Corporate Park News
---- THE LATEST INDUSTRY NEWS ----
(6/3/2023) Six Flags Launches New Six Flags Plus Membership Program (MORE...)
(5/26/2023) Five Star Parks & Attractions Completes Two Acquisitions (MORE...)
(5/25/2023) Disney Says They Have No Interest In Small Scale Attractions (MORE...)
(5/20/2023) Merlin Entertainment Wants to Open More Attractions Based on SONY IP (MORE...)
(5/17/2023) Disney Releases Official Haunted Mansion Movie Trailer (MORE...)
Ardent Leisure - (8/27/22) Ardent Leisure has appointed a new CEO after selling their Main Event business to Dave & Busters. Ardent Leisure has appointed Greg Young as the company’s new CEO, moving up from being appointed as the company’s theme parks and attractions CEO in April 2021, which includes Dreamworld and WhiteWater World in Australia as well as the SkyPoint attraction.
Cedar Fair - (5/6/2023) Cedar Fair’s Q1 2023 earnings report did show some declines, which they placed the blame somewhat on weather issues. During that quarter most of their parks are closed anyway, but cold and wet weather did impact their California parks, though the addition of Carowinds and Kings Dominion starting limited year-round operation schedules I’m sure helped to off-set this somewhat, as those regions did experience a milder winter and some warmer spring weather at times.
Overall Net Revenue was posted at $85 million with 1.1 million in attendance in Q1 2023, down from $99 million and 1.5 million during the same quarter in 2022. With new attractions set to open at several parks, they are looking forward to an excellent performance increase moving into the next quarter.
(4/9/23) Cedar Fair has confirmed that they will announce their Q12023 earning report on May 4th, with an earning call to take place at 10am. To listen in visit the investor website and look under the Investor Information tab for Events and Presentations on the day.
(2/18/2023) Cedar Fair’s latest financial report shows that the company does now appear to have recovered quite well from the pandemic years. Cedar Fair’s report shows that the company had achieved a record Net Revenue of $1.8 billion during 2022, up from the $1.3 billion achieved in 2021. This also includes a record adjusted EBITDA earnings of $552 million for the year, said to be up 70% from the year before.
Interestingly enough, this has been done with attendance levels still sitting slightly below the chain’s 2019 pre-pandemic numbers, reflecting higher guest spending trends and PerCap figures. Total chain-wide attendance for 2022 was said to be 26.9 million guests, compared to 27.9 million in 2019.
In a pure bit of speculation, I’d have to wonder if the the primary cause of the slightly lower attendance levels may have been caused by the Chaperone Policy put into effect at select parks during the second half of the year at select parks, which did not allow guests below age 18 to visit to the park on their own without a proper 21+ age chaperone. This would have had the biggest effect at Knott’s Berry Farm, where the policy was put into effect in mid-summer 2022, and only just rescinded a few weeks ago.
On the annual pass side of things, Cedar Fair reported selling 3.2 million season passes to their various theme parks during 2022.
(2/9/2023) It’s been awhile since we’ve heard anything about Cedar Fair’s planned E-Sports complex in Sandusky, but at last the company issued an update.
“The first phase of what will be known as Cedar Point Esports will be a 1,000-square-foot space that will house a state-of-the-art, full-service gaming area with the capability to broadcast and produce livestreams and content. Centralized within the venue will be 32 competitive gaming setups against the backdrop of multimedia video displays that have the flexibility to connect for larger events. Top-tier professional gaming stations and equipment will be utilized throughout the first phase for practice, competition, and extra-curricular play.”
“The vision for this first phase of development, which will open in May, is to create Northern Ohio’s premier immersive gaming experience for leagues, camps and clinics. The facility also can serve as a practice venue for local high school and collegiate esports teams. This initial phase will eventually serve as the gateway from the existing Cedar Point Sports Center to the upcoming larger Phase II expansion. Future plans for the development are likely to include food, beverage and a larger competitive space.”
(1/12/2023) Cedar Fair has announced that t hey will report their Q4 2022 / and full 2022 Year End earnings report on the morning of Feb. 16, 2023. At 10am they will also host an earnings call to provide additional details and answer some questions, which you can listen in on through the Cedar Fair investor website link.
(11/5/22) Cedar Fair has announced that the company’s chain of theme parks reported record revenue ($843 million) and increased attendance levels in Q3 2022. According to the comments by CEO, Richard Zimmerland, Cedar Fair is “poised to deliver the best year in Cedar Fair history, driven by solid demand trends and strong levels of guest spending”.
The reported Q3 2022 revenue represents a 12% increase over Q3 2021, and for a better comparison is actually an 18% increase over the chains pre-pandemic performance in Q3 2019. Attendance reported for the quarter was 12.3 million guests, which is a 14% increase over the same quarter in 2021, however this is a 7% decrease in attendance when compared to pre-pandemic Q3 2019. If I had to guess, I would say that the implementation of new rules banning unsupervised minors from some of their parks during the quarter would could be to blame for the lower attendance levels, but with a revenue increase of 18% during the same time period comparison, it seems that the plan has paid and perhaps turned some less profitable visits by minors into more profitable visits by higher spending guest groups.
Cedar Fair also reported total attendance over the first 10 months of 2022 as being 24.9 million guests, up 43% from the first 10 months of 2021, and actually up 4% from the first 10 months of 2019.
