Corporate Park News
---- THE LATEST INDUSTRY NEWS ----
(1/23/22) Six Flags New CEO Pushing Chain Towards a Premiumization Strategy (MORE...)
(1/20/22) Six Flags Changes Season Pass Options Yet Again (MORE...)
(1/20/22) Cedar Fair Sets Date To Post Q4 2021 / Year End Results (MORE...)
(1/15/22) Six Flags - More on the Retiring of Membership Plans (MORE...)
(1/14/22) Six Flags Appears To Be Retiring Their Membership Pass Program (MORE...)
(1/11/22) Herschend Is Bringing Pink Jeep Tours To Branson (MORE...)
(1/9/22) Six Flags Replacing Another Park President and More (MORE...)
Cedar Fair - (1/20/22) Cedar Fair will post their Q4 / Year End 2021 results on Feb. 16, 2022. You can listen in to the earnings call online (at 10am or replays afterwards) by clicking here and looking under Investor Information.
(10/10/21) Cedar Fair has announced they will release their Q3 2021 earnings report on Nov. 3, 2021 with an earnings call starting at 10am ET. You can click here to listen in to the audio only webcast and navigate to the Investor Information tab to stream live or listen to the replay.
(10/3/21) A quick notice to anyone planning on going to a Halloween event at a Cedar Fair theme park this season. You may want to check with the park on what their current policy is regarding bringing bags of any kind into the park with you. While I haven’t seen anything mentions for Knott’s Scary Farm or Cedar Point’s HalloWeekends, a good number of the parks in the chain have now placed a new strict “No Bag” policy in place for visits to their nighttime Halloween Haunt events.
So far I’ve seen this new rule now listed on the pages for Carowinds, Dorney Park (below), California’s Great America and Valleyfair. In addition to Knott’s and Cedar Point, it looks like Canada’s Wonderland, Kings Island, Kings Dominion and Worlds of Fun are still allowing bags, but you may want to double check before you head out for the night to see if this changes. Rumor is this is a new corporate policy that could possibly be expanded to most or all of the parks before Haunt season comes to an end.
(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 - (1/9/22) The Walt Disney Company will host a webcast to discuss their Q1 2022 results on Feb. 9, 2022 at 4:30pm EST / 1:30pm PT. You can listen in by clicking here.
(1/7/22) According to new reports the Walt Disney Company has filed new patents for the use of new “virtual-world simulator’ technology, able to create a simulated environment without the use of VR or AR style headsets. Instead the technology will use projector systems to project these virtual landscapes over real-world venues.
(1/2/22) According to various news mentions, Disney is at risk of losing the copyright to a couple of their more profitable characters in the coming years. According to the article Disney’s copyright protection for Winnie the Pooh will expire sometime in 2022, and while Disney can apply for an extension, it may not be granted. If the copyright ends, use of the Pooh character will be open for use by anyone, however they will have to come up with their own versions of Pooh that would be different from the version that Disney used. This
After that, the next Disney character trademark to expire would be for Steamboat Willie himself sometime in 2024. Steamboat Willie is actually the first version of Disney’s Mickey Mouse character, so this also puts Mickey in danger as well.
Well, maybe… as Disney worked with Congress back in the late 80s to create the Copyright Term Extension Act that has thus far been able to protect Mickey, however as Mickey is also essentially a corporate mascot for the Walt Disney Company this may allow Disney to maintain protection of the character in all forms, including Steamboat Willie.
This will just be the start of this issue for Disney however, as currently copyright law allows for the Copyright to exist for the lifetime of the creator + 70 years. Since Walt Disney passed away in 1966, the long line of Disney animated films will all come under the cross-hairs of copyright law starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 2036, followed by Fantasia, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi and so on. With so much pending on the horizon, I can only imagine Disney may be looking into the possibility of working out another extension with the government, or some other alternatives.
Otherwise it is kind of hard to fathom a world where Mickey Mouse as a character would become public domain, allowing anyone to create their own variation of the character for use in any variety of projects, essentially as you see happen today with other public domain characters like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Frankenstein’s Monster, Zorro, Hercules, King Arthur and so on.
(11/10/21) In an interesting development, Raven Sun Creative has filed a damages lawsuit against Disney, claiming that Disney violated their patent on one of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attractions. This technology patent is designed to “coordinate a vertical-moving rider trolley with videos on a screen”.
