The news is nothing new, the circus has left town, early. The tent is gone, their business office is vacated and none of the circus’ phones are being answered. Actually, nobody is answering their phones.
Everything started in the spring of 2008 with all the hype of FSU’s Flying High Circus coming to town. They have a great reputation and have performed for 60 years with their main summer act being at Callaway Gardens in the summer since 1960. Don Hamrick wanted to change all that. Don and his wife Brenda formed Flying High LLC, contracted with FSU to pay them $120,000 for use of the name, Flying High Circus, and hired their student circus staff for the summer paying the performers $10 an hour.
There was much support from the local community including a donation of $30,000 cash from the Holiday Inn Sunspree. In addition, Sunspree also purchased around 1,000 tickets up front. The performers were accommodated at the Towne of Seahaven and their flyers were at many of the big resorts up and down Panama City Beach. To top it all off, the Bay County Tourist Development Council loaned them $100,000.
The circus was scheduled to run from June 13th to August 2nd but the show was shut down early do to poor performance. Close to the end, I was told by a performer that they had the capacity to seat 2,100 people, but the shows usually averaged around 200 to 250 in attendance. The day camp did better than expected, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the lost potential admission revenue.
I, for one, was excited to have something new to do with my family, but when I found out about the price, I was turned off. That was their first mistake. $24 for adults and $16 for kids? Lets do the math. I have myself, my wife, and my three kids, the youngest of which would have gotten in for free as she is under 4, that would have been $80 just for admission. Wow, I mean $80 just to get in? I saw bits and pieces of the show and the performers are good (and this is in no way meant to be negative toward the performers), but this wasn’t an $80 performance. Shoot, I took my whole family to Wet ‘N Wild in Texas for a whole day for $80. Wet ‘N Wild! The price was too high, and it was admitted when they started offering a hardly publisized “locals” discount halfway through the summer, $18 for adults and $10 for kids. Better, but not good enough, and a little late.
Just for the record, admission into Callaway Gardens is $13 per adult and $6.50 per kid, and that not only includes all the fun things you can do at Callaway Gardens, but also the regular performances of the circus. Why would someone pay so much to see the circus in Panama City Beach? They wouldn’t, nor did they.
The second thing they did wrong was their media and ad placement. I saw virtually no advertisement. They received free media coverage when they first opened, not only from myself, but all the local news outlets, but I never heard once an ad on the radio, saw an ad on any of the local web sites that tourists regularly look at (not only my site, but PanamaCityBeach.com and others), or saw any tv spots. They purchased one billboard on Thomas Drive (the north/south portion) and it was facing the cars driving away from the beach, and they put flyers all over town including in the windows of local businesses and around Pier Park. I was never approached to have an ad on my site and I don’t think any of the other local sites were approached either. How did they expect to fill those seats?
So, $100,000 from the TDC, $30,000 from Sunspree plus 1,000 tickets (we’ll give them the kids price at $16 per) for $16,000 equals $146,000. Where did the money go? I actually don’t know the answer to this. I was told that the luxury portable toilets that were there were $12,000 a week, but this seemed very far out, but even at $12,000 a month, that’s a terrible waste of money – who made that decision? I know they committed to pay FSU $120,000 to use the circus name, but did they ever pay up? I don’t know, does anyone else? What I do know is this: there are many local (and non-local for that matter) businesses that put their hard work and effort into helping this thing work. Now because of the poor management of funds by the company responsible for putting on the show – Flying High LLC – they may not ever get paid for the work they did.
So how did this happen? Why did local businesses give so much and get so little back? Could this have been prevented? Was all this a product of an entertainer (Don Hamrick was an opera singer) running a business instead of a business man running a business? Did our TDC know that they were going to be wasting some of their money on luxury portable toilets? Would they have given so much if they had? Has Don and his wife ever done anything like this in the past? Does anyone know his reputation?
I leave you with these questions, I don’t have all the answers, I never do.