Hard to believe that 20 years ago, about the only automotive-oriented programming on television was MotorWeek, produced by Maryland Public Television and seen on many PBS stations.
In its early years, ESPN had done quite a bit of auto-racing coverage, and that programming enjoyed strong ratings, but the network started chasing after the stick-and-ball sports. Roger Werner, who had been president and chief executive at ESPN, recognized an automotive niche that wasn’t being filled, and that there was more to the car world than racing around in circles. So, Werner worked with others in the cable industry to launch Speedvision.
“I need an anchor tenant and I think that’s you,” Craig Jackson recalled Werner telling him more than 20 years ago.
Jackson had just taken over leadership of the Barrett-Jackson auction company after the deaths to cancer of his father and then his old brother, Brian. Barrett-Jackson would celebrate its 25th anniversary in January of 1996, just days after Speedvision began providing its signal.
That first year, with Speedvision just launching, the programming from Scottsdale was done on videotape, but “we pulled phenomenal ratings,” Jackson said. “It was groundbreaking, and changed the world of car collecting forever. It brought new blood into the hobby.”
Live coverage has been presented since 1997 and has continued as Speedvision became Speed and then Fox Sports 1, and since 2015 when Barrett-Jackson signed a new coverage package with the Velocity and Discovery Networks, which not only expanded domestic coverage but added overseas audiences as well as Spanish-language coverage.
“Discovery has a large footprint,” Jackson said Tuesday as Barrett-Jackson hosted a media preview of its upcoming Scottsdale sale.
Jackson said that car collectors from the Middle East used to send representatives to the auction, but this year the principals are making the trip themselves because they’ve seen the auction on television and want to take part in person.
Television and the internet have changed everything in the past 2o years, Jackson said. “It’s a worldwide deal.”
Bidding can be done by phone or on the internet as well as in person, and Jackson said some auction regulars will be coming in earlier than usual to preview the cars but will be bidding by phone and tablet because they’re attending presidential inauguration events.
Speaking of bidders, Jackson said they are getting younger.
“We made a decision a few years ago to bring in more modern cars,” he said, “modern supercars and resto-mods, and to talk to young people on platforms — the internet and videos — they’re familiar with.
“If we’d have stayed with (predominantly) pre-war classics, this would be a much smaller business.”
Jackson noted that millennials and Gen-Xers now have disposable income. In fact, he said, the highest winning bid last year at Scottsdale came from a member of the millennial generation.
Barrett-Jackson debuted its latest video on Tuesday. It shows Vaughn Gittin Jr. drifting his Pennzoil Mustang RTR through the auction facilities — yes, even through the big tent and the auction arena — and coming to a stop just inches from Jackson’s own million-dollar Bugatti Veyron.
But Barrett-Jackson hasn’t forgotten its long-time customers.
“We still have fax machines,” Jackson said, noting that some consignors and bidders still submit their paperwork on forms they picked up 20 years ago.