(10/20/22) The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that Cedar Fair does not owe their passholders any refunds for when the park’s were closed in 2020 due to COVID-19. A potential class-action lawsuit had been working it’s way through the legal system since then and has been put to rest with the unanimous decision from the court this week that Cedar Fair was not to be found in breach of contract for passholders. This is despite the fact that Cedar Fair did not have to, but extended all 2020 Season Passes through to the end of the 2021 season for free anyway, some felt they were owed refunds for the lost 2020 time on their passes.
(10/6/22) Cedar Fair has announced that they will hold their Q3 2022 earning call at 10am on Nov. 2, 2022. To listen in visit https://ir.cedarfair.com and go to the Investor Info / Events tab.
(9/11/22) Cedar Fair must be feeling pretty good right now, because they just released another advanced performance report to show off their performance through the Labor Day holdiay. According to the release Cedar Fair is reporting a record revenue of $1.37 BILLION earned this year through to Labor Day (Sept. 5, 2022), along with a reported 20.5 million guests welcomed at the chain’s combined theme parks.
They also report seeing record levels of guest spending ($61.11 per guest), as well as $163 million in revenue from outside park sources like resort hotels. As Cedar Fair previously reported having sold a record number of season passes, the chain is obviously expecting to see some huge numbers come through the gates for their Halloween and WinterFest events. This suggests the chain should have some strong performance numbers to share in early November when they issue their Q3 2022 performance report that should detail their operations throughout the 2022 season up through the end of October.
(8/5/22) Cedar Fair announced their Q2 2022 results this week and was said to have generated record revenue in the quarter. They were also able to pay down debt and bring back the popular quarterly dividend payment for the first time in two years. However, as has been rumored, attendance at the chain’s parks has yet to reach 2019 (pre-COVID) levels. The reported attendance in Q2 across from all the Cedar Fair parks was 7.8 million, which is down 8% from the attendance in the same quarter of 2019.
According to CEO, Richard Zimmerman, the softer attendance levels can be blamed on the slower-to-recover group travel figures. However the company has sold a record number of season passes (3.2 million) for 2022 season, so they expect to have a strong finish to the summer season, followed by the popular Halloween and Winterfest seasonal events. In addition, in park spending PerCaps are said to be up significantly so far this year.
Net Revenue is up to $509 million for Q2 2022, but operating expenses are also up from previous years due to increased costs, including higher paid wages for staff. Things will get exciting next week however, as the company plans to announce their major 2023 capital projects across the chain at that time. We know Carowinds is set to announce on August 11th (Thursday) so I’d expect the others to also happen around that same day.
(7/7/22) Cedar Fair has reported that the company’s preliminary net revenues year-to-date through Monday, July 4th 2022, have totaled a record $704 million, up 20% ($117 million) compared to the comparable fiscal period ending Monday, July 8 2019 (aka: Pre-COVID-19).
“Through the July 4th holiday weekend, we have continued to generate new highs for in-park per capita spending, as well as drive growth in our out-of-park revenue channels, most notably through our resort properties,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Richard A. Zimmerman. “We are seeing attendance in line with expectations, driven largely by our season passes, which represent more than 60% of our year-to-date attendance, and average attendance per operating day at our legacy parks is pacing ahead of comparable 2019 levels. Our commitment to enhancing and evolving the guest experience continues to produce strong guest spending levels and solid underlying consumer demand, positive indicators as we approach the busiest and most profitable weeks of the season. We are well positioned to continue to drive record performance through the balance of the 2022 season as we expect to pick up a meaningful number of operating days during the second half of the year.”
Given the material impact the coronavirus pandemic had on park operations in 2020 and 2021, year-to-date results through July 4, 2022 are not directly comparable to results for the same periods of the last two years. Total operating days through the July 4th weekend represented approximately 40% of the Company’s projected 2022 full-year operating days of approximately 2,315, which compare to 2,224 operating days in 2019, including approximately 80 additional operating days over the balance of 2022, versus the comparable period in 2019. The Company may adjust future park operating calendars in response to changes in weather, guest demand, labor availability, or other macro factors outside of the Company’s control.
The year-over-year increase in net revenues was driven by a 26%, or $12.13, increase in in-park per capita spending to a record $59.52, and a 20%, or $15 million, increase in out-of-park revenues to $88 million. These gains were offset in part by an attendance variance resulting from a slower recovery within the group sales channel, as well as the impact of 94 fewer operating days at the Company’s legacy parks due to a natural calendar shift and changes in early-season park operating schedules. The calendar shift and impact of group business contributed to a 507,000-visit, or 5%, attendance variance versus the comparable fiscal period in 2019. Overall, year-to-date attendance through the July 4th weekend totaled 10.7 million guests. Despite the recovery shortfall in group business, attendance per operating day at the Company’s legacy parks is up 2% year to date, reflecting the impact of strong demand trends within the season pass channel.
Look for the next performance update to be released in early August 2022 as part of the company’s 2022 Q2 financial results.
(6/3/22) Cedar Fair released a little financial update for the company this week, claiming that the company has seen Year-To-Date net revenues through May 30, 2022 (Memorial Day Weekend) of $343 million. This is 21% higher than what the company saw in roughly the same time period in 2019, pre-COVID. So this is an extremely encouraging benchmark for how the rest of the year’s performance could play out.
In addition they claim to have seen a 28% increase in guest in-park PerCap spending, and a 13% increase in out-of-park revenues. Season Pass sales are up 24% compared to 2019 and even with 14 fewer operating days this year, the chain still saw a 4% attendance increase. Traditionally the company’s performance up through the end of May usually represents 20% of the available operating days for the entire year.
(5/6/22) Cedar Fair posted their Q1 2022 earning report on Thursday, showing $193 million in revenue during the three month time period. While all the Cedar Fair parks were closed during Q1 2021, and most shut down during 2020, comparing this figure to Q1 2019 (pre COVID) shows a 33% increase.
While Cedar Fair still reported an $84 million loss for the quarter (again, all of their parks other than Knott’s Berry Farm are closed during Q1), they were able to report a $59 million increase in season pass sales, which is clearly a sign of increased guest demand for the season to come.
Cedar Fair reports that the chain will be able to have a 60% increase in operating hours for the 2022 season compared to 2021, and after increases in pay to their staff, they believe that they will not suffer from the same staffing issues that plagued the operations of many of their parks last year.
The combination of increased guest demand and a lull in the launch of new attractions at most parks should put them in a good financial position by the end of the year, just in time to announce some needed new attractions to come for the 2023 season late in the summer.
Disney - (5/25/2023) Earlier this year Universal Studios surprised everyone with the announcements that they intend to build a small park in Texas focused on children and a stand-alone attraction in Las Vegas themed as a year-round celebration of their Halloween Horror Nights event. Ever since many have been casting a side-eye at The Walt Disney Company to see if they were planning any entries of their own into the small attraction marketplace.
Considering Disney’s past failures along those lines with the Disneyquest concept and last weeks announcement that they were shutting down their Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser interactive resort attraction after just 18 months, it should come as no surprise that Disney management has said no to the idea of building miniparks. According to Disney’s John D’Amaro, the company will instead focus their spending on their big theme parks and the Disney Cruise Line.
(5/17/2023) Disney fans, get ready, because the official full trailer for the upcoming Haunted Mansion movie has been released. Check it out below!
(3/13/2023) It’s not often that a company admits publicly that they were a bit too greedy in their price increase, but that seems to be the case with the temporary return of Bob Iger to The Walt Disney Company. While the word ‘greedy’ was not actually uttered, Iger did admit that “ I think that in our zeal to grow profits, we may have been a little bit too aggressive about some of our pricing.”
Seeming to comment on the criticism that Disney’s current pricing has gotten to the point that the theme park that Walt Disney created as a wonderland for everyone has become exclusionary due to excessive price increasing, Bob Iger went on to say that, “I think there’s a way to continue to grow our business but be smarter about how we price so that we maintain that brand value of accessibility.”
While we haven’t seen ticket prices drop, we have seen more days added to the schedule offering cheaper tier pricing, as well as the return of a number of free or included perks that had been monetized during the pandemic-years. While Bob Iger seems to get it, and really he always has, his time back at Disney’s helm is only temporary. Hopefully they’ll be a bit more successful when it comes to finding a suitable replacement this next time.
(3/12/2023) Interesting times ahead for Walt Disney Imagineering. It has been confirmed that Bruce Vaughn will be returning to co-lead WDI starting on March 20th with WDI President Barbara Bouza, as well as serve as Imagineering’s “chief creative officer”. Previously Vaughn served under the Disney umbrella for over 20 years, 9 of which in a position as co-lead and a chief creative executive before he departed the company in 2016.
While I don’t have a complete run-down of projects Vaughn had previously worked on, I believe one of the last big projects he was heavily involved with was PANDORA at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
(2/12/2023) Bob Iger made some interesting comments the other day about the future of the Disney theme parks. For starters, it sounds like Iger is good with the current idea of keeping the Disney parks at reduced capacity in exchange for increasing the overall park experience by preventing the overcrowding issues that would come with removing the reservation system. At the same time, Iger also mentioned not wanting to continue the previous strategy of ever increasing ticket prices as a method of trimming attendance levels.
So how will Disney increase theme park profits if they don’t open the gates wide to increase attendance and aren’t planning on major price increases at this time? Really the only way would be to increase the capacity limits of the parks themselves by expanding them with not only new attractions, but new lands. By increasing the physical footprint of the park for guests, they will be able to then increase attendance levels without causing the guest experience to suffer. The addition of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands at DIsneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios parks as well as the Pandora: The World of AVATAR land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park were sited as key examples. So it should be interesting to see just what grand plans Disney has in mind in order to expand their theme parks further. Of course, at some point, perhaps the idea of adding entirety new theme parks may also enter the conversation.
(1/21/2023) With the new Tron Lightcycle / Run attraction ready to open at Walt Disney World in a matter of weeks, it looks like Disney is finally ready to re-invest in taking theater audiences back into the Grid as well. On and off over the years since the premier of Tron: Legacy in 2010, the studio’s efforts to create a third Tron film will finally begin filming in August with Tron: Ares.
If the name sounds familiar, you might recall that Jared Leto leaked the title and his participation in the film back in 2017 on social media, only for everyone to go dark and silent afterward. Well, Leto and Tron: Ares are alive and well, but if there will be any link to the final events of Tron: Legacy that saw Olivia Wilde’s digital character Quorra make the leap to the real world with Flynn’s son, or the teased return of Rinzler as the hero Tron remain to be seen. As for the theme parks… who knows? Perhaps we’ll get even more Tron attractions in the years to come.
