Jeff Meyer works for Winnie the Pooh, several princesses and a herd of Asian elephants. As Feld Entertainment’s senior vice president for event marketing and sales for North America, the Leesburg resident leads a team of about 100 people who promote the shows for Disney Live, Disney On Ice and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“We market every show that goes through North America,” he said. “My responsibility, ultimately, is to fill every seat with paid bodies.”
Filling those seats at theaters and convention centers in 150 markets for the stage and ice shows, and 140 markets for the circus, can be both easy and challenging. The Ringling Bros. and Disney names carry 96-plus percent name recognition, according to Meyer. “It certainly helps to have iconic brands,” he said. Major markets are booked up to 10 years in advance, while some smaller areas need only be planned six months ahead.
At the same time, the shows face competition from in-home entertainment. In today’s technological age, families have access to more and more forms of entertainment without leaving the living room. But Meyer isn’t worried about “folks that are cocooning in their homes”: he said, “We provide the great escape from that, which is true live entertainment.” The reality of live performers, whether in human, animal or costumed-as-cartoons form, gives Feld productions what Meyer calls a “unique selling proposition.”
FELD ENTERTAINMENT has been based in Vienna since it began in 1967, when Irvin Feld purchased the Ringling Bros. circus. His son Kenneth Feld joined the company in 1970 and is now chairman and CEO. The family grew up in this area, Meyer said, and hasn’t left despite its more serious reputation: “it’s not exactly a hub of North American entertainment.” Employees use the technology to their benefit, embracing frequent travel – “I think everybody here in the office has grown to love and admire Dulles Airport and Reagan National Airport,” he said.
Meyer has been with the company for half of its existence, 21 years. “I originally wanted to get into the golf business, it was a great passion of mine,” he said. “As luck may have it, I saw an ad in the newspaper at a golf course with a few of my buddies.” He explained that the ad promoted an upcoming Ringling Bros. show, and inspired by his own ideas for marketing the show, he and his friends wrote down proposals on a bar napkin and mailed it to the circus venue. A few days later, he was being interviewed for a job.
“Over the years, I’ve seen such a great evolution of family entertainment in general, it’s just rocking and rolling and becoming part of the DNA” of the American family,” Meyer said.
The biggest change he cites in Feld Entertainment is growth. “There weren’t many family shows out there when I started in the business,” he said. “Our portfolio has grown dramatically.” Currently the company has three circus units, 11 ice shows and four stage shows. Meyer has a colleague who works to help expand the productions globally; the Disney shows already tour outside North America, and except for a brief foray into Japan. “We’re heading into Russia, India – a lot of the emerging markets,” Meyer said.
For now, Meyer has recommendations for the home market: more places to play. The red unit of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus just finished up a series of shows at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington and Fairfax’s Patriot Center. “I am fully convinced by the population base alone, and by the desire that we see, that another facility can be supported in this area,” Meyer said.
If another area facility is built, it wouldn’t be the first time that Feld Entertainment has made an impact on construction. Developers have consulted with Feld Entertainment in the past, asking for what traits the ideal venue would have. There’s even a nickname for roll-up doors of a certain height – they’re called elephant doors. And where there’s a door, Meyer works to open it for the elephants, the ice skating princesses and the dancing Pooh bears of Feld Entertainment.