Monterey During Covid
RM = Ferraris Not Much Else
Bonhams Effort Not Ready for Prime Time
Well Monterey car week came off without a hitch … we joke of course. The live auction houses did their thing with mixed results. And here’s to hoping that next year we are able to have something more like normal and/or that high end live auction houses will have figured out how to bring their experience into the online only streaming age.
Let’s start with RM. Not a live auction and maybe that was a smart move. If you’re not ready to make it happen right then maybe it’s better to not do it at all. So they either get a B grade for not doing it or a D grade for not trying – not sure which. RM boasts about their $30m+ in gross sales in this effort but that is a mere 25% of what they normally would gross for this weekend. And if it wasn’t for Ferraris the result would have been tepid at best. Ferraris accounted for only 17% of the lots sold but 42% of the gross sales. Honorable mention for getting $308k all in for a 1994 Porsche 964 Turbo.
So on to Bonhams. In summary it seems that they put quite an effort into the preauction preview process but very little into the live auction production itself. Perhaps they met some of the criteria we laid out in the State of the Live Auction Part 2 blog post related to ginning up pre auction interest. Apparently it was a multi-month multi-location effort that most certainly consumed far more in time and money resources than the typical preauction preview process. For the effort they get a B- grade on this. To make an A grade all the cars need to be treated as if the auction was a live event and leave it to the buyers to travel as required to a central location to see, touch and smell them.
Where the whole thing fell apart was the event itself. To put it mildly the show badly needed a live television producer, some commentators … and uh yeah some production tips from Barrett Jackson. While we were not expecting a Barrett Jackson Red Bull and vodka fed frenzied pace, this event was excruciatingly slow and at times the extended silences were down right painful. Even the auctioneer could be seen to slump in remorse when the action inevitably bogged down into sludge.
To start, the entire event was almost 7 hours long. Bonhams seems to have missed that every professional sports league is trying to shorten its games because the fans get bored when watching on television. And with that in mind, they opened with a downright boring 12+ minute preamble about registrations and taxes – didn’t all the bidders already sign a contract about that? Opening with this drivel almost killed the show before it started.
One note of interest here – the most striking part of the preamble was Bonhams revealing (disclosing) that at any time during a reserve lot auction they could insert their own shill bid on behalf of the seller! What? This is like a jokers wild poker game where the dealer gets to dole em out as they see fit based upon how the hand is shaping up for the bettor they are backing.
Having survived the preamble it was time for some action … cue the air exiting the balloon. They proceeded to roll into some charity trinket lots that pushed the first actual vehicle lot to 20 minutes into the production. Ok well let’s go then … we open the auction with a car right from the Manheim lot. A 2018 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Cabriolet – talk about a soft opening. Why was this car here again? Man oh man do they need a producer.
So far this was a D grade production and in truth it wouldn’t get a whole lot better. So let’s jump past all the low end stuff and get to what should be one of the exciting high flyers of the event. At the 1 hour mark. The 2018 Bugatti Chiron – estimate $2.5m – $2.8m. Open at $1.5m … and 14 minutes later, after reducing the action to $10k increment bids, it’s a no sale at $2,120,000. The auctioneer is slumping over the dais, the extended silences were overwhelming and the hook still won’t come out to End This Please! A shill bid would have been welcomed … something.
Jumping to the 3 hour mark – yes two hours later – it’s lot #48 the 2017 Lamborghini Centenario. 1 of 20. Estimate $2m – $2.3m. This must get good as we are three hours in and it feels like nap time. Open at $1m and no action … a stall at $1.11m and the long silences and dais slumping begins. The auctioneer must by now be wondering if he can last through this event. The silence is becoming unbearable. Two minutes in, and the auctioneer having wizened up – realizing that this event is going to cut into his dinner reservations – kills the action at $1.3m. Seems the estimate was off a little.
Ten or so minutes later, at the 3 hours 16 minute mark, after a ‘cup of tea’ and an 86′ 911 M491 Cabriolet, one last chance to witness a meaningful hammer. The 1959 Porsche 718 RSK Spyder. And we open with silence … even worse we are forced to sit through a video that has no music, no narration, not even subtitles. 30 seconds that felt like an eternity at this point. But it seems that Bonhams was starting to figure out – somewhat – that the pace must be quickened. An error on the board overstates the bid (shillin’ ?) and the auction ends in a relatively sparse 5 minutes and 45 seconds at a $2.025m hammer. There were claps – not sure if they were because of the hammer or because it ended relatively quickly.
We could not bear any more and tuned out. Surely many others did as well. Bonhams gets an overall C- for trying and hopefully for learning something in the process. But it seems like it should be a simple concept to grasp. Rolling a live auction event into a streaming only event requires understanding the audience and its production expectations. If you are going to try to make a live auction a televised event – you better understand how live television works. Hire a real television producer – there is a lot of money at stake. High end live auction houses should now know where they have to go … they just need to figure out how to get there.
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