(1/16/2023) The Walt Disney Company has named Mark Parker as the new Chairman of the Board, replacing Susan Arnold. Parker is currently the Executive Chairman of Nike.
(1/15/2023) Interesting times are ahead for Disney. In Florida where the governor was seeking to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, it is now looking more likely that the state itself will simply seek to take it over, essentially leaving the special district and projects intact as before, but altered enough to limit some of Disney’s previous influence. This seems to be the best compromise that would allow the governor’s to stay true to his original intent to limit Disney’s power without putting the local tax payers in the surrounding counties out to cover the bills for Reedy Creek’s projects. So keeping the district more-or-less intact and functional, and with Disney still paying their taxes to it, but will less control seems to be the best solution for all parties at the moment. As for those developments, a recient meeting of the district voted to extend a currently approved land-use plan for the WDW Resort through to 2032 that would allow for 1 more large theme park to be built, as well as two smaller theme parks (waterpark sized), another golf course and several new hotel and resort projects. They say currently nothing is “planned”, but they have through to 2032 to start these before having to create a new overall long-term growth pan.
Elsewhere in the Disney empire however, the investor side of things is getting more complex as a new activist investor is now taking their issues with how Disney is doing things to the public and seeking change. According to Nelson Peltz, head of Trian Partners, Disney’s practice of “squeezing” their theme park guests to make up extra profits to cover losses and shortcomings in other areas of the company is an “unsustainable” practice.
Peltz has pointed out trouble spots such as losses from Disney’s streaming platforms, paying too much for the purchase of FOX, and the many and very public complaints from staff about low wages while Disney execs receive outrageous pay and bonus compensation packages. All this while cost-of-living price increases have stretched employee’s budgets to the limit, and have made it troublesome for the company to be staffed properly. It’s been a wide-spread accusation that the only reason Disney’s theme parks have been hanging on to their Covid-Era Reservation System is simply to limit attendance at the parks to help mask their staff shortage issues. Trian Parters is now seeking shareholder support to gain a seat on Disney’s board of directors, but so far Disney has refused that request.
On a similar note, it is also worth mentioning that Disney has also come under fire from another investor, Third Point Capital, who is pushing Disney to spin off their ESPN division.
(1/8/2023) The Walt Disney Company will hold a live audio webcast on Feb, 8th, 2023 to discuss their Q1 2023 earnings report results starting at 4:30 EST/1:30 PST. Follow the link to the investor website for the link to listen in on the day of the broadcast.
(1/7/2023) Consider me intrigued. It seems Disney has filed a new patent application for a new technology they say will use “hybrid air and water power” to make robots fly. The official and legnthy title of the patent is, “untethered robot with hybrid air and water power for hovering and quick airborne movements”. Now before you have visions of an Iron Man themed animatronic coming to deliver a Mickey Ice Cream Bar to you from across the park after ordering on an app, it seems the use of this technology is more intended for entertainment purposes. Specifically to “provide unique and surprising entertainment to audiences in settings where it may be difficult to utilize live performers”.
To me, this is likely to be more of an improvement to the Disney Stunt-Animatronic technology they are currently using in the Avengers Campus areas to depict Spider-Man soaring through the sky between buildings. So in this case, perhaps my example of Iron Man may actually be more accurate that I first thought, so you can imagine an Iron Man themed Stunt-Animatronic able to pose and briefly take flight, launching itself somewhere off-stage, out of sight of the audience for a landing in a net in much the same way that the Spider-Man version does.
(1/2/2023) Disney has teamed up Lighthouse Immersive Studios and the producers of “The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibitiion” to create the "Disney Animation Immersive Experience" exhibits, now open or opening soon in 10 cities across North America.
Currently the exhibits planned to arrive in: Boston, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Nashville, San Antonio and Toronto. Visit the website and select the city of your choice to see when tickets are available for purchase.
(12/30/2022) It’s no secret that people in the world have simply become more “terrible” over the past few years. The number of fights, all out brawls and other crazy incidents in theme parks across the nation have only been growing in frequency to the point where even a day at a Disney theme park is not immune to the chaos.
As such, it seems that Disney has decided to take a little proactive action and has added some new wording to the websites for the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts. The new messages are listed under the “Top Things” guests should know before you visit the Disney theme parks right after information about Reservations and Health & Safety rules, under a new section labeled “Courtesy”.
Over at Disneyland’s site it now says, “We ask all who come to this happy place to treat others with respect, kindness and compassion.” Meanwhile the Disney World website has added it to a section about Guest Courtesy and Attire Policies it also says, “Please show common courtesy to fellow Guests and our Cast Members by not using profanity or engaging in unsafe, illegal, disruptive or offensive behavior, jumping lines or saving places in lines for others.”
While this may seem slightly mild to some, remember that Disney has always had a fairly solid guest ejection policy, and has never hesitated to have security descend upon and remove unruly guests from the theme park resorts. This was also reinforced in WDW’s own Courtesy entry on the website, “Be the magic you want to see in the world. You must always remember to treat others with respect, kindness and compassion. Those who can't live up to this simple wish may be asked to leave Walt Disney World Resort.”
Of course, you would like to think that warnings like this should be entirely unnecessary by a civilized society, as they really should apply to just about any place one might visit in public for any reason. Blame it on bad upbringing, a growing sense of entitlement, social media, or just the general de-evolution of the human species. Either way… toss them out and maybe it’s time to bring in some of that facial recognition software to keep them out for good. After all, if you act out at an airport or worse, on a flight, you get put on a No-Fly list and banned from air travel. You always hear about the occasional person getting “banned for life” from Disney parks, but never any kind of explanation about exactly how that is possibly enforced.
(12/4/2022) The return of Bob Iger to Disney’s CEO spot may yield an unexpected benefit for the company’s Florida efforts. According to Fox Business, a new compromise between the state of Florida and Disney may be in the works to allow the Reedy Creek Improvement District to remain mostly as it was, but with a few modifications. Time will tell if Iger and Florida governor Ron DeSantis can come to some kind of new understanding.
(11/28/2022) Bob Iger answered a few questions for Disney staff as part of his first “town hall” presentation since his surprise return as CEO. According to Iger, at least for now, the hiring freeze that Chapek had announced not long ago will remain in effect. According to Iger, “It felt like it was a wise thing to do” at the time, and he doesn’t plan to change it. Of course, Iger is ready to make all kinds of changes of his own to the company’s organizational structure, so of course it doesn’t make any sense to hire anyone until he’s done changing things around.
Iger also mentioned that there will be a major change in focus regarding their Disney+ streaming service, with the new mission to make it profitable, and no longer solely being focused on just adding new subscribers. No further details were mentioned regarding if this would be accomplished by increasing the subscription price or by cutting the production budgets for new programming, or both.
Elsewhere comments attached to Bob Iger also indicate that he thinks ticket prices have become too high and that Chapek was “killing the soul of the company”.
(11/26/2022) A number of popular roller coaster designers are now offering some form of “drop track” element in the lineups. I believe Intamin was the first to do it with Th13teen at Alton Towers back in 2010, but coaster fans in North America are likely more familiar with Intamin’s drop track used on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Islands of Adventure (2019) or the versions made by Zierer on Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg or ART Engineering’s version on Wonder Mountain’s Guardian at Canada’s Wonderland. The drop track element has been used from kiddie coasters (Polar X-plorer at Legoland Billund from Zierer), themed coasters like the Factory Coaster in Wuzi Sunac Land in China from Zamperla, and even Intamin’s Objectif Mars spinning coaster at Futuroscope in France.
So after all this time, it seems Disney is looking to get into the concept, but with a twist on the design, allowing Disney to file their own patent for what they are calling a “Drop Swing” track element. Instead of just a straight down plunge, Disney’s patent shows off track fixed to a pair of rotational support arms able to give the track section both horizontally and vertical motion while it drops down into place.
(11/23/22) Shocking the entertainment and theme park worlds, it was revealed on Sunday evening that Disney’s Board of Directors had somehow convinced Bob Iger to come back out of retirement and take over as Disney’s CEO for a 2-year period of time. During this two-year window Iger is supposed to get things right inside Disney once again, while also finding a successor who will replace him at the end of the two years.
As for Bob Chapek, the man who replaced Bob Iger when he left in 2020… he has apparently been let go. While it is safe to say that Bob Chapek was not well liked by fans or by the majority of Disney Cast Members, you also have to remember that just a few months ago (July 2022) that in what seemed to be a move of public support for Chapek, the board unanimously voted to extend Bob Chapek’s contract as CEO by another three years. Prior to this, Chapek’s contract to serve as CEO was set to expire on Feb. 28, 2023, and then extended to 2026. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that Chapek’s ejection from Disney is probably going to come with a golden parachute to cushion his landing. To date, I don’t believe Chapek has publically made any kind of statement, and neither Iger or Disney’s Board of Directors have made any comments about Chapek at all.
So far the return of Bob Iger is seens as a very good thing, as the first comments and actions from Iger seem to be intent on undoing some of the more internal and controversial moves that Chapek made. There are also a few out there who claim that they saw this day coming way back in 2020, when Bob Iger suddenly (and probably wisely) announced his well timed and immediate retirement in February of 2020, just as the threat of COVID-19 was appearing to have breached America.
Fool.com had documented this as well, commenting soon after his retirement that Bob Iger had full knowledge of just how COVID-19 would impact the world after seeing how it impacted and shut-down Shanghai Disneyland in the months prior to his retirement. Bob Iger had been trying to retire for years but new projects (like building Shanghai Disney) or company acquisitions (like 20th Century Fox) kept giving him a reason to extend his contract to see those deals through. At the time when Iger did retire in Feb. 2020, he was actually on track to retire at the end of 2021 and not in 2020. So with clear knowledge of the storm that was approaching, Iger decided to retire while he was at the top of his game.
Even at the time when he suddenly handed the reins over to Bob Chapek, there were already rumors that the two Bob’s did not see eye-to-eye on anything. In fact, some even mused at the time that Iger’s sudden departure was actually a planned move that would eventually serve to bring about the end of Chapek’s Disney career as he struggled to find his way. Perhaps the old proverb says it best: If you give someone enough rope, they will eventually hang themselves.
So now Iger gets to play the hero once again, vanquishing the ‘evil’ Chapek in one fell swoop to save the Disney Empire. Well… at least that seems to be the narrative the spin doctors are placing on this ever evolving story… and they aren’t entirely wrong. So it will be interesting to see when Iger and Disney go next… and if Iger really will retire in two years or if they come up with a reason to extend his contract again by the end of next year.
(11/20/22) WDWNT has a new post showing off a patent for a new ride system from Disney that essentially appears to be an boat ride, but one placed on a motion based hidden under the water, with the boat placed in the center of a domed screen. As a fun nod, the concept art features artwork that implies it could be used for a Moana themed attraction, were Disney to create one, but it could be used for any number of other themes.
What is shown is interesting, but to be honest it looks more like how a set could be made to film a Hollywood production more than a functional ride system, as it isn’t clear at all how riders would load or be unloaded from a boat, surrounded by water in the middle of a dome attached to a motion base, unless it were on a tracks and could move in and out of the dome into a loading area. Keep in mind that Disney files patents all the time for attraction concepts that never get built, so this is not necessarily something that will be built just yet, but I do like the concept in principle.
(11/15/22) Price Hikes, Expensive, and Highly Profitable are the kind of phrases you think of when you think about Disney theme parks, but after failing to be as profitable as anticipated in their latest quarter, would you believe layoffs are on the horizon for Disney? According to a memo from CEO, Bob Chapek, company wide cost-cutting measures would be going into effect, and that layoffs would be affecting segments of the company in the near future. The company has also put a freeze on almost all job hiring, as well as a ban on “non-essential work travel”.
(10/30/22) Could your viewing habits on the Disney+ streaming service affect your future theme park visits? According to Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, that is the plan they are going for, and vice-versa. Chapek claims that Disney is working on a way to personalize your theme park experience based on the kind of programming you watch on Disney+, and by the same token, looking at the data of what people like to do and experience in the theme parks can help them create and promote better programming on Disney+ that might appeal to you.
The idea is very interesting, and while it remains to be seen how well it is executed, we know that streaming platforms have always used their own internal data of your viewing habits to create better and more popular programming. Netflix has done it for years and has been able to turn out countless films and series programming that their data suggests would appear to various customer segments. Without this kind of data, we may have never gotten breakout hits like Stranger Thing, The Witcher or even oddities like Squid Game.
So with that in mind, the really interesting thing here is that DIsney is now trying to loop in your in-person theme park experience likes and dislikes into the concept as well. I can see how data-mining popular theme park experiences can aid in on-screen programming, but I’m a little more skeptical of how they turn it around the other way without being too creepy. For example, let’s say you are waiting in line to ride Star Tours, it might freak you out if a droid you passed by make a comment about an episode of Dancing with the Stars you might have watched a couple of nights ago. By the same token however, if you noticed Stormtroopers in Galaxy’s Edge putting up wanted posters and searching for popular characters from Andor or The Mandalorian featured in recent streaming episodes, it could be a great way to tie the experiences of both on-screen and real-world together rather nicely. Disney has already been playing this sort of game much more openly by adding characters from the new Marvel movies and Disney+ series into experiences within Avengers Campus.
So I’m deeply curious to see how much further down the rabbit hole Disney can take this concept.
(10/20/22) According to Blooloop, Walt Disney Imagineering’s Bob Weis has announced that he is stepping down at the end of this year after an amazing 42-years at the company. Weis, a former President of Walt Disney Imagineering and the current “Global Imagineering Ambassador” for the company, announced his retirement on October 20th. While he may be leaving WDI, it doesn’t sound like Weis will be resting much. In a post to Insagram he confirmed he is still writing a book for Disney on the Marty Sklar Archives, working on a screenplay for the Walt Disney Studios, and has plans to “take my experience and use it for worthy projects that have the potential to improve our world.”
So I look forward to seeing where his adventures take Bob Weis next. Good Journey!
(10/15/22) Ryan Reynolds… what can’t this man do? Perhaps one of the hardest working men in showbiz today, Ryan Reynolds not only pushed for years to get Deadpool made (though he still claims not to be the one who leaked the test footage that really got the ball rolling), but he also convinced Hugh Jackman to unretire from the role of Wolverine so the duo can team up in Deadpool 3. Add in countless Netflix movie deals, his Maximum Effort production company, the star of Free Guy is also the former owner of Aviation Gin, owner of Mint Mobile, and now co-owner of the Wrexham Football Club. Plus being a Father of three and married to Blake Lively, you wouldn’t think he would have time for silly old theme parks, right?
Wrong… because it has now been reported that Ryan Reynolds will be teaming up with Qui Nguyen (writer of Disney’s forthcoming Strange World) to create a new live-action feature film themed around Disney’s “Society of Explorers and Adventures” characters. If you’ve spent enough time in Disney theme parks you’ve probably quietly noticed a few interesting and interconnected threads linking characters at various attractions at parks from across the globe, with other characters who all have a connection to the mysterious “S.E.A.” group.
So far characters with connections to S.E.A. have been discovered in attractions like Tower of Terror, Mystic Manor, Miss Adventure Falls, Soaring: Fantastic Flight, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain and more. In some cases the characters and storylines were part of new attractions, in others they were retroactively added to select attractions (such as Big Thunder Mt), along with a couple of long-known Disney character names being reconned into having links to S.E.A. The later list would include such names as Dr. Albert Falls (from the Jungle Cruise) or Merriweather Adam Pleasure from the long defunct Adventures Club that was once part of Pleasure Island at Walt Disney World.
