Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Open Letter to Kris diLorenzo

Dear Kris:

I thought about you a lot while we were in Tulsa. Having slogged about six blocks through the soupy atmosphere from the hotel to the BOK Center on Saturday night, we snagged a beer and stumbled to our seats. A quick look around confirmed what had been apparent in the lobby: The place was at most three-quarters full.

While I was enduring the praying and the recruits taking the Air Force oath and the paratroopers repelling down from the ceiling and the welcome back for some veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I kept remembering the question a colleague of mine had asked us both at lunch the day before: Why do nice people like you follow bull riding?

Anybody who has spent five minutes here knows the answer to that question—I’m in it for the bulls. But it occurred to me that in terms of its core audience, the PBR has probably hit the wall, and in fact may have begun to lose some ground. There’s not a whole lot more rednecks out there waiting to be rounded up and herded into the fold, and some rednecks may even be abandoning ship.

Let’s face it—if you’ve seen one pre-event show, you’ve seen them all. It would not surprise me one bit if someone managed to confirm that the prayer so piously offered at the beginning of the event is repeated word-for-word at every single venue. Since his heart attack, Flint has changed some things up, but not so much that you have to pay strict attention or you’ll miss something awesome. If anything, there is more blatant pandering to the sponsors than ever, right down to the silly little girls in their skimpy outfits tripping merrily through the dirt five times a night to throw tee-shirts and stress balls into the crowd. And another thing—every one of them runs (and throws) like a girl.

Unless you studiously devote yourself to following the cowboys and/or the bulls each season, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be bored about the third time you go to a BFTS event. I’ve been going to live events for five years now, and I can truthfully say that almost nothing has changed—it’s just more of the same, piled higher and deeper.

All this makes me wonder if Randy Bernard didn’t recognize that to take the PBR to the next level, he would have to do battle with a lot of good ol’ boys who are deeply invested in the way things are, up to and including the right-wing family values crap that’s handed out like chewing gum at the beginning of every event. Maybe he thought he couldn’t effect meaningful change anymore—maybe he didn’t have the stomach for the battle. Fifteen years in the same job can take the edge off anyone, and it’s clear that just adding more events and going to bigger towns isn’t going to attract a larger audience on a permanent basis. Curiosity seekers, sure. Hard-core fans—not so much.

I plan to be there till they put the last bull on the trailer and turn out the lights, but I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t a lot of nice people like me, and nice people who totally disagree with me on just about everything, who are starting to wonder whether it’s worth $75 a seat to hear the same sermon yet again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister! Your analysis of the marketing conundrum is right on the money. What on earth does bull riding have to do with praying (other than the riders, which is understandable!), the Bible, Iraq, and all the other stuff?

This "nice girl" (well, maybe not so nice after spending 12 years in the rock business) loves bull riding for several reasons:

1) learning about the bulls' intelligence and personalities

2) learning what a good ride takes

3) following the ups and downs of real guys--not plasticized, slick, overpaid athletes in other sports

4) in this sport, men aren't trying to hurt one another... and there's real camaraderie.

Another issue as to whether bull riding will be accepted by a different audience is the blatant contradiction between the so-called "family values" talked about, and the use of women in stereotypical "sex symbol" getup, bouncing around or used as props.

How can anyone consider themselves a "good Christian," and yet participate in hiring women to display their bodies for men? Would they want their little girls to grow up to do that? This hypocrisy completely cancels any pious invocations made at the beginning of every event. It never fails to rile me every time I see it. That's when I take my commercial break.