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Bullfighting is still a celebrity sport in Spain

Some argue that bullfighting is on its way out in Spain, especially in Catalonia, where a proposed bullfighting ban may become a reality in the coming months. But a look at the numbers tells a different side of the story.

Bullfighting tickets sold in Spain during 2007 numbered 45 million, according to Luis Corrales, coordinator of the Platform for the Promotion of Bullfighting. That means 8 to 12 million Spaniards — or 25 percent of Spain’s population — go to a bullfight at least once.

Ticket prices vary, depending on the seat location in the bullring and the town. In Seville, whose arena has a capacity for 12,000 people, a seat in the shade during the Feria, Sevilla’s main festival, cost about 86 Euros ($128). In Madrid (with a capacity for 20,000), it's between 60 and 70 Euros for a good seat. In Barcelona (with a capacity of over 19,000), the official ticket price can reach 120 Euros. According to the daily El Periodico, scalped tickets to see matador Jose Tomas at a 2007 bullfight in Barcelona topped out at 600 euros.

Some corridas or bullfights are beneficas; this is, charity-driven, whose takings are, for example, to support cancer research or help associations of children with special needs. It is not unusual to see sisters — that is, Catholic nuns — among the public.

The Spanish royals, prominent businesspeople and famous singers and actors are among the celebrity spectators.

Bullfighters who make it big become celebrities themselves in Spain. Their lives and romances are ever present fodder for gossip magazines. They are also a treasure for advertisers. Fran Rivera presented, with Spanish actor Paz Vega, a new collection of Paul Versan Swiss watches. He was married for a few years to Eugenia Martinez de Irujo, the Duchess of Alba’s daughter. Armani designed a fashionable traje de luces, or bullfighters’ outfit, with Swarovski crystal, for Fran’s brother, matador Cayetano Rivera, who has done the catwalk a few times.

King Juan Carlos presided over a ceremony this week that granted Fran Rivera a Gold Medal of Fine Arts. Other recipients of the award this year, granted by the Ministry of Culture, include painter Isaac Diaz Pardo, jazz musician Pedro Iturralde, singer Miguel Bose, actor Pilar Bardem (Javier Bardem’s mother), film director Isabel Coixet and chef Juan Mari Arzak.

Bullfighting receives public funds, though this is not so in Catalonia.

Some bullrings are artfully decorated beauties of architecture. When bullfighting is out of season, the arenas are used for other events, such as the circus, concerts — Madonna and Elton John, among others, have played in bullfight rings — and sports events such as Red Bull’s Xfighter Competition.