Advertisers find new space — on matador capes

Matador Joselito Ortega in an exhibition fight on Sept. 23 in the southern Spanish city of Malaga.
An underemployed Spanish matador is breaking tradition and carrying advertising on his capes in the bullring — promoting a soft drink aimed at gays.

While fighting bulls, matador Joselito Ortega will use capes embroidered with the words “Gay Up,” the name of the energy drink. The move has many in the macho-steeped world of bullfighting seeing red. But Ortega, 29, told CNN, “I’m glad to be the first person (in bullfighting) whom the gay community will take as an icon.” “People think the bullfighter is very tough, very rude and they only like women,” Ortega added. “But we are in 2009. Everything must change.” Industry experts said it would be the first time advertising will appear on bullfighter’s capes — the large one used when the bull rushes into the ring, and a smaller one used later as the matador moves in for the kill. In the 1980s, matador Luis Reina had a contract showing the brand name of Japanese electronics giant Akai on parts of his shiny “suit of lights,” while fighting. “But that lasted just one or two fights,” recalls Curro Vazquez, a former bullfighter who now manages one of Spain’s top-tier matadors, Cayetano Rivero Ordonez. Rivero Ordonez has declined offers to carry publicity on his bullfighter’s suit and capes while in the ring, Vazquez said, out of respect for “the ritual of bullfighting.” “The cape is a sacred thing,” said Vazquez, adding that it’s fine for premier bullfighters — who are treated like rock stars — to have lucrative endorsement deals for products, but only outside of the ring. This is the first endorsement deal of any kind for Ortega. He became a full matador in 2006, facing the biggest bulls, but said he’s fought only six or seven fights since then. Yet a bullfighter in demand can have dozens of fights in just a single season. “Ortega is a new bullfighter and he might see this as a way to get known,” Vazquez said. If so, it appears to be working. Ortega and his drinks company have been flooded with media queries since they made the announcement this week. Pedro Suarez, the CEO at Grupo Banus Pi, the firm that makes Gay Up and took over management of Ortega’s career just two weeks ago, said they plan to organize an exhibition fight for Ortega soon, and sell the TV rights exclusively. Gay Up is a non-alcoholic energy drink made in Spain, drawn from a formula originally from Colombia. Suarez said the company tried to sponsor a Spanish football (soccer) team but was turned down because of the Gay Up brand. Then they found Ortega, who says he’s not gay. He’s been gored six or seven times in his career, which started 13 years ago as a junior bullfighter. “All sports teams have advertising on their uniforms,” Ortega said, insisting he’d continue to fight bulls the same way, even with ads on his capes. Bull breeder Juan Pedro Domecq Morenes welcomed the change, saying it might help revive Spain’s billion-dollar bullfighting industry, which he said in recent years has seen a 45 percent decline in the number of fights, especially in smaller village bullrings. “Only God is sacred,” said Domecq, who also publishes a bullfighting Web site. “The rest of the traditions have to advance, modernize.”