In other words, Raven Sun Creative says Disney ripped off their idea for the big surprise finale at the end of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance during the ride on the escape pod. I’m not sure how successful this lawsuit will be, as I can recall a few other concepts that added video footage to a vertically moving platform. Anyone remember the initial elevator ride experience at DisneyQuest where a video screen and sound effects made it feel like you were being launched like a rocket? Then going way back to the 90s… remember Gameworks? They early centers had a custom build game/ride experience where riders would climb into a ride vehicle and shoot at targets on a massive video tower in front of them. Perform well, and your ride vehicle would move up to a higher level with more difficult targets. Fail too many times and you would suddenly drop down a level without warning. If I’m not mistaken, it may have been called Vertical Reality.
In any case, this isn’t the first time someone has combined a synced video experience with a vertical motion ride, so not sure if the patent claim will hold.
(10/7/21) The Walt Disney Company has announced that they will discuss their full year and Q4 2021 earnings through a live audio webcast on Nov. 10th at 4:30pm ET. Follow the link to listen in.
(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 - (1/11/22) Herschend Family Entertainment is expanding their Pink Jeep Tours attraction to a new location in 2022, and will be bringing the adventure to Branson in Spring 2022. A preview page detailing four different tour options has already been posted to the official website along with pricing.
Branson is the 5th location for Pink Jeep Tours which also operates tours to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and around the Smoky Mountains (Pigeon Forge).
(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 - (1/8/22) Merlin Entertainments has announced that they have purchased a new stand-alone attraction to add to their huge European lineup. As of March 31, 2022 Merlin will be taking over the “This is Holland” flying theater attraction in Amsterdam. This is a fairly new attraction, having just opened in 2018 and uses Flying Theater hardware provided by Brogent to take guests on an unique 9-minute long aerial tour featuring the sights of Holland, complete with 5D style wind, mist and scent effects to give it an extra sense of realism.
This is Holland will now join Merlin’s collection of other attractions in The Netherlands that include: Madame Tussauds Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Dungeon, Sea Life Scheveningen, Legoland Discovery Center Scheveningen followed later this year by the opening of the new Peppa Pig World of Play Leidschendam.
(11/28/21) Merlin will open a new stand-alone attraction themed to the Peter Rabbit TV show at the Blackpool seafront area in 2022. This will be the first Peter Rabbit themed attraction from Merlin when it opens next to the Madame Tussauds attraction next year, that will give guests a chance to visit the characters through five different themed zones. This will be an interactive attraction that will ask guests to think, move or act like a rabbit in order to complete challenges and earn badges.
(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 - (10/24/21) SeaWorld Entertainment has announced that they will release their Q3 2021 earnings report and hold a conference call on Tuesday, Nov. 9th. The call will take place at 9am EST and you can listen in online through the investor site by clicking here.
(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 - (1/23/22) Six Flags’s new CEO, Selim Bassoul, spoke with Seeking Alpha about the direction the chain is moving towards under his command. In short it was described as moving the company towards a “premiumization strategy” where the parks are looking to bring in fewer, but higher paying guests to increase their profits, rather than the old model of packing in as many guests as possible with cheap ticket offerings. If this sounds familiar, you are basically looking at Six Flags describing an attempt to follow Disney’s example in terms of theme park strategy.
Of course The Walt Disney Company has long managed to sell their theme parks as premium guest experiences through the promotion of it being an exclusive and high-quality experience with exclusive attractions you won't find anywhere else, themed around Disney’s vast vault of IPs. In my opinion, this is going to be a bit of a tough sell for most Six Flags theme parks, many of which simply evolved over the years by offering “clones” and “copies” of rides and roller coasters that became popular at other Six Flags theme parks. This has resulted in a chain of parks where both food and merchandise offerings are often identical to each other in most categories. I’m not even going to try to say that the “guest experience” of someone visiting a Six Flags park could be similar to that of a Disney park guest at this point in time. So clearly there is a lot of work that needs to take place within the Six Flags parks before this can happen, but I’m also going to assume we are seeing just the first baby-steps towards this concept right now.
After all, it has also become abundantly clear that the old strategy of being mostly focused on attendance based growth is not working for Six Flags in the long term. News headlines about fights breaking out in select parks over food lines, at special events or during Halloween events only serves to drive that message home. This itself goes a long way to explaining why we are seeing the end of sales of Six Flags “memberships” where guests could make monthly payments to visit Six Flags all year, rather than paying for a Season Pass up front. The cheap payment options have essentially turned some of the park’s into an easy to afford subscription based ‘daycare’ option.
Reducing attendance can very well be the first step towards creating a better guest experience in the parks, resulting in shorter lines for attractions and food. The key here is to follow this up with improved park offerings (both attractions and food), and we’ve been hearing rumors that 2022 may see some dramatic improvements in the food side of things under Bassoul’s new directives. Just don’t skimp out of the attractions… guests visit Six Flags primarily for the rides, and slacking in that department going forward is not going to sit well with potential guests looking for new thrills.
With this in mind, I continue to be intrigued with how Six Flags is evolving. While some of the changes are going to be painful, the overall intent is still to push the parks towards improvements that will better the guest experience. It just remains to be seen ow well these changes are executed.
(1/20/22) The evolution of the ‘season pass’ option for Six Flags theme parks just underwent another staggering change, in what has become a seemingly non-stop series of changes. First Memberships were dropped, leaving only the old style Season Passes as your only option. Now starting at Six Flags Magic Mountain and then quickly spreading to the parks in Texas, the only Season Pass options have been replaced by three new kinds of Season Pass options with new names, different benefits and new higher prices.
The lowest tier is the Thrill Seeker Pass, which at SFMM is $114.99 and is only good for admission to Magic Mountain and its Hurricane Harbor waterpark. The pass includes free parking, a single-use weekday visit ‘skip-the-line pass” and a couple of special discount rate ticket purchase options for friends. There is a note that there will also be “Blockout Dates”, and you must pay for the entire pass at the time or purchase.
The Extreme Pass will run you $179.99 and will give you unlimited admission to all ‘outdoor’ Six Flags parks, free parking, some food and merchandise discounts, a refillable drink bottle, 2 skip-the-line passes good on a weekday visit, 5 discount ticket offers for friends, a singe-day dining pass and the option to spread out the cost of the pass over four payments.
Lastly there is the “Ultimate Pass”, which will run you a steep $329.99. This pass comes with free ‘front gate’ parking, 10 discount ticket pass options for friends, 5 skip the line passes good on any day, access to all outdoor Six Flags parks, the drink bottle, discounts, a 10 Meal Dining Plan, a ride photo, “waterpark seating reservation’ and a $50 “Attractions Credit”. Oh, and you can split the payment up into four payments instead of one.
What appear to be about the same options are also available now at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Six Flags over Texas, and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom at slightly lower prices. ($79.99 / $169.99 and $299.99) but remember that you’ll have to visit the park you buy your pass at to process it, so you can’t buy a cheaper pass from a Texas park and show up with the paperwork in California. I’m assuming we will see this new change roll out to the rest of the parks in the very near future.
(1/15/22) A quick update regarding the “retiring” of the Six Flags Membership program. While checking into the story myself, I checked the pages for Six Flags over Texas, Fiesta Texas and Magic Mountain, all parks currently open and who have all removed the Membership option. However a reader pointed out that the parks they checked still had memberships for sale (over Georgia, SF Great America, SF Great Adventure) which seems to be true, but those parks are also closed for the winter. So far it looks like the removal of the membership option has only made it onto the pages for the park’s currently open, so add Discovery Kingdom to the list of pages where the Membership option has been retired.
I can only assume all the park pages will slowing be changing to remove the Membership option, though the only currently open park I see with the option still intact is Six Flags Mexico, meanwhile the only closed park I see that has removed it so far was La Ronde.
(1/14/22) Something interesting is now going on at Six Flags in regards to their Season Pass / Membership programs. Based on what I am currently seeing on the various Six Flags park websites, there is now no longer any mention or ability to purchase a Six Flags “Membership”, the only option available is to purchase a “Season Pass” which are now available in the new membership style tiers.
As previously mentioned, once they added the same ‘tier’ levels to the Season Passes that were previously only offered to the Membership plans, the only real difference between Memberships and Season Passholders was that Memberships allowed for a monthly payment plan, while Season Passes had to be purchased as one lump-sum all at once.
To those currently on a monthly installment paid “Membership” plan, I do not know what the company’s current plan is for you. If I had to guess, since a payment agreement was set in place in advance when you started your membership, I would imagine Six Flags would be obligated to continue that original payment plan through to the end of your already scheduled 12-month payment plan. Once you come to the end of the pre-planned payment term, don’t be surprised if you are asked to migrate to the new system and pay up front to renew your passes. I suggest you contact your local Six Flags park where you purchased your membership to determine what the future plan is if you have not received any notice by email about the changes taking place.
