Last night here in the US we were treated to the annual State of the Union address delivered by the Chief Executive to the Congress. In the weeks running up the Stae of the Union we’ve all had our share of State of the State (or Commonwealth) addresses, State of the City pronouncements, and no doubt State of the Art(s) speeches at every museum large or small. The tone of these various moralistic lectures had tended to be downbeat, but hopeful. Of course what nobody has said is, “If you work in circus… Consider this…) Despite record revenues for organizations like Feld Entertainment, 2010 wasn’t a banner year for circus or carnival. Not exactly shocking news in the middle of a prolonged economic slump. 2008 served up the highest fuel prices the amusement business has ever seeen, followed by a meltdown of the credit markets and the banking system. Surprisingly 2009 had some bright spots. Real Estate was freefall, and unemployment soared, but diesel prices were reasonable and families stilled headed by those with jobs hoarded cash staying at home, and spent some of that money locally on entertainment like circus. Perhaps reality hadn’t entirely sunk in. By last year those who could were back at the theme parks and those who couldn’t were cinching the belt even tighter. In 2011 it’s tempting say that the only thing certain is uncertainty. While real unemployment inches down in some areas and consumer spending increases States like California remain crippled, Nevada with Depression era unemployment is in collapse, Illinois is racing toward a solid brick wall, and even Texas must consider new “fees” to fill the treasury. In the outdoor amusement business filling the tent or the midway is only part of the battle this season. Dealing with understaffed State Agencies, rising fuel costs, and myriad of new fees and penalties may require a whole new level of sophistication. We shouldn’t be shocked by stricter vehicle enforcement aimed not so much at safety as revenue enhancement. Likewise increased inspection fees, late filing fees for food service and other permits, fines for minor noncompliance whether from building inspectors, fire inspectors, humane officials, or village clerks. (Then of course there are fees for mandatory police/ambulance services.) In cash strapped States the price of doing business may be significantly higher in 2011. Worst gouging likely in CA, AZ, OR WA, in portions of the upper Midwest, and in the northeast where increased taxes on fuel may be ugly. By late 2011 TX and NC could jump on the bandwagon. As always WY may nickel and dime everybody at the state scales. Unfortunately the income remains too weak for much of a bump in admissions prices – and may stay that way until housing sees some recovery. We can learn from the mistakes of Hollywood. 2010 saw strong revenues for film, but declining seat sales. Most of the increased revenue came from 3D sales. Circus and carnival lack a corresponding “gimmick” and can’t afford to see a decline in seat sales. It won’t be a good year to skimp on publicity and marketing. Sponsors will work hard for what they see as assured profits, but they won’t put much effort into a show that doesn’t match their enthusiasm.
There is a bit of good news. Though the price of natural gas remains lwo, gas exploration and drilling is creating a boom in several parts of the country including PA and portion of West Virginia, parts of OK, WY and elsewhere. NY will see the same boom by the end of 2011, assuming the need for revenue is greater than the lioud voices of a small number of anti-drilling activists. PA could be strong for any show this season with some effort at selling the show.