't see Rudolph Nureyev with logos on the sides of his tights," Mr. Farrell said. "But Tracy and I are the only active American matadors and we will trade off our notoriety for instant notoriety for an American product."

Heck, what can you expect from American matadors?M

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Bullfighter Kirk Farrell wants to see your company's name in lights-on his suit of light, that is.

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