A Cultural Icon Dies
Circus operating costs such as animal feed and transportation have risen dramatically in the past century and a half; no doubt ticket prices have kept pace. However, declining ticket sales was not a problem for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus until it retired elephants in 2016. Circus owners won the 14-year court battle with animal activists about the use of wild animals in in their productions but lost the war of public sentiment. Once elephants left the tent, ticket sales plummeted. As the Associated Press reported in The Week on 27 January 2017, "Today, when we have a virtual fantasy world literally in the palm of our hand, 'The Greatest Show on Earth' doesn't seem so great."
The four-year trend from VALS™/GfK MRI reports the number of annual circus attendees had risen between 2013 and 2016, from 7.5 million US adults to 9.1 million. Most notable is the increase in attendance among Achievers (from 1 million to 1.5 million), Strivers (from 1 million to 1.5 million), and Thinkers (from three-quarters of a million to 1.1 million). Achievers and Strivers are less concerned about animal-rights issues than are most other groups. For Achievers, the circus provides a cultural experience for their children, for Thinkers, a chance to view a fondly remembered slice of American history, and for Strivers, a special-occasion alternative to the movies.
The circus elephants are now retired to a Florida reserve. Many other animals have care on a 70-acre New York State preserve owned by a former circus trainer. The modern-day circus is now Canada's successful Cirque du Soleil—an attraction that includes no animals. The marketplace continues to evolve.
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