Sunday, January 15, 2017

MIDWAY FLASH! ... MIDWAY FLASH! ... Ringling Folds for Good, Last Shows in May ... Feld Blames Retiring Elephants for Plunging Ticket Sales ...

It must be some kind of a sick joke, I thought, waking up this morning to find on my computer a link from my brother Dick,  proceeded  by a short note  -- "Sorry about that!" -- to a story that Ringling-Barnum is closing down for good and will give its final performances in May in Providence, Rhode Island, May 7, and Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum. May 21.

Some kind of a joke?  But no, in another e-mail,  this one from Don Covington, came a link to a statement from CEO Kenneth Feld, coming clean on how, since removing the elephants, business has plunged even deeper.

The total collapse of  the Greatest Show on Earth?  I never could have imagined living to see this.  For one reason, the circus is owned by a billionaire. 

And, just after landing nation-wide press over the hiring of the circus's first ringmistress in its history?

I still have a hard time believing it.

A while back, I reported on the fall of two of the nation's big three, the two being Big Apple Circus and Cole Bros. Circus.

And, now, the third one has fallen, too. It is so unreal, I feel almost nothing.  Perhaps I am in denial.

I never thought I would live to see this.  What I've been thinking lately is that they could well phase out one of the two units, and keep only one on the road, even in a truncated operation, no train but trucks.  Smaller show.  The Feld one-ring unit that played Coney Island (first one to play it) was simply terrific. 

Can you believe that the Felds are effectively out of the circus business?

Am I lost in a sick dream?

Is this fake news?

Is there more to the story?   The incredible abruptness of Kenneth Feld's sudden decision is itself a rather incredible act. One might wonder what, if anything, possible infra-family squabbles had to do with it.

More to come as I sort out my thoughts.  Meanwhile, ALL of your thoughts are welcome here.  Please do share ...

BTW: I will be posting a piece by James Royal, this week, about his thoughts on the challenges facing today's circus owners.

With the Ringling exit, count the year 2016 as the worst in American circus history.


J. Kurt Spence said...

So sad!

It seems the largest circus in America now is Universoul Circus from Atlanta.

Still a good show with elephants.

Anonymous said...


What a strange two weeks it has been. On January 1, I lost my only brother and life long friend Gary Finch. At his memorial service yesterday, I commented on a letter we had written to John Ringling North back in July of 1956 suggesting that since he was lo longer going to use the big tents of the GSOE perhaps the Finch Bros. (Ages 10 and 6) could use them! A follow-up letter found its way to Pat Valdo who was originally from our hometown of Binghamton, NY and a lifelong interest in show business developed. How strange that on the same day I included that in the memorial service, the GSOE announced it is closing, I assume forever, and still stranger the last day will be on my brothers' birthday, May 21. What a strange two weeks it has been!!!!

Ron Finch
Newark Valley
New York

Showbiz David said...

Thank you Ron,

I am sorry to learn of the passing of your brother.

I am now waking up, I think, to my own emotions of what is happening before our very eyes. I would have NEVER expected this from the Felds, especially after their rolling out the show's first ringmistress and winning national coverage for her on major network TV. And not even giving the new elephant-less show more than only a full season. It simply does not make sense.

The coincidence between the two dates is remarkable.

We were both there -- 1956 and now.

So very very sad.

Harry Kingston said...

I think the largest tented circus in America is Carson and Barnes circus.
Yes it is a sad day for us fans who love the circus.
But we had 1938, 1956 and 2017 but the show still goes on for others.
Some one on Ringling made a decision to pull the elephants and now they are paying for it big time.
And to put on a circus and ice show come on.
The prices they charged and the high price concessions as families just cannot afford that any more.
Costs have gone up on everything and times have changed and you got to go with the times and adapt.
Lets see what the future holds for the circus as people still want to see clean entertainment for there family and the kids of 8 to 80.

Showbiz David said...

Amen, Harry.

There is still a market for circus, even if smaller.

Let's hope that Johnny Pugh can raise the money to take out his Cole show this year.

Harry Kingston said...

Yes sir Mr David,
This would be a perfect time for Johnny Pugh to come out again as he is a real showman and knows more than anyone today.
People still want to see a good circus and the good old U S A will support them.
You got to let them know you are in town and they still love animals and it is not a circus without animals and elephants for sure.
David, you like me we have memories of a life time and you got to interview John Ringling North, I got to see Ringling under canvas and the Clyde Beatty railroad show.
Memories of a life time and the great times we had and the great circus people and performers the stood the test of time.
Bless them all as a great bunch of folks.
Gone but not forgotten.
The show still rolls and some times a little smaller but the show must go on.

Anonymous said...

And all of these closings happened on Obama's watch!

Showbiz David said...

Why did I publish the above? Not to be political about Obama, but to note that there is a tie-in here with my hope, expressed elsewhere on my blog, that Trump's taking on PC targets might make it easier for circus lovers to take on the extreme animal rights groups. I see PETA and the like, who have been doubtlessly emboldened by a very liberal atmosphere, were not content to cheer the removal of the elephants, but now they seem to be claiming victory for the closing down of the circus itself.


Anonymous said...

I agree about the Ringling Truck show that yiu saw at Coney Is,and. It p,ayed other dates at small venues in secondary markets,without elephants, and seemed to be well received.

I understand Ringling pulked down some major bucks with the farewell tour of the elephants. They darn sure got a whole lot of press coverage in every market.

The Gardens put on their own farewell to the elephants tour and also had a record year. The Gardens came through every year under another name and had some ok years.

We were also feeling the effects on the east coast of the Walkers blow down in 2014.

I caught the walkers Center Ring Circus at a National Guard in early 2016, and it was real good. Unfortunately, the National Guard cancelled several appearances on very short notice in ohio, leaving them with promotions in place. I suspect that was an insurance issue, but Im just guessing.
The next day, Lewis and Clark put up their beautiful big top in the same town, for two days of shows. The first day the crowds were so so, but the show was good. Ringling could learn a lot about lean logistics from Lewis and Clark!
Caught Stardust Circus show doing straw house business, and Zerbini Family Circus doing good business. By fall, all of these shiws were off the road, and I dont know why.

Anonymous said...

This quote might apply to the Felds operation of RBBB: “The first generation builds the business, the second makes it a success, and the third wrecks it.”

Showbiz David said...

How Apt. To the Feld second generation, Kenneth, I think I'd give the highest marks. Very adaptable, which I assumed he would be here, at least going beyond a trial run with Out of the World, to something else, more basic, really. Even into smaller venues as he did with the Gold unit, at least to keep the Ringling name alive and viable.

But it seems he lost interest, pouring his energies into the monster truck shows, and letting one of his third generation daughters produce it.

Anonymous said...

I have read recently that the Walt Disney Company was looking to buy FELD entertainment and the Circus portion was more of liability (i.e animal rights groups, ect.). This would explain the abruptness of the closing. I couldn't understand why the Felds would not cash in on a year or two year long 'Farewell Tour' "come say goodbye to the Greastest Show on Earth". I wonder if Disney does eventually buy Feld if the RBBB name could come up for sale? Could anyone possibly afford it and attempt to resurrect the show?

Anonymous said...

Saw this article you might be interested in:

Showbiz David said...

thank for both the above.

Disney, how interesting. All I know is there is was something strangely abrupt about all of this. It does not make sense to me.