Feld Entertainment Inc. executives Monday said the public’s changing habits and interests — and a decision last year to drop elephants from the show — made inevitable the decision to shutter the 146-year-old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.
"We are sad," said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, during a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Ellenton. "It was a very difficult decision to make."
It was not one particular factor or day that cemented the decision, Feld said, but a downward trend over the past eight or nine years. Feld and COO Juliette Feld would not disclose figures regarding how much the company has lost trying to keep the circus afloat.
The circus, also known as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” will finish touring its current season through May, with its final performances in Tampa from Jan. 25 to Jan. 29. Tickets for the two remaining shows, “Out of this World” and “Circus Xtreme” are available for purchase through ringling.com.
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“We hope they will be sold out and people will come for the last memory,” Kenneth Feld said.
The announcement to end the American entertainment mainstay comes one month after Feld Entertainment announced Kristen Michelle Wilson of Orlando would become the circus’ first female ringmaster. Wilson is one of 400 employees who will be displaced when the tour ends in May.
Approximately 50 to 60 jobs based in the Manatee-Sarasota area will be affected by the closure, according to Feld’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Stephen Payne. Juliette Feld said the company will meet with each employee and customize a life-after-circus plan. Circus employees can expect assistance in the form of job placement, housing search support and interview and resume preparation, she said.
One of more than 65 local companies to do so, Feld Entertainment entered an economic development incentive agreement with Manatee County in 2012. The agreement requires the creation of more than 200 jobs at Feld’s headquarters, 800 Feld Way.
Feld owns other live entertainment shows, including Monster Jam, Disney on Ice, Disney Live, AMSOIL Arenacross, Monster Energy Supercross and Marvel Universe LIVE!
In February 2012, the company entered an economic development incentive agreement with Manatee County and the state of Florida for a combined $3.3 million paid over five years, according to Manatee County Economic Development Program manager Karen Stewart and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity online incentive portal.
That agreement required Feld to make a capital investment of $20 million and create 235 jobs at 200 percent or more of the average annual Manatee County wage. The move from Virginia to Ellenton brought 120 jobs to Manatee County and 28 elsewhere in Florida, said Casey Rodgers, vice president of finance and strategic planning for Feld. Since the building was purchased by Feld in 2012, several renovations and additions were added to the warehouse, according to Manatee County property records.
60 local jobs affected by Feld Entertainment’s decision to close Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus
The county has paid Feld approximately $1.2 million from the first incentive deal, the Bradenton Herald previously reported. In 2012, the state paid Feld $650,000 from its Quick Action Closing Fund, which is “a tool used to finalize negotiations in highly competitive projects,” according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Since 2013, the state paid Feld $337,500 for the creation of 277 jobs.
Feld signed a second $2 million incentive agreement in 2015 when the company moved its motor sports division from Chicago to Ellenton. To receive those incentive payments, Feld has to create 200 jobs between 2015 and 2020. The county paid Feld $150,000 from the second agreement as of August.
Rodgers said in August that the company has exceeded job creation goals and nearly 600 employees work at the company’s headquarters.
The legacy of Ringling Bros. will exist in that it has infused all other live entertainment. It was the foundation not just of our company but of live entertainment in America.
Juliette Feld, COO of Feld Entertainment Inc.
The company is currently searching for “suitable” homes for all of the show’s animals, Juliette Feld said. Feld Entertainment will continue to work with the Ringling Museum in Sarasota on preserving the costumes, props and scenic elements left behind by the hallmark entertainment institution.
Kenneth Feld and Juliette Feld cited multiple reasons for the decision to end the touring circus, including declining attendance, high operating costs, changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups.
After the circus bid farewell to performing elephants in May, ticket sales plunged.
“When the elephants left the show we did not anticipate the absolute impact it would have,” Kenneth Feld said. “It was much greater than we thought.”
Juliette Feld said despite this effect on Feld’s bottom line, the company stands behind the decision to relieve the elephants from circus work and place them in the Ringling’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Central Florida.
Feld Entertainment has been sued numerous times by different animal welfare organizations over the years.
“We prevailed in court 100 percent of the time,” Kenneth Feld said. “Obviously in the court of public opinion we didn’t prevail.”
At present, there are no plans to follow the trend of other circuses with permanent locations. Saturday night’s announcement means the end of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, what Kenneth Feld called “the grandfather of live family entertainment.”
“Our focus is taking care of our people and there may be something in the future but we can't speak to what that is right now,” Juliette Feld said.
For now, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is the future until May.
“And then it will be a part of our glorious past,” Kenneth Feld said.