CASE ASSIGNMENT: Cirque du Soleil
The Fire Within
A 27-foot-long bronze clown shoe is the only indication that there is something
otherworldly within the concrete walls of the large, rather nondescript building. Located in
Montreal, the building is home to what many feel is the most successful entertainment company
in the world—Cirque du Soleil. The company‘s massive headquarters houses practice rooms the
size of airplane hangars where cast members work on their routines. More than 300 seamstresses,
engineers, and makeup artists sew, design, and build custom materials for exotic shows with stage
lives of 10 to 12 years. In fact, the production staff often invents materials, such as the special
waterproof makeup required for the production of O, a show performed mostly in a 1.5 million-
gallon pool of water that was also specially designed and engineered by Cirque employees.
Another key in-house resource is Cirque‘s team of 32 talent scouts and casting staff that recruits
and cultivates performers from all over the world. The department maintains a database of 20,000
names, any of whom could be called at any time to join the members of Cirque‘s cast, who
number 2,700 and speak 27 languages.
Shows with exotic names like Mystère, La Nouba, O, Dralion, Varekai, and Zumanity
communicate through style and tone that they are intended to do more than just amuse. Cirque
designs productions with distinct personalities that are meant to evoke awe, wonder, inspiration,
and reflection. As one cast member put it, ―The goal of a Cirque performer is not just to perform a quadruple somersault, but to treat it as some manifestation of a spiritual, inner life. Like in
dance, the goal is . . . to have a language, a conversation, with the audience.
Audiences have responded. Even with ticket prices that start at $45 and can run as high as
$360, the company sells about 97 percent of all its seats at every show. For Cirque, that translates
to about $500,000 a week in sales and yearly profits of $100 million on gross revenues of $500
million. Incredibly, every one of the 15 shows that Cirque has produced over its 20-year history
has returned a profit. In contrast, 90 percent of the high-budget Broadway shows that strive to
reach the same target market fail to break even. Cirque‘s statistics, however, are eye-popping. Mystère, which opened at the Treasure Island hotel and casino in Las Vegas in 1993 and still runs
today, cost $45 million to produce and has returned over $430 million; O, which opened at the
Bellagio hotel and casino in 1998, cost $92 million to produce and has already returned over $480
million. Though the company splits about half of its profits with its hotel and casino partners,
those same partners sometimes absorb up to 75 percent of Cirque‘s production costs.
At the helm of this incredible business machine is the dynamic duo of Franco Dragone
and Daniel Lamarre. Dragone, a Belgian, is the creative force behind most of the company‘s nine
current productions, and Lamarre, a former television executive, presides over show and new
venture development. Together, they have transformed a one-tour, one-residence circus company
into an entertainment powerhouse with five simultaneous world tours; four permanent facilities in
Las Vegas—Treasure Island, the Bellagio, New York–New York, and the MGM Grand—all of
which are part of the Mirage family of casinos; another permanent theater at Disney World; and a
series of shows on the cable television channel Bravo that has already won an Emmy.
Lamarre claims that his business is successful because he and his staff ―let the creative people run it.‖ He guides the company with an invisible hand, making sure that business policies
do not interfere with the creative process; it is Dragone and his team of creative and production
personnel, not a predetermined budget, that defines the content, style, and material requirements
for each project. Because of their sound planning, Cirque du Soleil can claim that it is one of the
world‘s elite businesses, as well as one of the world‘s elite entertainment companies.
Sources: ―The Phantasmagoria Factory,‖ Business 2.0, January/February 2004, 103; Christopher J. Chipello, ―Cirque du Soleil Seeks Partnerships to Create Entertainment Centers,‖ WSJ.com, July 18, 2001; Steve Friess, ―Cirque Dreams Big,‖ Newsweek, July 14, 2003, 42; ―Bravo Announces Programming Alliance with Cirque du Soleil; Original Series,
Specials, and Documentaries to Air on Bravo, ‗The Official U.S. Network of Cirque du Soleil,‘‖ Business Wire, June
19, 2000; ―Inhibitions Take the Night Off for International Gala Premiere of ZUMANITY?; Another Side of Cirque
du Soleil? at New York–New York Hotel and Casino,‖ PR Newswire, September 21, 2003; Laura Del Rosso, ―‗O‘ Dazzles with Air, Underground Acrobatics,‖ Travel Weekly, August 5, 2002; Gigi Berardi, ―Circus + Dance = Cirque
du Soleil,‖ Dance Magazine, September 2002.
Things to consider while reading the case…
1. Think about the SWOT analysis for Cirque du Soleil.
2. What are the keys to Cirque du Soleil‘s competitive advantage.
3. How does Cirque du Soleil implement, evaluate, and control the elements of its
4. What kind of competitive advantage best describes the one built by Cirque du Soleil?
5. How do market penetration, market development, product development, and
diversification apply to Cirque du Soleil?
6. Can you describe Cirque du Soleil‘s marketing mix?