Coverage: Ringling Bros. closing the big tent
Privately held Ringling Bros. Circus announced that it would close the business in May after 146 years, as animal rights activists claimed victory and others wondered about the future of the circus business.
Charles Passy of The Wall Street Journal has the news:
But in recent years, the show struggled with sagging ticket sales and opposition from animal rights groups. Saturday’s announcement that the show is closing later this year, after nearly a century-and-a-half run, may signal the final act of an entertainment tradition embedded in American culture.
Those in the circus and entertainment worlds are questioning how relevant such old-school ambitiously scaled productions, replete with everything from aerialists to animal acts, remain in today’s entertainment marketplace. They wonder if a similar touring circus will ever take Ringling’s place; some argue that Ringling’s closure represents an evolution, not an end.
Officials at Feld Entertainment Inc., the circus’ parent company, haven’t played down the obstacles they faced, noting the high costs to produce the show, which has a cast and crew of about 300, coupled with declining ticket sales.
“This was a difficult business decision to make,” said Juliette Feld, chief operating officer of Feld Entertainment, in a statement released Saturday.
Amy B. Wang of The Washington Post reported on the animal rights activist angle:
Ringling Bros. had also been the target of protests by animal rights groups and was involved in protracted legal battles with many of them.
In 2015, Ringling Bros. announced it would stop using elephants in its shows. The lumbering mammals delivered their final performances last May — dancing, spinning and standing on pedestals at the command of the ringmaster — and then were retired to a reserve in central Florida.
The move exacerbated the show’s demise; the elephants’ departure ultimately expedited what was a “difficult business decision.”
“Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop,” Kenneth Feld said in a statement Saturday. “This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”
Christopher Mele of The New York Times noted that 400 people would lose their jobs:
Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, said in an interview on Saturday night that the closing would affect about 400 cast and crew members.
“We looked at the performance in 2016 and advance tickets sales in 2017, and we decided it was not a viable business model,” he said.
The company informed employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando, Fla., and Miami.
“There isn’t any one thing,” Mr. Feld told The Associated Press. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”
Ringling has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. The final shows will be on May 7 in Providence, R.I., and on May 21 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
The final appearance of the circus in New York City will be from Feb. 23 to March 23 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
An estimated 10 million people go to a Ringling circus each year.