How Will Ringling Bros. Curtain Call Impact Region

Circus

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY JAN 16, 2017

News of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus bringing a 146-run to a close this May sent shockwaves internationally in the entertainment world and locally in a community with its own history inextricably tied to the circus. Feld Entertainment on Saturday told performers in both traveling troupes for the circus that one tour would wind to a close May 7 after their final show in Rhode Island and the other would end its run on May 21 in New York. What the news of the final performances means for employees whose lives have revolved around the circus for generations remains unclear, but more news will come at a press conference today at Feld Entertainment’s Palmetto campus.

“This was a difficult business decision to make, but by ending the circus tours, we will be able to concentrate on the other lines of business within the Feld Entertainment portfolio,” says Juliette Feld, Feld Entertainment chief operating officer. “Now that we have made this decision, as a company and as a family, we will strive to support our circus performers and crew in making the transition to new opportunities.”

Plenty remains unclear about what will happen with Feld. While many circuses like Cirque du Soleil have permanent performance venues in places like Orlando, Ringling Bros. has always been known primarily as a touring circus. Feld Entertainment, the owner of the circus since 1967, announced in 2012 that it would move its corporate headquarters, including the circus, to a campus in Palmetto that also houses Disney Live, Monster Jam and other Feld properties. Many of those productions may utilize talent trained in the circus arts, but under brands like Marvel that appeal to families today.

Roughly 400 jobs could be affected with the end of the tours, but it remains unclear what the impact will be on the Palmetto campus, which in recent years has encouraged greater synergy between the operations of many Feld productions. Monster Jam, for example, relocated its car shops to Palmetto and the facilities can be used for motor vehicles in a variety of traveling shows.

The world learned of Feld Entertainment’s plans to close down the circus with the release of a letter from CEO Kenneth Feld on the company’s website. He noted the changing business of sales and acknowledged lengthy acrimony between the circus and animal rights activists, which led last year to the end of the use of elephants in shows. Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop,” Feld writes. “This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.” Incidentally, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals herald news of the end of “The Saddest Show on Earth.” 

But in Sarasota, the circus has always remained more than a hot-button issue—or even simply a form of entertainment. Sarasota’s own history became forever intertwined with the Ringling entertainment empire after Charles and John Ringling moved to Sarasota and located the winter headquarters for the circus here in 1927. While the circus left the region in 1960, many circus families have stayed in Sarasota for generations, and the community remains a home to such modern circus stars as Bello Nock and Nik Wallenda. The Circus Ring of Fame, which on Saturday inducted Ringling descendent Henry Ringling North and the rest of this year’s class, remains an attraction on St. Armands Circle. 

A full transcript of Kenneth Feld's letter can be found at SRQMag.com

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