Monday, April 30, 2007

Circus Websites Rated – from Victorious to Vague

From Consumer Courts, Showbiz David Division 

Circus Owners, please note: If you believe I have obviously missed something on your website, feel free to e-mail me (click onto the sidebar link "View My Complete Profile" for my e-mail link), and I will be happy to take another look. However, no scores will be readjusted for elements added subsequent to the date of this post. So, please ...
I’ve looked at Websites for shows that regularly tour, season by season and usually tour with the same cast and performance. Therefore, not rated are Shrine circus producers, etc. (The Royal Hanneford site, with good route information, contains a long list of acts that does not apparently describe any particular show.) If a couple of other touring outfits — Moscow State and Walker Bros., both out of Florida — have websites, I could not find them.

I looked at these sites as a consumer, rating each on five key elements: 1 – overall visual impact and appeal; 2 – ease of obtaining route and show schedule information; 3 – visual presentations (and/or descriptions) of the acts offered; 4 — general feedback from customers or critics; and 5 -- ease of purchasing tickets on-line.

Surprisingly, there are missing elements that can sink otherwise good scores. A number of circuses, Ringling included, appear not to share reviews or customer feedback. It might be that these sites do contain such information, but I was unable to locate. Kelly-Miller excludes any references to a route. Good luck tracking them down. Chimera was a no-show at their overly complicated ticket window. Some act photos are static head shots.

With a possible high of "5" in each of the five measured categories, the most any circus website could earn was a perfect score of 25.

Here are the scores from best to worst:

1. Cirque du Soleil (21 points) Although the precious visuals are a little too abstract for my taste, an outstanding presentation overall. Doubly surprisingly for an operation of this magnitude, there are no reviews cited, just apparently fan feedback, which one should view skeptically.
2. Big Apple (20 points, readjusted) Opening page takes way too long to open. Inside, visuals are wonderful, though there is a slightly confusing sprawl to this site. Head shots of the performers are static, nor could I find reviews or feedback. Big Apple responds: Press reviews are, indeed, easier to find than I first reported. Also, in the boxes that contain what I term "static head shots,' there are also icons that will open video clips of the acts, although opening them is on the cumbersome and slow side -- more so than other sites I reviewed which also offer video clips.
3. Universoul Circus (19 points). Generally, another outstanding site. The many news stories featured, however, are virtually impossible to read.

4. a two-way tie:

Carson and Barnes (18 points). Quick and to the point. Routes and a few reviews immediately appear. The basic visuals could be better, and the appealing act photos are somewhat difficult to reach.

Ringling-Barnum (18 points). They do a great job, including video clips, but there is no indication of either audience feedback or press reviews. Ticket purchasing is somewhat limited.

6. a two-way tie:

** Honorable Mention: Circus Vargas (16 points). Fabulous main page design, and super-clean layout of elements for easy linking to show schedules (one month in advance) and brief Vargas history. Outstanding user-friendly on-line ticket sale option features clear diagram of seat locations and prices. No act photos, but good descriptive listing of acts in performance order. No reviews. Still, all circus owners should take a look at this site. Circus Vargas responds: At the same time my posting went up, their webmaster was in the process of posting act photos. A view of the photos since loaded: Very nice, clear and persusive.

New Cole (16 points) Great opening pages featuring fan and employee hype. Otherwise, a staid if clean look overall, with act photos leaving a lot to be desired.

8. Circus Chimera (15 points). The Judkins machine excels on the front end -- visuals are inviting and customer feedback (like that of Cirque) is upbeat and at least fosters an intimate sense of warm community support -- then stumbles at the on-line red wagon. Despite repeated attempts in every which way, I found it infuriatingly impossible to enter a "promo" code, without which, the ticket window remained shut. Otherwise, this site should be a lot higher on the list. Circus Chimera Responds: "We have recently revamped the website. It tells you right there on the ticket page how to get a discount." A recheck of this website reveals the same problem in entering a promo code, for I could not locate. Moreover, the instructions lends the impression that one needs a promo code in order to enter the site, when, in fact, one can ignore this feature. Once you have reached the ticket window, the ordering prompts are quite clear. More from Chimera's Jim Judkins: "I have not received comments or complants from the public. They seem to navigate the site just fine." Okay, good reason, perhaps, when next I do this to engage a panel of three.

9. Circo Vasquez (10 points). Rated because this show plays some U.S. dates. Fairly hopeless, with scare and vague show dates. Little else.

10. Kelly-Miller (7 points) This site opens up very impressively, then takes you nowhere. No routes or on-line ticket sales makes a customer visit virtually useless. In fact, the site seems addressed more to potential sponsors. Nor is any feedback offered. Did I see the same photos last year?

Here are the links:

How Others Rank Them:

Craig Johnson's top three:

1. Carson & Barnes
2. Ringling Bros.
3. Cole Bros.

And Yours???

Have I overlooked something obvious? You are invited to check out the websites and offer your own picks or rebuttals.

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