What happened to the circus?
Public Domain. Source: Pixabay
When I was a boy I loved going to the circus. The spectacle of the three-ring extravaganza coming to my city was something all the kids in my neighborhood looked forward to: the trapeze, the high-wire act, the clowns. And of course there were the performing animals—bears, big cats, and of course elephants. I still recall seeing 25 or thirty elephants standing on their hind legs in a ring, leaning their front legs on their neighbor’s back.
But all this may be going away. Feld Entertainment, which owns the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced that the show will end its 146-year run in May. In a statement, Ken Feld said that taking elephants out of its act last year has led to a dramatic drop in ticket sales—but that attendance had been declining for a long time before this.
Travelling circuses have been part of the landscape for centuries. Before P.T. Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie & Circus, Dan Rice had a “One-Horse Show,” and the Canadian-born Victor Pepin built circus theaters from Montreal to Havana, using them for the first travelling show. The elephants at the circus became such a fixture that “Seeing the elephant” became an American figure of speech.
But entertainment is changing. Attention spans are shorter. Amazing performances can be called up on demand on Youtube. Pyrotechnics are on display at any superhero movie, and death-defying stunts can be seen in a Red Bull commercial. And families – the mainstay of circus demand – are getting smaller.
Without its animals – and especially, the elephants — Ringling Brothers’ circus has little to distinguish it from the many other competitors for our time. While an estimated 10 million people go to see a Ringling circus every year, it’s not enough. If you want to have an enduring product, you have to offer something unique.
Photo: Alehandro Linares Garcia. Source: Wikipedia
When I went to the circus, I hated it when the show finished. I wanted every performance to last forever. But as L. Frank Baum – author of the Oz books – once said, “Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer