Ringling Brothers Circus Closure Signals End Saddest Show On Earth

Ringling Bros Circus Closure Signals The End To The ‘Saddest Show On Earth’

Ringling Brothers Circus operators have overnight issued a statement confirming that their namesake circus is closing, after 146 years on the road. In a statement to media Saturday night, Kenneth Feld, CEO of circus operator Feld Entertainment broke the news.

“After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May.”

Ringling Bros. Circus Closure
Ringling Bros. Circus has been ubiquitous across the United States for almost 150 years. [Image by Brian Ach/Getty Images]

Feld went on to explain that it was a combination of factors behind the decision.

“There isn’t any one thing. This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

While Ringling Bros. operators have cited declining ticket sales and rising operating costs as causes contributing to the closure of the circus, there is little doubt the controversy and long-running legal battles over the use of elephants and other animals have been a significant factor.

Animal rights groups have campaigned for decades against Ringling Brothers’ use of elephants in their shows, taking particular exception to the methods used to control the animals and the conditions in which they were kept. Despite winning a 14-year legal battle regarding the circus’ alleged mistreatment of the animals, operators decided in 2014 to retire all elephants to a conservation farm in Florida.

While many were pleased with this decision, Feld Entertainment Chief Operating Officer Juliette Feld explains the paradox the circus faced.

“We know now that one of the major reasons people came to Ringling Bros. was getting to see elephants. We stand by that decision. We know it was the right decision. This was what audiences wanted to see and it definitely played a major role.”

Ringling Bros. Circus Closure Elephant Protests
Protests by animal activists against the use of elephants were a common site at Ringling Brothers Performances until the show discontinued use of the animals in 2014.
[Image by Ted S. Warren/AP Images]

While the show still uses a variety of other animals in its performances, it was the elephant that had been a defining symbol of the circus since the introduction of “jumbo” in 1882.

Following the announcement of the closure of the circus, vocal opponents PETA issued a statement celebrating the decision.

“[The circus’ closure] heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times.”

Considering the show sprung from such unorthodox beginnings, it is impressive the circus has managed to stay relevant this long. At its inception, the circus relied on a freak show and collection of other human oddities to draw in crowds. As consumer tastes changed, so did the circus, changing to the mixture of animal and acrobatic performances that saw it become a mainstay of popular culture throughout the 20th century.

Kenneth Felt explains that it is the continual change of consumer preferences and the inability of the circus to adapt that has contributed to its demise.

“The competitor in many ways is time. It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you’ve got all these things working against it.”

Ringling Brothers made numerous changes to the operation of the circus in recent years, including the introduction of female and African American ringmasters and the creation of a mobile app. Clearly, these changes were not enough to hold the interest of a new generation of children with a preference for digital entertainment and an ever expanding choice of media vying for their attention.

The company first made the announcement to staff on Saturday night after shows in Miami and Orlando. While Feld Entertainment has explained that they will make every effort to find employment for the 500 circus staff in the company’s other productions, Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, it is unclear how many staff will face redundancy. In a statement the company has explained that all animals will be suitably rehomed.

The show will be performing 30 shows between now and its closure, with the final performances being held in Providence, Rhode Island on May 7 and Uniondale, New York on May 21.

[Featured Image by Mario Tama/Getty Images]