Corporate Park News
---- THE LATEST INDUSTRY NEWS ----
(9/24/21) Disney's Ever Increasing Prices May Continue As Part of New Pricing Strategy (MORE...)
(9/8/21) Cedar Fair - Post-Labor Day Results Report (MORE...)
(9/4/21) Premier Parks Adds Two Former Six Flags Execs To Their Leadership Team (MORE...)
(8/31/21) Merlin - Katapult Designs New Planet Legoland Experience For Eight Parks (MORE...)
(8/28/21) Six Flags Removes Huge Perk From 2022 Season Passes
(8/28/21) Merlin Breaks Ground on Massive Legoland Shenzhen Resort (MORE...)
Cedar Fair - (9/8/21) According to a statement from Cedar Fair, the chain’s theme parks have seen “ strong attendance and guest spending trends had continued across its portfolio of 13 properties through the 2021 Labor Day weekend, while strong initial sales of 2022 season passes offer early indications that market demand remains high for immersive, outdoor entertainment experiences.”
According to CEO, Richard Zimmerman, “The strength and resilience of our business model has quickly propelled operations back to near-historical levels over the last 10 weeks.”
Compared to the dismal 2020 numbers for this time period that caused many parks to have limited operations or stay closed entirely, Cedar Fair saw overall attendance through Labor Day 2021 hit 12.9 million visits (up from 2.1m), in-park per capita spending his $60.99 (up from $45.43), and out-of-park revenues of $122 million (up from $42 million).
Click here to read more details from the press release.
(8/5/21) Cedar Fair has posted details from their Q2 2021 earnings report this week. So far they report ‘strong attendance and guest spending trends through July’, with most parks said to be operating at full capacity. Follow the link to read deeper into the details.
(6/30/21) Is Cedar Fair thinking of moving their corporate headquarters? Numerous trade publications have mentioned how Cedar Fair’s current CEO, Richard Zimmerman, works most days out of a Cedar Fair satellite office somewhere in Charlotte, as he has a home in the greater Charlotte area. A number of other corporate staffers also work out of this offer, which has caused the business trade publications to note this as a slow migration of staff from the current Sandusky, Ohio HQ to this Charlotte, NC office space.
This wouldn’t be the first time Charlotte was selected to serve as the corporate home for a theme park chain, as the former Paramount Parks chain kept their own corporate HQ in Charlotte, which is home to one of the former Paramount Parks, Carowinds. Why Charlotte? It’s a business kind of town that has served as primary office and HQ locations for several large banks over the years, as well as being a transportation hub for American Airlines, and a primary hub for US Airways for many years before American merged with US Airways.
Of course the region is also the current home location for Screamscape as well, and I had the pleasure to visit the Paramount Parks HQ in early 2006, just as I was moving to the area. By strange coincidence, the Viacom corporate overlords had just announced their intention to sell off the Paramount chain of parks not just before my visit, causing me to speculate during my visit that a purchase by Cedar Fair made the most sense to me at the time, not knowing how right I was.
While no actual location was given for the current Cedar Fair satellite office in Charlotte, I do have to wonder if it exists in the same location as the former Paramount Parks office. As Cedar Fair is a much bigger chain than they were before when the company’s primary focus was on the Sandusky, Ohio area, so moving their HQ to Charlotte does come with a whole list of positives as Cedar Fair continues to grow.
(5/7/21) Cedar Fair has announced that they will invest about $100 million into their theme parks over 2021, as they expect to see a lot of “pent-up” demand for theme parks in 2021. According to the rough breakdown, about a third of the money will got to finishing up various 2020 projects that were not completed due to COVID-19, another third will go to various internal improvements and infrastructure projects. The final third will actually go towards starting new projects in the works for the 2022 season.
Compagnie des Alpes- (4/30/21) BlooLoop has posted a new update about the ongoing evolution of Compagnie des Alpes from an interview with CDA’s Director of Leisure Parks, Francois Fassier. Fassier speaks about how they are growing the company’s theme parks into more resort like experiences by adding hotels to increase the number of days guests visit and more. At Parc Asterix for example, attendance has been quickly rising, from 1.7 million guests in 2014 to 2.4 million in 2019. The Parc Asterix resort currently features three hotels and has plans for a fourth hotel in the parks, as well as looking into ways to add a second gate in the future.
The article is a great read and clues you into a lott of future expansion plans for virtually all of the CDA parks!
Disney - (9/24/21) Do you think Disney endless stream of increasing prices will hit a ceiling soon? Like the new report on USA Today says, don’t count on it. While those of us with either a little common sense or who live on a more modest budget have been barking on social media for months now about what seems like an endless stream of new expensive prices for Disney experiences, these same items have been selling out in record time!
Keep in mind this is all happening during the ongoing pandemic, when most international visitors are still banned from reaching Walt Disney World, and yet the new high priced lunch and dinner experience at Epcot in Space 220 has already booked up all the reservation slots for the next 60 days. Disney’s after hours Halloween and Christmas party events are also selling out in record time with higher than ever prices, all while offering a little less time and perks in the parks. The telling day will be when Disney open reservations for the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser and we see if those reservations also vanish faster than Frog Lady’s eggs down Grogu’s hungry pie-hole.