Somehow I think Reynolds’ ability to just open his mouth and flood the room with creative dialog about crazy antics and wild adventures is going to fit right in with a film that will finally thrust the mysterious Society of Explorers and Adventures right into the spotlight.
(10/7/22) The Walt Disney Company will discuss their Q4 and Full Year 2022 financial results on November 8th, 2022. You can listed in to the webcast through the Disney investors website.
(8/18/22) For years now I’ve been wondering why Disney hasn’t tried to create a feature film franchise around their Big Thunder Mountain attraction in much the same way that they did with Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise films, or the upcoming Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror films. Deep down, I think they got a little gun-shy of doing anything with a “Western” theme after their Lone Ranger film bombed in 2013.
Nearly a decade later, it sounds like Disney has changed their mind on Westerns at last, and is said to have tapped a creative team and the directors behind some of the Hawkeye and Our Flag Means Death series to bring Big Thunder Mountain to life.
(7/2/22) While on social media there always seems to be a constant barrage of backlash against Disney CEO, Bob Chapek since he replaced Bob Iger in 2020, it seems that Disney’s Board of Directors is now behind Chapek. The Walt Disney Company’s Board of Directors has just unanimously voted to extend Bob Chapek’s contract as CEO by another three years. According to a statement from the board, “Disney was dealt a tough hand by the pandemic, yet with Bob at the helm, our businesses – from parks to streaming – not only weathered the storm, but emerged in a position of strength.” “In this important time of growth and transformation, the board is committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob’s leadership is key to achieving that goal.”
Compared to many of Disney’s past leaders, Chapek’s rise to the top seat was one that went mostly unseen by the cameras of the media. They note that Chapek has worked for Disney for nearly 30 years now, serving as the Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products and Chairman of Disney Parks & Resorts before taking on the high profile role of CEO.
Bob Chapek’s old contract was set to expire on Feb. 28, 2023, so with the extension now in place, Chapek’s position as CEO is now secured through to Feb., 28, 2026.
(6/26/22) Add this to the long list of things that Disney has filed patents for, but has no intention to build a finished product at this time. According to Blooloop Disney has filed the patent for a robotic mobile locker system that guests could use inside their theme parks. And I don’t mean just another one of those walls of digital lockers… this would actually be a MOBILE LOCKER unit that guests could summon to come to them out in the parks through the use of a mobile device.
We’ve all seen guests who would benefit from just such a concept… those who visit the parks with too much stuff, lugging huge bags-of-crap around the theme park all day out of a fear of needing something and not having immediate access. Ponchos, Umbrellas, Sunscreen, a bottle of Tylenol, an iPad for Jr if he gets fussy waiting for the parade, spare socks in case you step in a puddle, a hat… a second hat in case you don’t like the first one, refillable water bottles, a portable charger for your mobile device, chapstick, lip gloss, hand sanitizer (because people are dirty), maybe a spare stick of deodorant… UGH! The list is endless and exhausting!
Me? I go as minimal as possible, unless I’m working a big media event and then I’ll probably have some camera gear, but otherwise I try to avoid taking anything I don’t need. But for those who just can’t make that work, imagine storing all that crap in a little robot locker on wheels who will then go off and park itself somewhere out of sight to charge up until you call it to come and find you. I can definitely see a need for just such a service in a theme park, provided the little suckers can roam the park and make their way through the crowded walkways without harassment.
What do I mean by harassment? My son attends the University of Tennessee where earlier this year an army of little food delivery robots from “Starship” were unleashed upon the campus with the job of delivering food to hungry students on campus (see video below). A very cool idea indeed, but it didn’t take more than two months before a couple of students are now facing “felony” charges for intentionally causing damage to the bots. I’m not sure what they were thinking as these are essentially rolling security-cameras, but then again these idiots also posted videos of themselves doing to deeds to social media accounts (which have since been deleted, but too late!)
Back to Disney’s idea… it’s wonderful and knowing Disney I’m sure they would design these things to be very cute too. Imagine little bots that look like Wall-E or something roaming the parks as digital lockers. So a great idea from Disney, but based on the practical roll out of similar technology right now, maybe not all members of our society are quite ready to embrace the concept just yet. Maybe a little more in the future…
(6/18/22) If you thought a stay at Disney’s Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser was expensive, Adventures by Disney has just kindly asked the world to “Hold my beer…” to make their latest announcement.
They call this particular adventure “Disney Parks Around The World - A Private Jet Adventure” which take you on a 24-day adventure with a starting cost of $109.995.00 to participate. The trip is limited to just 75 participants that take place from July 9 through August 1st, 2023, flying the group around the world on a custom VIP-configured Boeing 757 (complete with a chef and physician on board) and where you will not only hit every Disney theme park IN THE WORLD, but also stop at a number of other important Disney related locations along the way. Departing from California and ending in Orlando, you’ll also stop by the places like the Walt Disney Studios, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, before moving on to Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong, plus stops at some world famous landmarks like the Pyramids of Giza, Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal.
Seriously, if you have the cash to go, this is very accurately described as the ultimate “bucket list adventure” for Disney fans. Ironically, the only Disney location I don’t see on the list of where you will get to go is actually the Galactic Starcruiser itself. But somehow after traveling the world to see this ultimate list of Disney places and experiences, I don’t think anyone will care about that one little omission.
