SBJ/Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 2017/Facilities

Arenas scramble to replace a longtime star of their schedules

Don Muret
Feld Entertainment’s shutdown of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has left some big holes in scheduling at multiple facilities, and those venues are in talks with the promoter to fill those gaps with other Feld events.

Some buildings have several years left on their Ringling contracts. In Philadelphia, for example, Wells Fargo Center has eight years remaining on its deal after the circus completes its final run at the Flyers’ and Sixers’ arena Feb. 16-20.

John Page, president of Wells Fargo Center, said he should have a better idea over the next 30 to 60 days for what Feld’s solution will be in Philly.

In an email, Feld Entertainment officials said they have 26 tours globally, only two of which are the circus. “We look forward to announcing new productions in the future,” the company said.

“They do such a great job of creating and developing shows, we’re excited about what it might be,” Page said. “We’re confident that we’ll find something to replace the circus.”

In Los Angeles, Staples Center has four years left on its circus agreement, arena President Lee Zeidman said. That included this year’s July run, which was eliminated after Feld announced a few weeks ago that it would stop the tour in May.

“The [new] deal has got to make sense,” Zeidman said. “I’ll know more in the next few weeks. We certainly appreciate Feld’s programming.”

The old Boston Garden plays host to the circus in the 1930s.
Photo by: THE SPORTS MUSEUM


One option is Marvel Universe Live!, said Brad Mayne, president and CEO of the International Association of Venue Managers, an industry trade group. Feld Entertainment first took the show on the road in 2014. The live production features comic book superheroes such as Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man and Black Widow.

SMG plans to book Marvel Universe Live! at several of its buildings that had circus dates, said Doug Thornton, the firm’s executive vice president of arenas and stadiums. The list includes NRG Stadium, where Ringling played in Houston since the stadium opened in 2002. The home of the Texans and site of this year’s Super Bowl has holds in 2018 for Marvel dates to replace the circus, Thornton said.

In some cases, arenas could switch dates for Disney on Ice, another Feld product, from the middle of basketball and hockey season to the summer months when the circus would have normally played their buildings, Mayne said.

TD Garden, where the circus played every October, will look to fill the open dates with private rentals and groups searching for ice time, in addition to other Feld events, arena President Amy Latimer said.

In Dallas, American Airlines Center has tentatively filled two circus dates in July with a pair of concerts, said Dave Brown, executive vice president and general manager. As of last week, Brown could not identify the acts until after the contracts are signed.

But otherwise, it will be tough to fill a two-week period with other events after Ringling’s 21-show run was canceled. One of the biggest hits will be for part-time employees who won’t get the 100 hours they would typically get when the circus came to town every summer, Brown said. Those affected include ushers, security, parking attendants, custodians and food and beverage workers, a total of 700 to 800 people who would normally work the circus.

“We’ll be OK as a building, but the thing I will miss the most is the ability to give our staff and vendors all those hours, which came in handy for them in sending their kids back to school,” Brown said.

Feld’s decision to end the circus after 146 years surprised building managers, but at the same time, they all said attendance had dropped at their venues over the past few years. In Boston, TD Garden had compressed the number of circus performances from 10 days to six to improve attendance, Latimer said.

“It’s unfortunate, because the circus was a part of arenas’ DNA,” Brown said. “For us, grosses were still decent but the [turnstile] counts were way down. It wasn’t sustainable for anybody.”

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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