As the article points out, you can mix this with the new higher annual pass prices, and a likely hefty daily ticket price increase as soon as Disney gets around to it, as the new Disney model seems to be re-shaping their theme park experience as a premium priced product, where they will be ok to have a few less visitors if they ones they have are all paying more than ever before.
(8/1/21) Just a quick update, but in addition to face masks now being required indoor at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks, upon visiting a mall yesterday I noted that The Disney Stores have also seem to have been looped into the new face mask mandate for all employees and shoppers. While COVID mask rules vary from location to location, state to state, I was actually surprised to see this, as they appeared to be the only retail location in the mall requiring masks. I’m not going to name the mall, but this was in North Carolina.
Fortunately they had a cast member stationed at the entrance to provide free masks to everyone, which was great, as the majority of shoppers in our region had abandoned mask wearing several months prior.
On a second note, and the reason we were at the mall in the first place, for the first time since the pandemic began, we returned to the movie theater to watch Disney’s latest creation, Jungle Cruise. If Disney was hoping to create a new film franchise to take the place of the seemingly retired Pirates film series, then I think they did exactly just that. Jungle Cruise is a great adventure film with just the right amounts of action, comedy, thrills and elements of the supernatural to make for a fantastic voyage. Normally when I see a movie like this, I’d say that it was deserving of having a theme park attraction. The problem is, Jungle Cruise is already a theme park attraction, so perhaps they need to look into expanding the concepts of the movie to create a whole land inspired by the IP instead.
While nothing has been announced, I’d be highly surprised if we don’t hear news about a sequel being put into works in the not too distant future, and I’m good with that, as I’d cruise with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson anytime. Little easter egg nods to the film have already been deposited into the Disneyland attraction’s queue, and the film does create an interesting new take on the “Trader Sam” character that I’d love to see more of as well.
(7/30/21) In perhaps a bit of a surprise, The Walt Disney Company has also mandated that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the US now must be “fully vaccinated” and that they will have the next 60 days to fall into compliance with the new corporate policy. Disney has also begun talks with their unions to get the change put into effect for those Cast Members as well. All new hires must also be fully vaccinated before they can start their new positions, and staff working from home must also get fully vaccinated before they can return to on-site work.
It’s no surprise that this comes into play after Disney had to put face mask rules back into effect that their US theme parks today only weeks after rolling back the mask mandates in Florida and California theme parks. The rise of the new Delta COVID variant serves as a wake-up call that stronger action is needed before they let the company slip back to the point that they could be forced to close the parks once again.
Disney isn't’ alone in this action either, as reports have gone out that Google, Facebook and even Walmart are putting new vaccination policies into effect for members of their staff.
(7/17/21) Disney Park’s Chairman, Josh D’Amaro, announced the other day that they were moving forward with a plan to open a new Disney work campus in the Lake Nona area of Orlando (located just South-East of Orlando’s airport). The plan will see roughly 2,000 jobs moved to the new Florida campus from Disney’s “Parks, Experiences and Products division”, including a number of Imagineering cast members. Many of these employees will be existing staff from Southern California who will be given the offer to relocate to Florida, provided their job isn’t dedicated to servicing just the Disneyland Resort only.
On the business side of things, they mention Florida’s more business-friendly climate (something that I’m sure came to light after California went on the nation’s most strict lockdown orders, plus the ability to “consolidate our teams and be more collaborative and impactful both from a creative and operational standpoint.” What hasn’t been mentioned is the likelihood that Disney will also be filling these positions at a cheaper pay-scale than what they are now paying for staff in California due to the state’s cheaper cost of living, plus no state taxes on income.
It is worth mentioning that each year more and more companies involved in the theme park business have been opening new offices in the Orlando area, even if they are just sales offices. With the annual IAAPA convention now effectively locked down to take place in Orlando each year for the foreseeable future, and the location’s global reputation as the theme park capital of the world, it does just make sense to locate more staff in Florida.
As a side thought, it does make me wonder if we’ll see Disney ramp up their efforts regarding the construction of new attractions and experiences in Florida going forward. With Universal Orlando moving ahead with their own new theme park project, many have wondered if Disney may be thinking of adding a fifth major park of their own. While I don’t believe this is the case just yet, as Disney seems focused on upgrading their existing parks currently, I do think this could be something they might consider as a more long-term concept plan.
(6/27/21) Disney has been known to make feature films based on their theme park attractions in the past. They’ve got five blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean theme films to prove it. Despite the runaway success of the Pirates films over the years, they’ve also put out a good assortment of box-office bombs that either failed to find an audience, or were identified as being so sketchy, they just released them straight to video or on broadcast TV. Past bombs would include The Country Bears (2002), The Haunted Mansion (2003 with Eddie Murphy) and Tower of Terror (1997 starting Steve Guttenburg).
Most of the bombs were before the Pirates era and now Disney is banking on Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt to headline their new blockbuster based on The Jungle Cruise, which is set to hit theaters in late July. While i’m sure Disney is hoping The Jungle Cruise will evolve into a multi-chapter franchise for them, they’re already moving ahead with another interesting project. According to the trades, Disney and Scarlett Johansson are working together to bring the Tower of Terror to life one more time. It’s isn’t known is ScarJo is going to star in the film or not, as currently she is attached in a producing role.
