TAMPA — Sandwiching two performances of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus around the annual Gasparilla Pirate Invasion on Jan. 28 sounds akin to an old clown car routine involving parade-goers and circus fans.
But officials with Amalie Arena and Feld Entertainment are confident downtown Tampa can successfully handle the influx of traffic next month.
The Ringling Bros. Circus traditionally begins its annual tour in the Amalie Arena during the first week of January. However, with Tampa hosting the College Football Playoff National Championship game on Jan. 9, representatives of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and the Amalie Arena convened with executives from Feld Entertainment, the circus' parent company, to explore other possibilities.
With a variety of events surrounding the championship game scheduled for Curtis Hixon Park, the Tampa Convention Center and the arena, a date change seemed logical.
"The National Championship Game spurred the conversation because the reality is with things going on in Curtis Hixon, it could have impacted every day of the circus given the traffic and all the people that are going to be downtown," said Kevin Preast, Amalie Arena senior vice president of event management.
"With Gasparilla, it's only one day. From a circus-going experience for users as well as for police and the city, separating them out made a lot of sense."
Changing the dates also allows Amalie Arena to host a championship game media day on Jan. 7 and a media party on Jan. 8.
So now the circus will kick off its five-day run Jan. 25 and conclude on Jan. 29. The shows on Jan. 28, the day of the invasion, will be staged at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
"We know this is big for the city and the folks at the Lightning are going to be a part of it," said Bill Powell, Feld vice president of event marketing and sales, southern region. "They asked us if we could move to make sure our customers could be accommodated.
"We really don't have any concerns about it."
Officials are confident that the Saturday times will minimize traffic conflicts, and they draw that confidence from past experience.
Earlier this year, the Amalie Arena hosted Throwdown By The Bay after the parade with country acts Little Big Town and Chris Stapleton and reported no major problems. In 2015, fans flocked to downtown for the parade, a 1 p.m. performance of The Book of Mormon at the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and a sold-out Lightning game that night.
Again, no major problems. Ditto for 2014 with the parade and a Lightning game.
"Most of the Gasparilla parade traffic usually clears out between 4:30 and 5:30," Preast said. "We open the gates for a concert or a Lightning game at 6 or 6:30. We didn't have any ingress issues last year."
Preast said the schedule change does create a couple of potential advantages for the circus. One, it allows the circus to move away from the holidays and possibly draw greater interest. Two, it gives the circus a chance to try a Friday morning "school show," which can be attended by preschoolers and children who are home schooled.
In many years, area public and private schools were still on winter break in the first week of January.
It also gives the circus a chance to capitalize on the Gasparilla frenzy. Asked if pirates will be incorporated into the show, Powell said, "We may have some surprises. You never know."
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