Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Out of This World cast.
In the week since Feld Entertainment announced the demise of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which will go off the road for good in May, venue marketing, booking and communications machines have been in full swing.
Juliette Feld, COO of Feld Entertainment, noted that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is two of 26 shows Feld has on the road each year. Some years it’s more like 30.
That doesn’t make loss of the Greatest Show on Earth, now in its 146th edition, less shocking, stunning, and sad, but it does fill a void in entertainment.
There is inventory to replace circus dates in the West and Midwest with other Feld product, including Arenacross and Disney on Ice. That’s the scenario for Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky., which has already reached an agreement to host a second Disney on Ice show during its traditional circus dates.
Carl Hall, manager of Rupp Arena, had booked late August, early September dates of Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey. He does three Feld shows a year, Disney on Ice, Monster Jam and the circus.
Within a day of the announcement, he was on the phone with Jim Campbell, his Feld rep, and they had worked out a second Disney on Ice show for 2017 and possibly an Arenacross or Marvel Universe Live is in the offing. His experience with Disney on Ice has been that it is a tremendous group sales vehicle, with whole school districts bringing busloads of kids. He’s hopeful that will happen twice this year, once in April, his traditional ice show dates, and again in August.
“I think they’ll create a new circus,” Hall added, “a truck and bus show, maybe 20-25 trucks and six buses.” It will be another Feld spectacular for the families, probably with animals, though it may be dogs and cats and alpacas, and aimed at youth.
For the last several years, attendance at the circus has continuously diminished, he said. Hall agreed that society is changing and the circus is a victim of new social phenomenon. It’s not the same as when the elephants came to town, which was the circus trademark before they were retired last year.
John Page, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, is among the lucky Eastern portion of the nation that still has circus dates upcoming. It is beyond sad to lose such a traditional touring event, he said, “but a lot has changed. Kenneth and his family have done a tremendous job diversifying. They have a plan.”
Wells Fargo Center traditionally gets 10-11 performances of the circus, which are coming up Feb. 16-20 this year. Page reported a significant bump in sales post-announcement of the circus closing.
While increased sales have taken on a life of their own in Philadelphia, some arenas are promoting the last act ever with special commemorative events. Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C., is emailing that “in just ONE WEEK, families will have the chance to experience The Greatest Show On Earth™ ONE LAST TIME when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents Out Of This World™ stops at Colonial Life Arena Jan. 26-29.
“As a thank you from the many families that have experienced the Ringling Bros. Circus shows in Columbia, fan photos from previous Circus experiences at Colonial Life Arena and the Carolina Coliseum are being collected to be placed on display backstage when the Out Of This World™ performers arrive next week. Photos may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or shared on social media with #RinglingBrosCLA by 12 p.m. Jan. 20. “
“We have been monitoring the downward trend in ticket sales for Ringling Bros. for 10 years,” Juliette Feld said. “When we took the elephants off the touring units [last year], it was a very dramatic drop in sales, much more so than we could have predicted.”
People come to Ringling Bros. to see things they couldn’t see any other place, she added. “We’ve continued to present astounding human and animal performances that can’t be seen anywhere else. But consumers and public opinion and families change over time.”
Unlike other Feld properties, Ringling Bros. was a standalone live event experience, Feld said. “Our other lines of business — Monster Jam, Supercross, Marvel Universe Live — have supporting television, storylines, films and all other kinds of touchpoints to families that Ringling Bros. didn’t have.” Feld Entertainment properties sell a cumulative 30 million tickets a year. She did not specify how many of those were the circus.
Jeff Gaines, senior assistant general manager, NRG Stadium, Houston, said that venue does 76 family show performances, the most in Houston, of which 28 are the circus, drawing 130,000 guests. “There are not a lot of shows that do that kind of business,” Gaines said. “Immediately following the announcement, four Feld reps had called and we began talking about what to do. Houston is a great market.”
Gaines is confident they will produce not just a substitute show, but a new show, some great, new and exciting event to fill that July hole sometime in the future. The circus had been scheduled for July 7-26, three weekends, this year.
“I am sure it was a very thought-out and tough decision for the Feld family,” Gaines said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to make that decision.”
Tim Ryan, Honda Center, Anaheim, also won’t see the circus again. “So many of us in the business have spoken to each other in the last two days about the circus leaving us,” Ryan said. “Everyone, on a personal level, is quite sad.”
On a professional level, he agreed that Feld is a great client and there will be some kind of new product. Honda Center had done 20 performances of the circus in the July/August timeframe and it had continued to be a good market, but “they had to make a decision on the numbers globally.”
Juliette Feld was most concerned, in the immediate future, about the Ringling circus family and staff. Feld Entertainment Studios, Ellenton, Fla., employs 600 people, of whom about 50 are circus-related.
Overall, the decision to close the circus effects 400 people, she said. Feld Entertainment is working to find them in new jobs.
As to the circus train, “we’re figuring that out as well,” Feld said. Right now, “we’re doing our best to get what we can aligned for the people; we’ll figure out the other parts of the business second.”
Flavio Togni, The American Circus, was a star on The Greatest Show on Earth from 1989-1991. Part of an Italian circus family, his dream as a child was to play Ringling, he recalled. “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is not just part of American entertainment history. It’s global.”
When the Togni family became part of the show, they brought 15 elephants, 38 horses, three tigers, two panthers and one white rhino to America.
“All over the world, like Mr. Feld said, society is changing,” Togni told Venues Today. Today the world is digital, virtual and somewhat homebound. The family dynamic has two working parents and kids in school year-round. “Why would they pull the kids out of the living room to spend money and go see a show?”
Togni’s circus is under tent and it will continue. He has 150 people on staff. What else would they do? But he has seen as much as a 50-percent decline in attendance over 10 years. His is a circus family. And he felt very sad for the Ringling circus cast, because most circuses program the year in March. When Ringling goes off the road in May, those performers will lose a whole year of opportunity.
“There are people who have been in that company for 35-40 years. I don’t know what will happen,” Togni said. “They’re not so young anymore. It’s a way of living.”
The Feld family has heard from a lot of people sharing their wonderful memories. “We have four more months and an opportunity to make more memories,” Feld said.
“We’ve been most humbled by the outpouring of support from people we know and don’t know and the concern about how our family and company emotionally are managing through that. Ringling Bros. is very close to our heart, but also a part of many people’s memories and lives. It’s very bittersweet.”
Irvin and Izzy Feld bought Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey from John Ringling North 50 years ago. That is a family legacy.