The concept is interesting, as technically The Tower of Terror is a story concept Disney Imagineers made up to be told as part of the “Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror” attraction that opened in Walt Disney World in 1994. As the “Tower of Terror” was really never a story told in the various Twilight Zone TV series or the feature film, Disney can feel free to use whatever part of the Tower of Terror mythos they want, as long as they do it free from any mention of the Twilight Zone brand.
Keep in mind Disney has more ideas kicking around in the vault as well, as it was mentioned in late 2020 that they were looking to use Space Mountain as the theme for another film concept. Back in 2010 Disney had also entered into talks with the legendary Guillermo del Toro to write and produce a new film themed around The Haunted Mansion, but unfortunately this went nowhere. The project lingered in development hell for the next decade and saw del Toro drop out to do other projects, but according to new reports Disney was said to have hired Justin Simien to serve as Director in April 2021 so perhaps there is hope yet for this one. Simien is currently involved as a Writer/Producer for Disney’s Star Wars: Lando mini-series coming to Disney+.
(6/19/21) As for June 17th, with the reopening of Disneyland Paris and the Walt Disney Studios Paris theme parks, that marked the first time that every Disney theme park across the globe was open once again at the same time. Over the past 17 months, starting with the closure of Shanghai Disneyland on January 25, 2020, the various Disney parks around the globe have been in the process of shutting down and slowly reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the planet. Follow the link to see a quick history and rundown of how this has affected the Disney parks over the past 17 months, as various parks and resorts would open and then later close again, in a new article posted to the OC Register.
And while congratulations are in order to Disney for getting this done, I feel we must place a small asterisk (*) on this achievement, as there is still one small Disney park that has yet to reopen. Typhoon Lagoon, one of the theme park giant’s waterparks in Walt Disney World, is still closed. To be fair, Typhoon Lagoon closed for winter rehab on January 5, 2020, about two and a half months before the rest of Walt Disney World shut down due to COVID in late March. And while Walt Disney World reopened the Blizzard Beach waterpark earlier this year, they have yet to reopen Typhoon Lagoon, making it the longest closed Disney park of them all, currently closed 531 days and counting.
Herschend Family Entertainment - (4/17/21) Herschend made major headlines earlier this year when it was announced that they were adding Kentucky Kingdom into their small theme park chain and now Herschend is making headlines again. In addition to a small group of theme parks, Herschend is also known for owning a small collection of major aquariums which has now added the famous Vancouver Aquarium to that list as of this week.
This is great news for the Vancouver Aquarium who was forced to shut their doors in September 2020 after the impact of COVID-19 had just caused the former owners to financially bleed out to the point that they could no longer operate. Herschend now has 100% ownership of the attraction, but will keep existing Vancouver Aquarium CEO, Clint Wright, on to oversee the operations of the Aquarium as well as their Marine Mammal Rescue Center.
According to the statement from the Vancouver Aquarium, they are already working on their plan to safely reopen the Aquarium. Other Aquariums under the Herschend banner include Adventure Aquarium (New Jersey) and Newport Aquarium (Kentucky).
Merlin Entertainment - (8/31/21) Katapult has designed a new PLANET LEGOLAND experience that will premier at 8 different LEGOLAND theme parks across the world in a collaboration with The LEGO Group and Merlin Entertainment. You can now experience the PLANET LEGOLAND immersive experience at LEGOLAND theme parks in Windsor, Billund, Germany, California, Florida, Malaysia, Japan and the new LEGOLAND New York. Guests are invited to build their own LEGOLAND theme park creations and then attach them to a giant two-meter LEGO globe at the center of the exhibit.
(8/28/21) According to the latest news update, Merlin has broken ground and started construction for the new Legoland Shenzhen Resort, set to become the world’s largest Legoland Resort project. This unique new Legoland theme park will feature both indoor and outdoor play sections to the park, including the first indoor Miniland, the world’s largest Legoland theme waterpark, over 100 interactive rides, shows and attractions as well as three Lego themed resort hotels.
Some extra concept art, maps and a few aerial photos of the site can also be seen over at ThemeparX this week.
(8/2/21) According to a local news report, the Madame Tussauds location in Washington DC is now expected to be closed for good. Officially and according to the website the closure is listed as temporary, but behind the scenes the attraction is apparently working with a real estate broker to sublease the space that it has occupied for nearly 15 years. According to the report Merlin Entertainment has not been willing make any comments about it.
(7/24/21) Madame Tussauds has teamed up with Marvel to open a new experience called “Marvel Universe 4D”. The new 4D Theater experience can currently be found at the Madame Tussauds locations in New York and Las Vegas. This isn’t the first partnership between Marvel and Madame Tussauds, as I believe the London location opened a “Marvel Super Heroes 4D” attraction back in 2010, and I believe a different version of the “Marvel Super Heroes 4D” opened opened in the New York location in 2013 for a time, which should be different than the new film now showing in the US locations.
(6/19/21) Merlin has announced plans to open a brand new Madame Tussauds wax figure museum in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest in early 2022. In addition to the expected list of international figures and celebrities to be represented inside, the attraction will also feature of number of Hungarian celebrities, musicians, athletes and historical figures.
