MADRID – The interest in bullfights in Spain is declining sharply. For the first time in decades, the number of spectators has fallen below one million. This is despite the political support and the increased number of events under the new ultra-right municipal governments.
The number of television viewers has also decreased. Compared to the year before the pandemic, that number has been reduced by 25%. Some argue that the declining interest is due to increased awareness in Spain about animal suffering. Others, such as writer and expert Fernando González Viñas, argue that linking bullfighting to a political trend is nonsensical.
Progressive Spain wants less bullfighting
Yet in Spain, it is clear that the progressive governments of recent years are much more inclined to ban bullfighting than their right-wing counterparts. The left took measures to stop broadcasting bullfights on national television in prime time, to exclude children from the bloody spectacles or to withdraw subsidies. In contrast, the far-right party Vox, in conjunction with their local and regional PP allies, present bullfights as an important part of Spain’s cultural tradition.
Measures of the (ultra) right-wing politicians
Measures have now been taken in the regions with a right-wing conservative government. This includes the establishment of a directorate-general for rural infrastructure, heritage and bullfighting in the Junta de Extremadura. Vox will take over this directorate. The placement of the bullfighter and lawyer Vicente Barrera as Minister of Culture in the Valencia region or the announcement in Castilla y León of scholarships to finance studies and training related to bullfighting. In Madrid last October, President Ayuso doubled the region’s budget for ‘tauromaquia’ (everything related to the ‘art of bullfighting’). Furthermore, Andalucia is now considering subsidising municipalities to promote bullfighting through festivities in their village.
At the municipal level, Vox’s rise to power at the hands of the PP includes announcements such as the creation of a municipal trophy for the best bullfighter at the fair in Valladolid, an investment to cover the costs of the bullring in Guadalajara or the reopening of the bullring in Gijon. It was closed early last year due to the risk of collapse of parts of the grandstand.
Historical decline in the number of bullfights
Despite the right-wing political support for bullfights, statistics from the Ministry of Culture show a historic decline in interest. This is both live and through media. In the latest data, the total number of bullfights was 1,546, a slight increase compared to the years before the pandemic. Nevertheless, the number of spectators dropped drastically to 776,000, the lowest in decades. Strangely enough, the number of ‘matadores’ or bullfighters registered has increased in recent years.
A quarter of the spectators enter for free
The figures also show that despite a quarter of spectators getting free admission, overall interest has plummeted. In comparison: fifteen years ago bullfights attracted almost 10% of the population, now it is only 2%.
This percentage is well below the figure recorded by the CIS among those who attend mass daily (5.9% of the population), and also among those who, according to cultural statistics, attend classical music concerts (3.9%), go to the theatre (8.2%) or visiting art galleries (6.9%).
Bullfights and bull festivities
There are two types of bull events in Spain: the different types of bullfights in bullrings and bull festivals in villages such as bull runs and other festivities in which bulls play a leading role. Practically 80% of the first is concentrated in Castilla-La Mancha (365 last year), Castilla y León (346), Madrid (263) and Andalucia (249). Of the remaining bull festivities, more than half take place in the Valencia region (8,702). Also in the Ebro Valley is a strong presence of the latter with 1,662 in Navarre, 806 in Aragon and 315 in La Rioja, totalling 16.5% and adding part of the 140 in Euskadi and 54 in Catalonia.
Men and women as audience
There are usually twice as many men as women in bullfighting audiences. The distribution by age places adolescents aged 15 to 19 as the group that attends bullfights more often. Moreover, they are also the ones who receive the most invitations, as 39.2% of enter for free. The latter percentage is only surpassed by the over-74s, as nearly half (48.5%) of those who went to the plazas also entered them for free.
The ever-decreasing interest in this traditional Spanish activity raises the question of whether the political support from the right is enough to reverse the declining trend and keep the tauromaquia alive in Spain.