The Circus' Disappearing Act

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.

Office is vacant

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 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.

13 thoughts on “The Circus' Disappearing Act

  1. Jason,

    Great post! I hate it didn’t work out. I agree that the Circus was 30-40% overpriced and there was poor advertising. I had to do some serious digging to figure out what time the show started. It’s a shame…I think it could have been good. I wanted it as much for the locals as for the visitors.


  2. I too thought that the ticket prices were unusually high – maybe even 50% too high! I remember seeing the FSU circus somewhere around PCB as a kid and I was excited to take mine,but couldn’t justify the cost.


  3. For the price, I could take my grandson to Gulf World and be guaranteed a good time. Too bad it didn’t work out; seemed like such a good idea and a truly different activity for the family to enjoy together.


  4. When I first heard about the circus (an article in the News Herald) I thought it would be a fun event, but I, too crossed it off the list when I heard about the price.

    I actually didn’t believe the person who told me the cost and double checked myself because I thought that certainly anyone who put a minute of thought into pricing would certainly know that the rate of $24/$16 would make this unrealistic for most families.

    This is a perfect example of how NOT to run an event.


  5. It was a good idea but once I saw the price ( on this site some months back) I did not think it had a chance. A bit of market research would have shown that to be true I bet.


  6. In addition to the high ticket prices, I also read that parking was $8.00. I live in Palmetto Trace and considered walking. I don’t understand…. Thunder Beach allows visitors to park at Frank Brown park for free, and with no admission fee to any venues – yet the high price of admission to the circus does not include parking. Can someone explain this???


  7. I paid full price a few days before they started offering local discounts, I e-mailed Brenda and she assured me that I would be refunded the difference. I NEVER was! I have tried several times!


  8. Tanya, if you paid with a credit card, and you have the email saying you would get a refund, call your card issuer and complain you never received your refund. Your card issuer will make it right for you.


  9. How disappointing for the children who were enrolled in the day camp and were informed of the cancellation at the very last minute! They were so looking forward to circus camp. I had to drive to Panama City Beach (a six hour drive) to get my $285 refund. Beware of this camp next summer!


  10. Really????
    Dont talk about my grandparents like that!!!
    I guarentee that they have had a better career than have ever thought about.
    Dont talk bad about some one unless you look back and see that you are perfect.
    Get a life.


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