(3/2/21) While Merlin may have announced their “exclusive” and “multi-territory” deal with Hasbro to create the Peppa Pig park at Legoland Florida, I have to make a few major corrections that are entirely my fault. Merlin has already created Peppa Pig themed kiddie lands inside two of their existing theme parks, namely Gardaland in Italy and Heide Park in Germany. The rights seem to be entirely with Paultons Paul in the UK for the time being, but Paultons Park has had their own Peppa Pig World area for longer than 2018. I also incorrectly stated that they opened it in 2018, but this was actually an expansion to Peppa Pig World that Paultons opened in 2018. The Peppa Pig World at Paultons actually opened way back in 2011, so it is turning 10 years old this year.
Merlin has also created four small stand-alone indoor Peppa Pig World of Play attractions: one in Shanghai, China and three in the US in Texas, Illinois and Mighican.
(2/28/21 / Corrections Made 3/2/21) After the announcement of a separate admission gate Peppa Pig park at Legoland Florida, this got me wondering how long it will be before we see more Peppa Pig themed parks and attractions at the Merlin owned parks. After all, most park chains don’t sign a licensing deal with a big company like Hasbro just to only build one thing. Fortunately Merlin provided some exact verbiage in their press release regarding their deal with Hasbro.
“Merlin Entertainments, a global leader in location based entertainment with brands including LEGOLAND, Madame Tussauds and SEA LIFE® Aquariums, has an exclusive multi-territory licensing agreement with Hasbro, owner of the Peppa Pig brand, to build and operate the Peppa Pig attractions, targeted at the preschool market, as part of its broader strategy to engage in partnerships with some of the world’s most popular brands.”
So the two key words you must remember from that are “exclusive” and “multi-territory”, which also help explain why you will find an existing Peppa Pig World kiddie land in the UK at Paultons Park, which is not part of the Merlin chain of parks. Paultons opened their very own Peppa Pig World kiddie land in 2011 after signing their own licensing deal with Entertainment One, a Canadian entertainment company whose Family Brands division was in charge of Peppa Pig along with PJ Masks.
Entertainment One was later purchased entirely by Hasbro in December 2019, giving Hasbro the ownership of Peppa Pig, but it has also kept “eOne” to serve as a production subdivision for Hasbro to promote and put into production some of the IP’s that Hasbro owns such as Transformers, Power Rangers, My Little Pony, Nerf and many others.
This brings us back to the Merlin deal with Hasbro for Peppa Pig that is “exclusive”, but is not global, rather it is “multi-territory”. While I don’t know the terms of Paultons deal with eOne, typically if you are a theme park planning to build an entire land themed around an IP, you would sign a regional IP deal for at least 10-years up front and one or two renewal extension clauses built in to that deal for at least another 10-years each beyond the first 10-years if Paultons deems it worth-while to pay more to keep the IPs. If you are a very savvy company, you may have even scored an IP deal that could allow you to endlessly renew your rights to use the property in your park as long as you are willing to pay for it. My favorite example of this kind of deal would be the one Universal Orlando signed with Marvel to use their characters at the Islands of Adventure theme park in Marvel Super Hero Island. It has been years since Disney purchased Marvel and they still have a great number of limitations of what they can do with it in their theme parks due to this pre-existing deal with Universal Orlando.
While we don’t know how exclusive a deal Paultons Park signed with eOne, there is a good chance that Merlin may not be able to use Peppa Pig at any of their UK attractions for quite some time. Beyond the UK however, Merlin has already added Peppa Pig lands at Heide Park in Germany and Gardaland in Italy. I would imagine Merlin may already be planning on more new locations where possible.
Miral - (3/27/21) According to a local news article Miral’s Abu Dhabi’s theme parks (Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros World) will soon adopt a complete contact-free solution for the parks that will use face recognition technology. Miral has called the launch of this new tech at their theme parks as “FacePass” and that will be start at the theme parks and then roll out to other locations in the area as FacePass will not only be used as a form of admission, but also as a contact-free payment technology for guests who opt in to use the program.
Parks and Resorts Scandinavia - (3/14/21) I missed this announcement previously, but according to this press release, AMF, a pension company, has invested SEK 400 million into the Parks and Resorts Scandinavia company back in December 2020. Parks and Resorts Scandinavia are the owners of Grona Lund, Skara Sommarland, Kolmarden and Furuvik.
Parque Reunidos & Palace Entertainment - (8/19/21) Palace Entertainment, the US arm of Parque Reunidos (Spain) has reached an agreement to sell the famous Miami Seaquarium to “The Dolphin Company”, an attraction operator based in Mexico. The Dolphin Company is said to be the largest park operator in Latin America, with over 30 attractions in 8 different counties and 25 years of experience with a variety of marine animal attractions. Their collection of attractions includes two traditional theme parks (Aquaventuras Park in Mexico and Zoomarine in Italy), a ton of nature habitat parks with a focus on marine life, a collection of water parks, adventure parks and aquatic tour attractions and more. You can learn more by visiting their official website, where it sounds like the Miami Seaquarium will be right at home.
Premier Parks - (9/4/21) Premier Parks has announced they’ve added a couple of names to their leadership team. According to the press release Premier Parks has hired Les Hudson as the their Exec. Vice President of Design and Planning after about three decades of experience with Six Flags.
