After The Circus Leaves Town



More than 400 employees displaced by the end of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus tours will all receive severance pay when shows end in May, including some 60 Feld Entertainment employees based at the company’s Palmetto campus. But for the moment, the final circus shows in May appear to be the final act for the world’s most famous circus. Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld and Chief Operating Officer Juliette Feld on Monday faced reporters at the first press conference since news of the circus’ apparent shutdown broke this weekend. 

“At this time, this is the end of Ringling Bros. touring units, and our focus is taking care of our people,” says Juliette. “There may be something in the future, but we can’t speak to what that is right now.”

Feld Entertainment today oversees touring shows for Disney On Ice, Marvel Universe Live, Supercross and Monster Jam, among others, and Kenneth stresses that those shows will go on. “This last weekend, we had 26 tours around the world,” he says. “Two of them were Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey.” At the same time, there isn’t room in another shows to absorb the massive workforce of the circus shows. Juliette says some employees will find other opportunities within the company, but for the large part, most will not. Services will be offered to assist workers on everything from crafting resumes to finding housing for those living full-time on Ringling’s touring trains.

With animal rights groups cooing about the end of the circus since news broke this weekend, the Felds fielded many questions about the circus’ treatment of animals and the decision last year to take elephants off the tour. While the company declined to share figures, Kenneth says there was a precipitous drop in ticket sales after the elephants left the show last May. While the company anticipated some decline, it was much greater than expected. The elephants now live on a preserve in Lakeland owned by Feld Entertainment. Kenneth notes that every time animal rights activists have legally challenged the handling of animals, Feld Entertainment has won in court; he does acknowledge the circus did not prevail in the court of public opinion, and legislatures around the nation put an array of different regulations in place, making it difficult to tour with the pachyderms. But he rejects that the end of the circus should be considered a win for activists. “They will have to find some new agenda for fundraising, I suspect,” he says.

The company leaders also say the interests of children today contributed to a decline in sales, as fewer enjoy the broadly focused circus shows and favor more specially catered fare. While Juliette stresses live entertainment remains alive and well, Kenneth notes families are more inclined to bring superhero-crazed kids to a Marvel show or princess-focused tots to a Frozen on Ice performance. “The company is a robust company,” says Kenneth. “We’re always looking at new entertainment, and we are a company that looks to the future. We always have. Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey is an important and great part of that. It is the future until May, and then it will be a part of our glorious past.”

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan: Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld addresses media.

An extended version of this story can be read at

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