Grabbing The Moment: PBR And New York’s Charging Bull
With the Pro Bull Riders invading New York this local football-less weekend, here is a good one to start the year…
Sometimes, breakthrough PR opportunities come from a seat-of-the-pants reaction to breaking events.
When “Charging Bull,” the iconic Wall Street bull known all over the world was attacked and damaged last September by a disturbed Texan wielding a banjo, Professional Bull Riders immediately sensed an opportunity amid the senseless act of violence.
PBR, which had just started to plan its 2020 season launch at Madison Square Garden, loves bulls. Its fans love bulls – sometimes more than the cowboys! And Charging Bull had become a perennial tourist stop for the cowboys riding at MSG as well as fans coming to the Big Apple for the new season’s buck off in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
The organization quickly made a public offer to help repair the bull…even though artist Arturo di Modica was unreachable in Sicily.
The New York Post, which has become the Bible for every new Charging Bull development – from anti-capitalism protestors dousing the statue with fake blood to “Fearless Girl” taking on the bull (and setting off a politically-charged firestorm) to the current Mayor’s push to move the bull back to the stock exchange – got wind of the development and ran this news story
Things were moving uncomfortably fast for an idea yet to be fleshed out and sent up the flagpole.
But when Arturo returned from Sicily and the bull riding league’s PR chief who made the offer finally met the irrepressible 79-year-old at downtown Cirpiani – the only place Arturo eats – an idea would be hatched: the artist would create a mini-Charging Bull trophy for the Garden winner. PBR would also honor di Modica during it’s season opening weekend for exhibiting “Be Cowboy” values promoted in the new PBR “Be Cowboy” commercial
Arturo di Modica had come from Sicily to New York in 1973, setting up a studio in Soho. Like so many immigrants, he arrived virtually penniless, even though Arturo’s outsized talents had led to him being labeled “a young Michelangelo” of marble sculpture.
The artist who had to run away from home to pursue his dream was very grateful for everything he’d received in New York. For di Modica, whose country was liberated by Allied Forces not long after he was born, America was always that land of golden opportunity. And lower Manhattan was its heart and soul.
After the brutal market crash, di Modica began creating a symbol of inspiration for the city he loved — a larger-than-life bull sculpture that would represent power, resilience, optimism and confidence.
The bearded artist who appeared to have been plucked from Central Casting worked on the sculpture for two years, pouring clay into molds…along with more than $350,000 from his own pocket.
Finally, a proud, fearsome bull who appears to be moving even when he’s not was cast in bronze at a foundry across the river in Greenpoint.
One night in mid-December, 1989, Arturo and a group of friends hauled the 7,000-pound bull down to the New York Stock Exchange and left it under a Christmas tree, the proper place for one heck of a gift to the city.
The next day, when the artist was having lunch, the illegal, unauthorized statue was hauled away.
But the city’s grim-faced bureaucrats were no match for vocal New Yorkers who had instantly fallen in love with the powerful beast. Or the New York Post for that matter, who put Charging Bull on the cover. In the emotional age of Ed Koch, the uproar was immediate and not to be denied.
The kind of people who consumed the tabloids three decades ago – and it was a lot more eyeballs before we began getting the majority of our news and #FakeNews from Facebook – along with Arturo di Modica had a strong ally in someone else who saw the promise of Charging Bull.
Arthur Piccolo, head of the Bowling Green Association, navigated the city’s bureaucracy to bring the statue to the North Plaza of Bowling Green where it has proudly stood for 30 years, visited by millions.
Ed Koch was no dummy; he read The Post.
“The bull made people think of power and strength, but it was also an animal everyone adored,” Piccolo said.
Everyone loves to photograph the bull. The most popular vantage point is at the rear of the bull, where people can smile in front of two big bronze ones.
And that’s the spirit of di Modica’s gift – showing you have a pair, pursuing the audacious, thumbing one’s nose at the silly rules of authority for the greater good.
Arturo’s daring gift fits the bill for PBR, still an outlier, rebel brand marching to its own drum. And on Saturday night at MSG, after a heartfelt prayer and patriotic presentation of our national anthem, the Sicilian artist who became a U.S. citizen and can now be considered a quintessential New Yorker, will be bestowed the sport’s “Be Cowboy” honors.
“I have always appreciated those who understand and value the power and the majesty of bulls,” di Modica said. “In my entire career as a sculptor, nothing has given me more pleasure than creating Charging Bull.”
Then, late Sunday afternoon, a mini Charging Bull will be handed to the winner of the brutal three-day event.
The cowboy who lifts PBR’s new trophy over his head will be a lot like its creator: uncompromising, tough, resilient, and very grateful.