Having been friends since junior high school, my buddy and I have done more than a few crazy, if not borderline stupid, things over the last several decades. So when we began contemplating our next move, we decided it was time to try something truly unique, something that would blend sports, entertainment, and culture on a global scale.
So, naturally, we committed to participating in this summer’s San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. Although estimates suggest upwards of a million people attend a portion of the nine day event in early July, only a small fraction of those, including us, will actually participate in the festival’s signature event: The Running of the Bulls.
The event, popularized by Earnest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” dates back to 1591 and remains a global spectacle. Its origin is rooted in the need to move the bulls from the city into the bullring. Today, it means that the bulls, once released, will charge behind those brave/idiotic enough to navigate the ½ mile or so route.
We’re looking forward to the pageantry and the people, and are even beginning to embrace the notion that we will need to don the event’s traditional attire – white pants, a white shirt, and red bandana.
Yet as I continued to research the Festival, one thing really struck me – and that was the limited commercialization attached to the event. In this day and age few major events, especially those boasting such a large crowd, forego the ability to monetize their history and tradition, instead choosing to maintain their pristine settings.
But that is precisely what occurs at the San Fermin Festival where corporate sponsorship is all but nonexistent. Although the event has lost some of its provincial feel and quaintness given its notoriety in the new/social media landscape, as well as the influx of tourists from all over the world, it has not gone the way of so many other major sporting, entertainment, and cultural events.
Toby Atkins, events manager at Bucket List Events, which organizes small tour groups for the Festival, believes the primary reason for this is steeped heavily in tradition. According to Atkins, “All decisions regarding the festival are regulated by an elected committee of leadership, and the majority of the positions are held by men and women whose parents held the same positions.”
This enables the event to continue in much the same way previous generations of patriarchal leaders have wanted it to and, in the process, mitigates unwanted commercialization. It appears as though residents also embrace this approach as they prefer to maintain a true local flavor, as evidenced by the fact that most businesses are locally owned and operated.
In certain respects, parallels exist with Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses and The Masters, held annually in Augusta, Georgia. Each of these, while differently commercialized than the Festival, resonate with attendees and viewers specifically because of their ‘less is more’ approach.
I will be among those grateful for the refreshing modesty of the marketing during the running of the bulls because the last thing I will need at that point is to be comparing and contrasting marketing activation while simultaneously trying to avoid getting gored. Although something tells me I could secure sponsorship for that – any takers?