Tom Iven has also joined Premier as Exec. Vice President of Business Development. That last name should sound familiar, as Tim Iven had just made headlines last month for leaving his new post at SeaWorld Entertainment after just 40 days. Iven had joined SeaWorld after a lengthy career at Six Flags, and had gained a reputation internally as the corporate “axe man” when it came to budgets.
Premier Parks Chairman and CEO, Kieran Burke, has previously worked with both gentlemen earlier in his career at the helm of Six Flags. The pair are joining the current Premier Parks Executive team, which is rounded up by an assortment of other previous Six Flags staff members. According to Burke, Premier Parks is looking to expand their “domestic and international portfolio by way of acquisition and management of properties.” Through ownership and management contracts, Premier’s current portfolio of 13 properties includes several waterparks around the US, along with the Wild Waves, Pacific Park, Elitch Gardens, and Magic Springs theme parks and City Museum in St. Louis.
Puy du Fou - (5/22/21) According to an article posted at BlooLoop, Puy du Fou is working on the launch of a new $76 million Euro ($92.5 million US) show called SAGA that is planned to open in Shanghai in 2022. Saga Shanghai will be located at the Everbright Convention center and feature the world of Shanghai from the 1930s with a new immersive experience.
In the meantime, Puy du Fou is also working on plans to build a new Puy du Fou theme park in China.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment - (8/16/21) Earlier this month I sent out a warning claiming that SeaWorld’s new COO, Tom Iven, was about to live up to his previous reputation from his Six Flags days as the ‘axeman’, and start a series of budget cuts and possible layoffs within the SeaWorld parks. Before this could come to pass, this story took a drastic twist when it was suddenly announced a few days ago that Tom Iven was now resigning from his position at SeaWorld Entertainment after only about 40-days on the job. The reason for leaving was simply stated as being for “personal reasons”, but we’ve heard this song and dance many times before the days of COVID when a long-string of executives (including new CEOs) and various park GMs began to leave the company for similar “personal reasons”. Before long it became known that many of these previous departures were taking place due to disagreements with the Board of Directors, including Chairman Scott Ross, possibly coming down to comments that suggested the board was simply micromanaging things to the point that the people being hired felt they were unable to do the jobs they were hired to do.
In May 2021, SEAS did announce the appointment of yet another CEO in the form of Marc Swanson, who had previously served as interim CEO after previous hires (Sergio Rivera and Gustavo Antorcha) had each opted to jump ship after only 5-7 months on the job. While the jury is still out on how long Swanson may stay in the top seat, we’ve also heard this may have also been another reason for Iven’s sudden departure.
(8/7/21) SeaWorld Entertainment released performance information from Q2 2021 this week, and shows that their park performance had almost returned to normal pre-pandemic levels. Attendance in Q2 2021 for the chain was 5.8 million guests, down 700,000 from the Q2 2019 where attendance was 6.5 million. But compared to Q2 2020, attendance was up 5.5 million because the parks were mostly shut-down during this time-frame.
While attendance in 2021 is still a little down from 2019 levels, the chain reports that overall revenue is up 8.3% for the same time-frame. Guest spending is also up, driving this revenue increase, with per-cap spending up 22.7% and admission revenue up 18.8% when compared to 2019 levels. This seems to paint a clear picture that there is a clear demand for the SeaWorld parks product and guests along with a pent-up demand for theme park entertainment from the public after spending much of 2020 in a lock-down state and unable to visit most theme parks. With an expanded Howl-O-Scream offering coming this fall, bringing the event to SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando for the first time, the future for the parks is looking bright.
So I’m hoping that rumor about potential budget cuts and a wave of layoffs may be proven wrong in light of this latest performance report. Or at least if the market responds kindly to the news and the stock-price rises.
(8/5/21) Consider this fair warning, but a little bird has informed us that rough seas may be ahead for SeaWorld Entertainment team members. As we approach the end of the 2021 Summer season, word is that the new COO, Tom Iven, that SEAS hired away from Six Flags may be behind an all new series of staff layoffs, budget cuts and cuts to future capital expansion projects.
Unfortunately I don’t know when the axe is going to fall, only that the corporate office has now begun to sharpen it ahead of the upcoming culling. Stay tuned!
(6/29/21) SeaWorld Entertainment has appointed Tom Iven, formerly a VP of Park Operations for Six Flags, as the chain’s new Chief Operating Officer.
"We are excited to have Tom join the SeaWorld team as we continue to drive the business forward and emerge an even stronger company post COVID-19," said Marc Swanson, Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. "Tom brings significant theme park operating experience and a long, successful operating track record. I am confident he will make immediate contributions as we continue to execute on our strategic plans to realize the full, long-term potential of the company," continued Swanson.
SeaWorld Enterainment’s former COO, Walter Bogumil, is said to have been terminated as of June 27, 2021. No reason was given for Bogumil’s termination.
(5/26/21) According to statements issued by SeaWorld’s CEO Marc Swanson, the company is now looking to build hotels and add more new rides to their parks. After a long period of focus, and perhaps from watching smaller properties like the Legoland parks successfully launch their own resort hotels, the company is now focused on finding a way to execute plans to bring resort hotels to their US parks.
