Felds Bullish On 2018

Family entertainment pushes into year-round lifestyle to strengthen the brand

  • by Linda Deckard
  • Published: July 5, 2018

Kenneth and Nicole Feld of Feld Entertainment and conference session moderator Eric Bresler of Chase Center in San Francisco. (VenuesNow photo/Linda Deckard)

Though Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus left the road, Feld Entertainment is forever branded by the circus. “Most importantly, the culture of the circus is what our company is based upon. That nothing-is-impossible, we-can-do-anything spirit permeates the organization,” said Feld Entertainment’s Kenneth Feld, who was joined by daughter Nicole for a keynote at the VenuesNow Conference in Beverly Hills in June. “We never say die for anything, but we do rethink things.”

And Kenneth Feld emphasized that nothing ever leaves the Feld portfolio. They still own the Greatest Show on Earth.

Given the state of business this first quarter, “this year will be the greatest ever,” Kenneth Feld predicted. The Felds spent the next 45 minutes detailing how their myriad titles are growing, all with a consumer-facing mindset and a goal toward making family entertainment part of the family lifestyle, not a once-a-year or even generational event.

Monster truck property Monster Jam is reinvigorated, drawing 150,000 to its first three-show booking at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and 200,000 to Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., for five shows.

One of the biggest changes is the nonscripted competition. Research revealed the consumer thought a certain truck always won, Kenneth Feld said. “Not so. So we decided to let the fans vote – they are the absolute judges.” Since they are determining the winner, voting on their device, with results showing on the scoreboard within minutes, fan engagement has grown exponentially, he said. “The highest percentage voting was in Singapore – 52 percent of the audience. It allows even young kids to stay engaged because they are part of the decision making.”

Off-road motorcycle racing series Supercross had 17 shows this season and drew 1 million people.

The Felds have taken major steps in preserving the talent pool for both those properties. Monster Jam University was established to train drivers and is attracting young people “who train like athletes,” Nicole Feld said. And student drivers include women and minorities. 

To feed the pipeline for Supercross, Feld Entertainment is launching a new program, Supercross Futures, she continued. The organization tested an amateur version of supercross on a modified track at four Supercross events last season and averaged 700 entries for each. The interest established, they are ramping it up with Supercross Futures, introducing aspiring athletes to the big time. It is a reinvention of Amsoil Arenacross, which will be discontinued.

Across all properties, fan engagement is paramount. With Supercross, fans can come to the Pit Party pre-event, with access to the athletes. VIP experiences give them seating in the Inside Track areas where “you get dirt up in your face,” she said, and some get to walk the track and get a sense of how high the pitch is on some of those jumps.

The next version of Disney on Ice will also be more interactive and include some elements more akin to the circus. Feld Entetainment has been aligned with Disney for 38 years. “We felt we needed to be sure Disney on Ice shows are relevant with today’s consumer,” Nicole Feld said.

There are nine units of Disney on Ice on the road today, and research revealed there is a certain amount of homogenation, she said. It is difficult for the consumer to differentiate one from the other. They also found they were losing market share among boys.

So the next version, Mickey’s Search Party, will have more narrative content, and interaction with the audience members will allow them to make decisions about what happens next. The action will be brought closer to the audience and even into the seating bowl and, in addition to world-class skating, they are “adding all sorts of stunts and character content, like pirates and Toy Story and Coco.” Mickey’s Search Party starts rehearsal in a month and opens in Orlando the week after Labor Day.

Kenneth Feld added that the Disney on Ice shows are becoming more modular, which allows the producers to be more nimble as the lifespan of certain properties shortens, subbing new content based on current events and relevance to the global market they’re playing. For instance, Coco was added to the show in Mexico because the character is so popular there.

To be relevant in live entertainment, one must be nimble, able to react quickly, he said.

Marvel Universe Live: Age of Heroes benefited from the addition of Black Panther, 10 months before the film made its debut.

Jurassic World Live is next out of the gate, coming in 2019. A partnership with NBCUniversal, it is “an extraordinary show, lot of technology, high premium average ticket price, lot of opportunity for upsells and interactions. This is probably the most valuable film franchise Universal has,” Kenneth Feld said.

Outside of the venues, Feld Entertainment emphasizes maintinaing engagement throughout the year. There are now more than 1 million followers across all its social channels. It has launched a video game based on Supercross; added a new master toy partner, Spin Master, beginning in 2019, with over 325 SKUs in the marketplace; and started a direct retail program, Truckin’ Pals, to engage kids 2-5 with Monster Jam. This past Christmas, the company went to direct retail with Walmart, selling 30,000 Gravedigger 24-volt drivable trucks. In October, McDonald’s will offer 28 million Happy Meals with six new toy monster trucks included. Each one does a trick.

This is all to lengthen engagement with the fan and make it a year-round experience, a lifestyle experience, from that first touchpoint, which is Feld’s new collaboration with Sesame Street Workshop and the Sesame Street Live experience, to the young adult Supercross series.

This fall, Feld Entertainment is adding two tours of Sesame Street Live, meaning three tours in North America, one of which is modified to play fairs as well as smaller venues.

To any concerned that the loss of the circus will have a detrimental effect on venues, given the number of dates it filled, both Felds said never fear.  “Everything we do is consumer-facing,” Nicole Feld added. “Millennials value experiences over material things.” Her confidence in the health of the industry is high.

Said Kenneth Feld: “Everything we do is for tomorrow."

  • by Linda Deckard
  • Published: July 5, 2018