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After 146 Years Ringling Brothers Circus To Fold Its Tents

Jan 17, 2017

Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld (Tim Pannell for Forbes)
Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld (Tim Pannell for Forbes)

Ringling Bros. circus announced Saturday that it would be closing down permanently in May 2017 after 146 years. Kenneth Feld, a billionaire whose family has owned the circus since 1967, blamed falling ticket sales after the retirement of Ringling Bros. iconic elephants following a bruising 14-year legal battle with animal rights activists.

“Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop,” Kenneth Feld said in a statement. “This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.” Before this announcement, Feld had said for years that 10 million people visited Ringling Bros. circus each year. In a November magazine profile, FORBES estimated that the number was closer to 5 million.

After the elephants were removed from the Ringling Bros. circus in May 2016, the family’s hopes for the circus were pinned on a new kind of circus show, which launched in July 2016 and traded elephants for ice, a storyline and special light effects. Called “Out Of This World,” the show was billed as part of the circus’ constant need to reinvent itself to survive and was produced by Kenneth Feld’s daughter, Alana Feld. “We’re the greatest show on earth and if we’re going to say that, we've got to live up to it and we always have to top ourselves,” Alana Feld told FORBES in August. In the end, the Feld family wasn't able to top having live elephants in the circus.