While they haven’t opened most of their latest batch of attractions, Swanson confirmed that the company’s goal is to be able to offer new rides and new attractions at every park, every year. “We have some things that we can’t obviously announce right now, but I think people will be excited when they see the future plans for not only our Florida parks, but really our parks all across the country.”
(5/6/21) According to a press release from SeaWorld Entertainment earlier today, interim CEO Marc Swanson has been officially appointed as the official CEO of the company effective immediately after having served as the interim CEO for the past year. Other company appointments include naming Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy as CFO and Treasurer, and like Marc Swanson, she was also serving in the same position as interim CFO and Treasurer for the past year prior to this.
In other news, the company released their Q1 2021 report this morning, and you can follow this link to read the details. Highlights include a reported attendance of 2.2 million guests in Q1 2021, which is actually only down 4.5% from Q1 2020, which isn’t that bad all things considered, but attendance this quarter compared with Q1 2019 however was down 1.1 million guests (33.7%).
Total revenue reported for Q1 2021 was $171.9 million which is actually up $18.4 million from Q1 2020, with total revenue per capita reported as up 17.2% compared to the same quarter in 2020. Admission per cap increased 10.8% and in-park per cap spending increased 26.4% compared to Q1 2020.
(9/23/20) Is SeaWorld just swirling around the inevitable drain of a bankruptcy filing? On Monday a pretty telling opinion piece on the possible future of SeaWorld was posted to SeekingAlpha by the “Bears of Wall Street”, claiming that SeaWorld was likely on the path to bankruptcy.
It is no secret that the theme park chain has been on unsteady ground since the whole Blackfish documentary came out in Summer 2013. Meanwhile over fiscal year 2018 and 2019 we finally saw the company crawling back to decent performance levels once again, despite a good amount of bad press about struggles between the board-room and the corporate leaders, causing many experienced execs and freshly tapped CEOs to resign and leave the company. Now rocked to the core by the COVID-19 pandemic, SeaWorld along with all fellow theme parks, are now struggling and trying to survive.
The bottom line of the Bear’s article to potential investors is to “Avoid, Avoid, Avoid” as the company is growing a huge debt level that will be difficult to pay off, especially in light that they are burning through cash daily. One line in particular also stood out to me, claiming that “ the latest private debt placement that SeaWorld executed is likely going to be used by debt lenders to take some portion of its assets during bankruptcy hearings. After all, the company is in a distressed state, and some parts of its assets, such as real estate, have more value on their own than under the roof of SeaWorld.”
Prior to the Pandemic closing the parks, there has also been a lot of speculation about the future of the theme park chain and what direction it will be, led by the company’s primary investor, Hill Path Capital, who’s CEO (Scott Ross) is also SeaWorld’s Chairman of the Board. Currently Hill Path Capital now owns roughly 34.8% of SEAS with over 27 million shares. At this point Ross is clearly driving the bus… but unfortunately no one seems to know just what his final destination will be and if all the parks will still be part of the chain by the time they get there.
Six Flags - (8/28/21) A quick word of warning to readers out there seeking to take advantage of an early renewal deal for the Six Flags Season Passes for the 2022 season. Six Flags has been sending out emails promoting a good deal to renew these passes now, but with a pretty dramatic change hidden in the fine print.
For decades now, as long as I can remember, one particular feature of the Six Flags Season Passes made them stand out as being fairly unique in the theme park world. In addition to their fairly low cost, a Six Flags Season Pass was also valid for visits to all other Six Flags Theme Parks, and not just the one you purchased it at. Starting with the 2022 Season Passes, this benefit has been dropped and your 2022 Season Passes will now only be good at the park you purchased them from.
This is being seen as a way to drive more traditional Season Passholders towards the Six Flags Membership program, where you get locked into a set term with monthly subscription fees to be paid, with various pricing options available depending on which benefits package you might want. And unlike the 2022 Season Pass program, Six Flags Memberships will include the ability to visit every Six Flags parks still.
While not every Season Passholder has a reason to worry about the loss of this perk, depending on their local market and travel habits, for those in select areas where it was easy to visit several different Six Flags theme parks each year, the loss is sure to be missed. And for those with 2021 Season Passes that were planning to visit other parks later this year, another word of warning, you wont want to upgrade to the 2022 pass until your travels to other parks are over. Based on the current verbiage, it seems that once you take the renewal deal, your pass is immediately upgraded to the 2022 version, complete with the loss of the ability to visit other parks for the remainder of 2021 season.
(7/17/21) Staffing has been troublesome for theme parks this summer and now Six Flags is taking extra steps to retain the employees they have and bring in even more through to Halloween with a newly announced employee bonus program. According to the news report, the new program could provide a new bonus from $500 - $1000 along with a 10% increase in pay from now through September and 15% for hours worked in October.
(6/13/21) A couple of years ago you may recall hearing about an interesting lawsuit against Six Flags Great America over the use of fingerprint based biometric scanners in the park. Apparently the use of the scanners between 2013 and 2018 was found to be in violation of an Illinois state law that requires companies in the state to obtain and keep a record of customer permission before using certain biometric devices to identify customers.
According to the local news, Six Flags has now opted for a $36 million settlement to the class-action lawsuit in the state. As such, passholders who used the system at Six Flags Great America theme park between late 2013 and 2018 may be granted payments upwards of $200 each.
