"It's been through world wars, and it's been through every kind of economic cycle and it's been through a lot of change," said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, owner of the Ringling Bros. "In the past decade there's been more change in the world than in the 50 or 75 years prior to that. And I think it isn't relevant to people in the same way."...So it wasn't all that complex. The end of the circus is explained in one word: elephants.
Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn't have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image. After 1956, the circus no longer performed under tents, moving to arenas....
Animal rights activists put pressure on cities where the circus toured.... In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year legal battle over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants.
The initial lawsuit was filed by a former Ringling barn helper who accepted at least $190,000 from animal-rights groups. The judge called him "essentially a paid plaintiff" who lacked credibility and standing to sue, and rejected the abuse claims.
Kenneth Feld testified about the elephants' importance to the show at that 2009 trial. "The symbol of the 'Greatest Show on Earth' is the elephant, and that's what we've been known for throughout the world for more than a hundred years," he said. Asked whether the show would be the same without elephants, Feld replied, "No, it wouldn't."
And, it wasn't. Feld Entertainment removed the elephants in 2016, sending all 40 of them to their Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Ticket sales plummeted. The circus, already an afterthought for many, receded further in the public mind....
January 15, 2017
After 156 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will end.