I was at my local café for breakfast in Portland. The owner, an Iranian immigrant who has built a good business, stopped by.
“Where’d you get that Mecum lanyard?” he asked.
He was referring to the Mecum Gold lanyard attached to my iPhone. I had acquired it along with my bidder’s credentials at the recent Mecum Auctions sale in Chattanooga, TN. I was there as a speaker at the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival.
“I’ve watched Mecum auctions on TV. They look like great fun. Everyone is having a good time. And so many cars for sale!” he continued.
There were no million-dollar Ferraris or Duesenbergs at the Chattanooga sale, but Mecum Auctions still made $21.2 million at the two-day event.
While it may not have been so exciting for those of us who attend auctions regularly, it was the best attended part of the weekend. I remarked to SCM Contributor Ken Gross, who was there in Chattanooga as the concours director, “It’s easy for us to forget what a great car show a live auction is for most people.”
Both days of the sale, the hall was filled. People were captivated as one car after the next crossed the block.
I reflected on the power of TV and its role in the introduction of collector car auctions to the general public.
I was in the booth in Scottsdale along with Bob Varsha when Barrett-Jackson was televised live on Speedvision for the first time in 1996. We were on for four hours. Rick DeBruhl and Alain de Cadenet were commenting from the floor.
While Barrett-Jackson eventually expanded its coverage, it was always related to one of their mega-events. Those only happened a few times a year. For instance, I was also in the booth at its first West Palm Beach auction, again with Varsha, and with Mike Joy and Steve Magnante on the floor.
At the time, Mecum put on far more auctions than Barrett-Jackson. (They still do.) These were pop-up affairs, generally in rented expo halls, and smaller than the lifestyle events that Barrett-Jackson held.
However, Dana Mecum made the decision early on to begin televising most of his auctions live. This has proven to be a shrewd move. For those interested in cars, Mecum and Barrett-Jackson are usually the two most recognizable auction companies.
Before auctions were televised, they reached a small live audience. When I attended Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in the pre-television era, the only way my friends knew about the event was through the coverage in SCM.
Once the auction was broadcast live, I recall bidders telling me they had set their VCRs at home to record at the time a car they were interested in was crossing the block. This way they could record themselves bidding on the car and hopefully buying it.
I also recall an auctioneer telling a bidder on the stage, “Raise your bid for the folks watching at home.”
The elixir of TV was powerful.
And it is long-lasting. Statistics have shown that reruns of Barrett-Jackson and Mecum auctions get nearly the same viewership as live broadcasts. People don’t really seem to care if the sale is live or Memorex, they just want to see the cars cross the block.
Dana Mecum has built his empire by seizing on the promotional ability of televised auctions, and without question he has created great name-recognition for the events he presents.
The chances are high a live auction will continue to be a focal point of the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival. For those attending, whether bidding or not, the auction is as much fun as the concours and other displays.
As Mecum Auctions says, “The bid goes on.”
The big televised auctions are great to watch. But maybe not such a great place to buy a car.
I have bought a few cars at smaller, local or regional auctions, sometimes online and sometimes in person, and have always gotten what I’ve felt was a great deal, often on a car in much better shape than advertised or expected. I haven’t been disappointed yet.
May he rest in peace – I remember the early BJ broadcasts and could listen to Alain de Cadenet read the phone book. He was brilliant.