(4/30/21) Six Flags reported revenue of $82 million and 1.3 million in attendance at their theme parks for Q1 2021. As you expect, due to the start of COVID shutdfowns in March 2020, the 2021 attendance figures are actually down due to ongoing restrictions and capacity limitations in many areas, as well as having less operating days. You can read up on the official numbers and details here.
(1/2/21) A new rumor has leaked my way regarding planned 2021 budget cut measures for Six Flags chainwide. This ties in to the previous confirmed report from the corporate office that they were planning on removing 15 attractions, chainwide, before the start of the 2021 season. As this works out to one attraction per park in the chain, we’ve then begun some speculation and rumors about which rides may be removed from some of the parks.
If the latest rumor is true however, it may be much more difficult to tell which rides are being retired until the parks actually open, and even then it may still not be clear. Since it sounds like Six Flags’ plan was to retire rides that were not worth saving due to high operational costs, high maintenance costs, or low guest satisfaction numbers, it is unlikely that all of these rides will make it out into the used ride marketplace, with many to be scrapped or used as spare parts elsewhere in the chain.
Scrapping a big ride however isn't free, and since Six Flags is looking to cut expenses wherever possible, the unfortunate result is that these rides may be left standing, but not operating (SBNO) in their respective parks for all of 2021. Making the issue even more confusing is a second rumor claiming that Six Flags may opt to not run select rides at each park until they approach peak Summer season and get an idea of how 2021 will play out for each market.
For some of you out there, this may be nothing new, as select Six Flags parks in the chain have been known to leave a number of their rides closed early in the season anyway under the guise of just having not finished off season maintenance or not running them due to colder weather. It just sounds like this unpleasant practice may spread chain-wide for 2021, so just something to keep an eye out for.
(11/1/20) While going through the Six Flags Q3 2020 earnings report, about three quarters of the way through some interesting comments came up that I missed before regarding the chain’s efforts to reduce operating costs going forward that don’t involve staff cuts.
“... we are reviewing each operating cost with a fine toothcomb to eliminate excess. For example, we are eliminating two of our satellite offices and modifying our T&E policies to lower our corporate expenditures. A large portion of our non-headcount operating cost reductions will involve leveraging the scale of Six Flags as a whole, to centralize procurement, consolidate vendors and renegotiate contracts. As we go through this process, we are leaving no stone unturned, examining light items, as small as our lettuce expense, which serves as an interesting example. If we standardize that one order and by just one kind of lettuce, we will save $40,000 per year. We have hundreds of goods, where this concept would apply, from napkins to paint, to chlorine, to uniforms.”
Now here comes the really interesting part. “In addition, optimizing our rides will save us enough capex to fund a new ride every single year. Our park Presidents, engineers and maintenance teams have studied the performance of each and every ride, calculating the cost against the ride's throughput productivity. We now know which rides to redeploy across parks, which rides need to be refurbished, and which can be removed entirely. We are eliminating 15 underperforming rides this year, reducing maintenance costs, and freeing up significant capex resources.”
So in addition to settling on a list of well performing, cost-effective rides that they can clone throughout the chain, Six Flags will be removing “15 underperforming rides this year”, that they’ve determined to have high enough maintenance costs and issues that removing them will free up funds to allow for “significant” CapEx spending.
No rides were named of course, but Six Flags does have some rides that are well known for suffering frequent downtime issues, or those that are extremely costly to maintain. Now I’m not sure if the list of 15 rides to be removed includes attractions at the waterparks, but as maintenance at waterparks is usually fairly low-cost when compared to big iron rides, I have a feeling this list will be focused on the big rides. Six Flags currently has 12 Six Flags branded parks in North America, plus La Ronde, The Great Escape and Frontier City, for a total of 15 amusement parks. With that in mind I can only guess that each Six Flags park has been asked to sacrifice one of their rides before the 2021 season starts.
With that in mind, I’m sure the fans of just about every park in the chain can probably narrow down the list at least park to two or three rides likely to be on the chopping block. Some of these may just be old rides that are long past their prime while others could be more modern high profile rides that are just costly to maintain. Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure immediately springs to mind here as Intamin’s Accelerator style coasters feature a Hydraulic launch system that is prone to very costly and lengthy downtime issues. When it works, it is a beautiful thing that can launch coaster trains with amazing power, but when they break down… well… it’s never a pleasant affair for the maintenance team. Now, I’m not saying Kingda Ka is gone… especially since the park has also strapped the Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom ride to the same tower structure, but I’d certainly think that the “Ka” could just be one spectacular breakdown away from being retired if it ends up on chopping block short-list at the wrong time.
So I’ll throw this out to you Six Flags enthusiasts out there… send me your best guess as to which ride will likely be removed from your favorite Six Flags park before they reopen in 2021.
Triple Five - (3/30/21) Triple Five Group, owner of the American Dream mall, has announced that they are putting up a 49% stake in their two other mega-mall properties, Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, with their investors in an effort to stabilize their financials. Triple Five defaulted on their loan for American Dream as the property was kept closed for much of 2020 and unable to generate any revenue.
(6/21/20) According to this news article, Triple Five has apparently missed three mortgage payments on their Mall of America mega-retail site, home to the original Nickelodeon Universe theme park. The article goes on to note that the Mall of America was used as collateral for Triple Five when they secured $2.8 billion in financing to open the American Dream property in New Jersey, and that 100 workers have also been laid off from America Dream.