(1/9/22) Six Flags made a number of changes in December at the corporate HQ and we were led to believe further changes would be coming this month at the park level, and with the departure of the Park President from Six Flags over Texas confirmed, it seems even more changes are also being made.
One of the success stories over the pandemic from Six Flags involved a significant improvement in their Six Flags America theme park. This had nothing to do with any new ride, but was more of a change in the upkeep and look of the park as well as employee training in all aspects, creating an overall better atmosphere for guests and staff alike for the 2021 season. At the time this was attributed to the rise of a new Park President, Richard Pretlow. Unfortunately it seems Pretlow’s run as Park Presidend of Six Flags America was just cut short, as he is now listed as the “Director of Food and Beverage” for Six Flags over Georgia as of January 2022.
If you’ve read our list of rumored changes coming to the parks, establishing Food & Beverage as a separate department, instead of being under the control of the Retail & Games department was said to be an immediate goal, so it looks like this is starting to happen, at least at Six Flags over Georgia thus far.
As for Six Flags America, I’m told that the previous Park President, Rick Howarth, has returned to SFA to serve as Park President yet again. Howarth departed SFA for the Six Flags corporate office in Texas to serve as VP of Procurement from Nov. 2020 until Dec. 2021. As we said before, a large number of VPs in the corporate office were let go in December under the restructuring of the new CEO, but in this case it looks like Howarth was kept and sent back to Maryland.
(1/1/22) In a fascinating move, events that took place earlier this week at Six Flags Mexico have resulted in the corporate Six Flags office dropping an old chain-wide policy banning public displays of affection. It all started on Wednesday when a gay couple at Six Flags Mexico were apparently spotted kissing while in line for a ride. Before long a group of park security members arrived on the scene, removed from the line and soon after they were also taken by security to the park exit and asked to leave.
Word spread quickly and LGBTQ social media activists asked for locals to arrive at the park entrance the next morning for a “kissathon” event in protest of the previous day’s events. To their credit, Six Flags corporate management got caught up on exactly what took place and responded fairly quickly, and before the end of the day they had posted a chain-wide policy revision stating that the old policy that “discourages guests from being overly affectionate” in their parks was originally intended just to maintain a “family-friendly atmosphere” and that it “applied equally to all guests, regards of race, religion, gender of sexual orientation.”
Regardless of how the policy was worded, I’d say that anyone with eyes who ever visited a park could probably tell you that the policy was likely not viewed to be equally enforced across all demographics and orientations. But the good news is that the policy is now no more. According to the statement from Six Flags, “based on guest feedback, we have determined that having a policy that speaks to affectionate behavior is not necessary and we have removed the policy.”
I doubt this will be the end of the issue just yet as there are already complaints that a statement about a change in policy is not the same as an apology, which is what is also wanted at this time by many.
(12/30/21) As previously mentioned elsewhere on Screamscape, Six Flags over Texas continues to test a system selling one-time use Flash Passes that guests can buy through their mobile device by scanning a QR code posted in the queues for select attractions. The same system has now also been spotted testing at Six Flags Magic Mountain with a QR code spotted in the queue for Twisted Colossus according to one local report.
According to the latest information coming from those seeing the system testing in Texas, they are selling these one-time use Flash Pass tickets right now for anywhere between $5 and $10 per ride. Guests just scan the code and are taken to an online page that lists all the different rides they can purchase and how long they will have to wait. And yes… this is not an immediate satisfaction where you can enter the ride as soon as you buy the Flash Pass, you will have to come back a little later.
Much like what we’ve seen the Disney parks do with their new Lightning Lane system, the price can fluctuate throughout the day and from day-to-day, presumably based on how the park anticipates crowd levels will be.
Keep that one word in mine… anticipates… because from what I’m told it sounds like Six Flags is just sort of pre-programming the system right now based on how they think it may need to work, and does not appear to be tied into any actual live metrics yet, such as actual queue length or live time crowd levels in the park. For a great example of this, I’m told the other day the system was trying to sell Flash Passes to ride Pandemonium in 2 Hours, meanwhile the regular queue to ride was only 30 minutes. Meanwhile they were also selling Flash Passes to ride Texas Giant for just $5 in 42 minutes, all while the actual line to ride Texas Giant was at least 2.5 hours.
As Disney sort of sets the bar for these kinds of things in the industry I would not be surprised if we start to see many of the other park chains trying to test out their own home-brewed versions of the same concept. After dealing with two years of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, most parks have already invested in the ability to handle live mobile purchases for a variety of things, ranging from park tickets and parking passes to mobile food orders, so adding the ability to purchase one-time queue-cutting passes should be easily within their grasp.
What I worry about is while parks have the ability to add these sort of purchases, they can also do so without making any attempt to make it an intelligent system, or one that is monitored and adjusted throughout the day to reflect the true crowd and queue levels, as well as to be smart enough to know if they system is also causing too much of a negative impact on the regular guests and then limit the number of sales available.
This also leads me to worry about how some parks might adjust their operations methods to push guests towards buying these queue-cutting passes. A great example would be for a park to only run one train on their roller coasters instead of standard two or three train operations. Running one train operations would allow them to not only save money by possibly running a ride with minimal staff, but would also artificially increase the line length for these rides. After all, a coaster that normally runs three trains with a 20-minute wait isn’t going to sell too many Flash Passes, but if they drop down to just one train, which would increase the wait time to 60 minutes, they may see their Flash Pass sales numbers increase, but at the expense of their regular guests from the lack of efficient operations. Putting “Profit” over “Guest Satisfaction” may just be too tempting for some park’s management to resist, especially when most companies are hell-bent on making themselves look good to the stockholders at all costs, which often unfortunately also comes at the expense of the guest experience far too often.
Just the latest theme park innovation that I think we all need to keep an eye on as this trend develops.
(12/24/21) Screamscape sources tell us that, for now at least, Holiday in the Park has been cut from the schedule for Six Flags St. Louis and that we can expect to see the event cut from a few more parks 2022 schedules where it has underperformed.
In a bit of good news, it also sounds like Six Flags may be preparing to up their Culinary game for the upcoming season. I wasn’t aware of this, but according to our source the management in charge of Retail & Games at Six Flags was also apparently over Food & Beverages. Keeping this in mind, suddenly the reason why the majority of food at Six Flags parks was generic and the same, no matter the location, suddenly makes more sense, as if it was being ordered and dispersed like park merchandise.
From what I’m being told, it sounds like the new leadership decided that this made no sense either, and may be preparing to launch park specific Culinary departments who will be able to customize and refresh their park menus based on the tastes of their local market. We’re hoping this means much more variety and unique food items to come to each park, which sounds quite a bit like what Cedar Fair has been doing the past few years at many of their parks. I know some of the Cedar Fair parks have taken this to new levels by offering special seasonal food events at their parks, so perhaps something like this could be in the long term plan for Six Flags parks as well.
Again, nothing official on this yet, but it sounds like this is the direct the parks may be heading. Hopefully we’ll hear more about this soon.
(12/22/21) Going into the 2022 season, it sounds like the plans and schedule for each park will be determined based on their own performance levels. We’ve seen some parks transition to year-long operations lately, but a few of those may either switch back to seasonal status, or perhaps just remain open on weekends only in the slower months, depending on how they have been performing. It is hard to tell right now, as most of the parks have not posted any hours for the 2022 season, beyond a few operational dates in January as they wrap up their winter holiday hours.
It was also mentioned that as a result of potential operational schedule changes coming for the 2022 season, some previous plans for off-season entertainment events meant for the slower months may also be cut in 2022. In an example of this, the Fire & Ice Festival for Six Flags over Texas may already be cut, as the previously announced event is no longer being promoted on the website.
(12/20/21) Screamscape was able to obtain a copy of the email sent out to Six Flags staff from Selim Bassoul, the new CEO, regarding all the management changes that have taken place at the corporate level so far this month.
(12/18/21) We hinted at this last week, but I’m hearing that big changes are starting to happen to the management structure at Six Flags, both in the corporate office as well as at the theme park level. All of this seems to be coming down from a restructuring plan from the new CEO who is of the belief that there are too many layers of management in the company, and has set forth a new plan to streamline everything. Unfortunately i’m not sure if this will involve some lay-offs at the management level, or if this is more of a restructure with positions being moved around, or perhaps a little bit of both.