Universal Studios - (8/1/21) Waterworld! The name of this particular Universal carries a lot of weight, not so much for the success of the film, or lack thereof, but more for the storied history of the film followed by the success of the IP as a theme park attraction. I’m not going to get into the history of the movie’s production, which includes massive cost overruns, sinking floating sets, to say nothing of the rumors that the production problems were played up by Hollywood management to drive off the studio’s Japanese parner, Matsushita, over increasing cultural-clash problems with the American studio.
In the end, Matsushita sold off their ownership stake of Universal for $5.7 billion to Seagram in 1995, the same year that Waterworld hit the theaters and “bombed”, at least on the books. Say what you want about the film and the performance that ended up on the screen, but the concept of the “world” put on display in the film was something that has retained interest over the years. After all, watch the news on any given night with tales of climate change and warnings of polar ice caps melting, and it feels like we’re living out the events that brought about “Waterworld”. Add in that every Universal Studios theme park resort on the globe, with the exception of the Orlando, has an extremely popular “Waterworld” themed stunt show and you’ll know that the IP has never been far from the studio’s mind.
This brings me to today where it was announced by the Hollywood Reporter that Universal has begun early development of a Waterworld follow-up “series” to the events of the film. This is aimed at taking advantage of the current trend of reviving old IPs for streaming services, such as Paramount+ new Star Trek series or Cobra Cai on Netflix. The concept would catch up with all the surviving characters, 20 years later, though no actors have been attached to the project yet, so I’m not sure if we might see Kevin Costner return as The Mariner or not. Either way, I’m actually curious to see where this leads, as it could prove to be far more successful than the film ever was, and potentially give new life to the theme park stunt shows as well. Stay tuned!
(7/31/21) According to various news reports things are definitely moving in the right direction over at Universal’s theme park division. According to the Q2 2021 earnings report from parent company, Comcast, for the first time since the pandemic began the Universal theme parks had their first profitable quarter, with the Universal Orlando resort leading the way.
According to the report the theme park division’s reported revenue was $1.1 billion, driven mostly by the Universal Orlando resort where the pent up demand for theme park experiences was described as being “exceptionally” strong. Attendance at the Orlando parks has already returned to the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019, and this is without most international visitors being allowed into the country at this time due to travel restrictions.
Based on my own visit to Orlando in early June, I would confirm that this seems to be the case, as attendance at the parks seemed to me, visually, to be even stronger than what I had experienced at the same time period in previous years. The ultra successful launch of Universal's new VelociCoaster is expected to be a major piece of the success story here as well. The extreme themed coaster has been a huge draw, not only for coaster enthusiasts, but for all potential theme park guests from far and wide, and has received praise for being one of the best roller coasters on the planet right now. Universal Orlando just pointed out not long ago that the VelociCoaster had already delivered thrills to over one million riders so far since it opened on June 10th which is amazing.
Meanwhile Universal Studios Hollywood was able to finally reopen in April and premier a new dark ride based on The Secret Lives of Pets animated series, and run without restrictions since June. In the Japanese market the guests have been loving that park’s brand new Super Nintendo World land as well, and a scaled back version of it is already under construction for Universal Studios Hollywood, with plans to also bring it to Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Singapore in the future.
(2/3/21) According to the Q4 2020 earnings report from Universal’s parent company, Comcast, the Universal theme parks division was able to reach a breakeven point by the last quarter from having parks open in Orlando and Japan, despite the continued closure of their Hollywood theme park. Revenue dropped of course, but that is to be expected when attendance capacity limits are in place at the parks.
(1/2/21) An interesting series of drawings taken from a patent for a new ride system from Universal can be found at ThemeparX. The overall idea is fascinating, as the proposed ride concept would start off as a boat ride, not unlike the Jurassic Park River Adventure, but at some point that looks like a giant forklift style device hidden underwater, but mounted to an overhead track system would swoop in behind the riders and lock into place under the boat. The artwork then depicts the idea that the boat would drift towards a large waterfall, but instead of plunging down with the river, the boat would then leave the water and fly away, attached to the overhead track system. The second half of the ride would then be seen from the air, before the boat of riders would eventually be placed back in the water to drift back into the loading station.
It is a neat concept, and according to some rumors, it could have been something envisioned as a proposal for a Zelda themed ride concept as part of the Nintendo deal. Previous rumors once indicated that Universal was lining up possible ideas to add other Nintendo ride and land concepts to be added to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida after Epic Universe opened with a Super Nintendo World land. The delay to the new park caused by COVID-19 has kind of put everything on hold at the moment, so there is no way to know what will still make it off the drawing board, and where it might land. One of the last popular rumors at the time, was that they were considering adding a Pokemon themed area to Universal Studios Florida and a Zelda themed land or attraction could fit into Islands of Adventure, either as a replacement for Toon Lagoon or the remainder of Lost Continent.
(9/23/20) Universal Studios is taking their relationship with Nintendo to the next level it seems. In addition to theme park lands under construction, the studio is now reported as working on a Super Mario Bros animated movie for release in 2022 that will see Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto serving as co-producer along with Illumination’s (Despicable Me / Minions) Chris Melendandri.