One thing that was implied to Screamscape was that the new management structure may actually be more reminiscent of how Six Flags was run decades ago, long before the RedZone take-over and eras that followed. Back in the early days Six Flags Park Presidents were said to hold a lot more power and control over how their parks were run, and a significant amount of say in what kind of new attractions were needed. Under the management system the chain has used for the past couple decades, the power most Park Presidents said to be mostly limited to the point that all the big decisions were made at the corporate levels, leaving the Park President to mostly serve as a General Manager to ensure the corporate will was executed on the local level, but unable to make much in the way of decisions or policy on their own. Even under that system, select Park Presidents have made a name for themselves and were able to gain limited support from the corporate office, but this is the exception and not the rule. From the sound of things, the new CEO seems to be ready to give the power back to the Park Presidents and empower the parks once again, who best know their own demographics, to help guide and lead their own future development.
Again, this is a lot of speculation and rumor right now, but on the surface these changes may be leading Six Flags in a very positive new direction going forward. For the moment however, there is going to be a bit of chaos and change to deal with ahead of the 2022 season. Stay tuned!
(12/13/21) Interesting changes are said to have started taking place within the Six Flags corporate structure this past week. I don’t know all the details but our source claims that a good number of corporate VP positions have been eliminated, resulting in the individual Park Presidents now being able to report directly to newly appointed Six Flags CEO, Selim Bassoul. There is something certainly to be said for keeping a clear and direct line of communication open between these important positions, without putting an army of other corporate execs in-between to mediate the message.
I’m inclined to say that this could perhaps a sign of good things to come, along with further possible changes to the Six Flags corporate and park structure as it all comes under review by the new CEO who is clearly seeing organization changes they want in effect for the new year. Stay tuned!
(11/27/21) A post to twitter shows off a trio of interesting new experiences Six Flags may be considering for some of their theme parks. The images were part of a new guest survey Six Flags sent out to some members and passholders asking their opinions on adding things like a : Silent Disco, a Funhouse or a Game Show experience.
Personally, the concept of a silent disco seems a bit odd for the theme park chain, and while an interactive game show giving guests the opportunity to win prizes could actually be fun, Six Flags just has never been a park I’ve visited to see ‘shows’. I was most intrigued by the idea of adding a large fun house experience, because if done well with a great deal of theming, this could actually be a lot of fun. Now take that idea, and make the funhouse a creation of your favorite DC villain, like The Joker, and you might really have something special.
(11/17/21) In a surprising announcement, Six Flags has named a new CEO to lead the company after Michael Spanos has decided to step down after two years at the helm. As of now Selim Bassoul, who was formerly a Non-Executive Chairman of the Board has been tapped to take over as CEO and President of Six Flags.
I don’t know much about Bassoul, though the info sheet mentions his background as a previous CEO of Middleby Corporation, who led a large growth to that company’s business of being a manufacturer of “industrial and high-end residential appliances”. So while it is clear he knows business, his background does not appear to be one who has come up within the theme park or travel industry before serving on the Board for Six Flags.
No word on why Spanos has decided to step down from the company, though after leading Six Flags successfully through the past two years during COVID, I was curious to see how he would have lead the company as business was starting a return to more normal conditions.
(11/4/21) In late August we were sent word from many Six Flags passholders about a critical change that had been made to the 2022 Season Passes. Instead of the Season Pass being good at all Six Flags parks in the chain, it was now only good at the park you purchased it at. There was much boo’ing and hiss’ing over this, as it was described as a way to move Season Passholders into buying into the Six Flags Memberships plans, as it looked like only the Membership plans would keep the option to visit other parks in the chain.
Jumping ahead to today, and it seems like the change was made to the Season Pass option as the first step towards a brand new set of 2022 Season Pass options. Looking over the Six Flags Fiesta Texas website right now, in addition to a “Basic” 2022 Season Pass, there are now options to purchase 2022 Season Passes in four new flavors, named after the same four levels of Six Flags Membership plans. There is a Gold Plus, a Platinum, a Diamond and lastly, Diamond Elite 2022 Season Passes you can buy.
The Basic Pass, which is what you already have if you renewed your 2022 pass early, only allows for admission into the park you purchased it from for the rest of this year and all of 2022. It also includes admission into Fright Fest and Holiday in the Park events, but Parking is not included.
If you upgrade to the Gold Plus Season Pass you add Free Parking and Admission to ALL Six Flags outdoor parks once again, plus some discounts on purchases in the park, and more.
Upgrade to Platinum and you get “unlimited soft drinks”, 25% discount on most candy and merchandise, 15% off most food, discounts on Flash Pass, waterpark cabanas, tours and more.
Diamond level upgrades your free parking to free Preferred parking, one skip the line ride pass per visit, preferred waterpark seating and bigger in park discounts and some other free benefits.
Diamond Elite adds in two skip the line passes per visit, 50% off more food, candy and merchandise purchases, free Haunts at Fright Fest and “Much More!”.
Essentially, these are the exact same benefits you get from the Six Flags Membership tiers, which essentially breaks this down into the concept of, do you want pay for your Six Flags pass in one lump sums, or do you want to break it down into a monthly payment plan? The overall price over a 12 month term is virtually the same for each tier, but for those who detest having any kind of monthly membership able to auto-draft payments from your bank account, the ability to just pay once and be done may be exactly what they are looking for.
After all, this takes away the worry about trying to cancel your membership only to have something mess up and discover monthly charges still coming out, so I get it. Even more, I’m with you on that one, as I’m the kind of person who would rather just buy it up front and not worry about future payments.
(10/29/21) In an odd bit of news Fool.com reports that shares of Six Flags dropped 8.8% on Wednesday, despite delivering a ton of great news in the earnings report. Profits are up in Q3 2021 with the company reporting $638 million in sales. While attendance was reported as being down 8%, higher ticket prices meant that revenue still rose 3% compared to Q3 2019, while profits were still down 15%. Still the theme park experience is one that seems to be in high demand with the general public, a trend that is expected to continue for the next few years and Six Flags is, for the most part, poised to take advantage of that.
(10/7/21) Six Flags has announced they will release their Q3 2021 report on Oct. 27, 2021, along with an investor call to take place starting at 7am CT. You can listen in through the online webcast by following the link, or you can call 1-855-889-1976 (in the US) or, +1-937-641-0558 (International) to listen in through your phone.
(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 - (11/27/21) Hey Jurassic World fans, if you haven’t seen it yet, Universal has posted the first five-minutes of the new Jurassic World Dominion film online for everyone to see. The brief cut starts things off 65-million years ago, where we get our first look in the franchise as what the actual dinosaurs looked like in their own era, instead of the modern-day renditions that have been genetically modified and altered with fill-in DNA sequences. So take a close look at the dinosaurs, as they have been altered in some interesting and subtle ways to represent some of today’s current thinking about how they really may have looked, such as small hairs or feathers covering sections of skin.
(11/18/21) Some big staff shifts will be happening at the Universal Parks & Resorts as it was announced that Chairman and CEO, Tom Williams, will be retiring effective March 16, 2022. Stepping in to replace Williams will be Mark Woodbury, current President of Universal Creative, and current Vice Chairman of Universal Parks & Resorts. Mark Woodbury will step up to the CEO desk starting Jan. 1st, 2022.
So congratulations to both, especially to Tom Williams who has served with Universal for 33 years now, 22 of those spent leading the Universal Parks & Resorts into the future, and what an awesome legacy of growth to leave behind as he steps into a well deserved retirement.
No official word on who will be taking over as President of Universal Creative, but I have my suspicions.
(10/30/21) Comcast released their Q3 2021 earnings report and while stock prices fell, they did note in the report that despite the pandemic, the Universal “Theme Parks Delivered Its Most Profitable Quarter Since the First Quarter of 2020, Driven by Universal Orlando; Celebrated the Grand Opening of Universal Beijing Resort on September 20th”.
Theme Park revenue was $1.4 billion in Q3 2021, which was a $1.1 billion increase over the same quarter in 2020 when most of the parks were closed or operating at very limited capacity due to COVID-19 protocols. Theme park revenue for the first 9 months of 2021 was $3.2 billion, an increase of $1.7 billion over the same time period the year before.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts took a moment in the earning call to specifically put the spotlight on the Universal theme parks, ‘especially Orlando, which just reported the most profitable quarter in its history despite having virtually no international guests due to COVID related travel restraints.” As we mentioned the other day, many of those restrictions on international guest visits will soon come to an end in a little over a week, and I’d expect to see a flood of international guests hit the parks once again this holiday season (and beyond) as a result.
As mentioned, Comcast stock prices did fall after the announcement, despite the report confirming earnings and revenue growth that was above wall street analysts’ predictions, and reports confirming strong growth across all the various business segments. The only reported misfire I spotted in the report was from the new Peacock streaming service which seems to be due programming costs and loss of subscribers.
(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.