(4/4/22) According to a post from Orlando Theme Park Zone, Disney has made some adjustments to their description of the Disney Genie+ Service in Walt Disney World that are not included on the Disneyland page for the service at this time. These new text additions seem to be a way of resetting guest expectations about how the service is currently working out, claiming that “On average, guests can enter 2 to 3 attractions or experiences per day using the Lightning Lane entrance”, provided you make your first selection “early in the day”.
This seems to be accurate based on reports I got from family members who used the Disney Genie+ service in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort earlier this year. The family members who used it at Disney’s California theme parks raved about how well it worked for them, claiming that they managed to use it all day long at both parks on just about everything during their two day visit, and they would recommend it to everyone. Meanwhile a family member who visited Walt Disney World a short time later reported back that they felt the use of the Disney Genie+ service at the Walt Disney World parks was a complete waste of money, as every attraction on the service seemed to run out of availability for the entire day a couple of hours after the parks opened. During their three day visit to Walt Disney World, they reported back as only being able to use it on 1 or 2 attractions per day.
I know since their visit in January (normally a slow month) Walt Disney World has tried to address the capacity issues of the system by adding three more attractions to Genie+ (Space Mountain, Frozen Ever After and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway), but based on the latest reports, it just hasn’t been enough. Meanwhile Disney has also said that they expect to continue requiring reservations to visit their parks through to at least January 18, 2024. In both the California and Florida markets, Disney Parks are now the only parks still requiring reservations. According to some reports, Disney has been keeping the reservation system in place not only as a way of preventing park over-crowding issues, but also as a way to keep the crowds dialed back a bit more than normal to cope with the ongoing staff shortage issues.
It is worth mentioning one major difference between how Disney Genie+ works in the California parks vs the Florida parks is that in California guests have to physically be geo-tagged by the app as being inside the theme parks before they can make their first reservation. At Walt Disney World, likely as a way to appease the on-site resort guests that kind of mucked-up the old FastPass service in the first place, they allow guests to make their first Genie+ reservations at 7am, no matter where you are on the WDW property. This goes a long way towards explaining how things are already so booked up first thing in the morning. Perhaps WDW may want to re-think this particular aspect and prevent booking until guests are actually inside the parks to see if it makes a positive difference in the service.
(2/12/22) At this point I think it is safe to say that Disney Genie+ and the Lightning Lane line-cutting program is now here to stay. During the company’s latest earnings report it was revealed that Disney’s theme parks achieved record revenue performance during this past winter holiday season due not only to pent up demand for their theme park product, but also due in large part to the performance numbers of the Genie+ service that left a lot of company execs simply “blown away”. According to the numbers released, Disney says about a third of all domestic park guests purchased either Genie+ or a Lightning Lane pass, with that performance number rising to about 50% during the more busy holiday period.
According to Bob Chapek, despite the surge of Omicron that was running rampant during Disney Q1 2022 timeframe (Oct 3, 2021 through Jan. 1, 2022) “our domestic parks and resorts achieved all-time revenue and operating income records”. In fact Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Products division saw their revenue double in Q1 2022 to rake in $7.2 billion compared to just $3.6 billion from Q1 2021. It is worth noting that last year the Disneyland Resort was still closed due to California’s COVID restrictions, so that alone does play heavily into the increased numbers they are promoting. However, Disney was quick to point out that they have so far seen a 40% increase in guest spending over the same quarter from 2019 (pre pandemic), which includes the extra revenue brought it by the new Genie+ system.
Feld Entertainment - (4/2/23) It has been a long time coming, but the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is now set to return with a new North American tour starting in Fall 2023. The world renown circus shocked the world when owner, Feld Entertainment, announced that the big top show was closing forward in January 2017. The new returning concept however will be different than what was see before, re-designed from the bottom up to feature all human performance acts, ending the over a century long tradition of the circus featuring wild animal acts.
(5/21/22) After taking the final curtain call in early 2017, would you believe that the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus experience is set to return next year? Believe it, because Feld Entertainment has confirmed that “The Greatest Show On Earth” will return to touring in September 2023, but with one major change… no more animal performers.
The hope is that the revised show concept will continue to engage with today’s audiences and allow the famous show to continue on with their 146-year legacy for many more years to come. The search is now on to fill the roster with talented acts from around the globe for the new production, with tickets slated to go on sale once again in April 2023 for the initial tour that will cross through over 50 cities across North America.
Five Star Parks & Attractions - (5/26/2023) Five Star Parks & Attractions is growing again. According to this update the company who is one of the nation’s leading operators of family entertainment centers has now purchased two “Fun Land” locations in Virginia (Fredericksburg & Fairfax) following the purchase of Scene75 Entertainment earlier this month. With the addition of the two Fun Land properties, Five Star Parks & Attractions portfolio has grown to feature 27 different attractions across 13 different states. Other highlight attractions from Five Star includes Malibu Jack’s, Celebration Station, LaserPort, SpeedZone, The Track, Xtreme Racing centers and more.
Herschend Family Entertainment - (4/8/23) One of the big business stories to come from the pandemic was the purchase of the iconic Vancouver Aquarium in 2021 by Herschend Family Entertainment. While Herschend is normally more known for their major theme parks, such as Dollywood, Silver Dollar City or Kentucky Kingdom, they also own and operate a number of smaller regional attractions such as the Pink Adventure Tours, various dinner theaters (Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Pirates Voyage, Showboat Branson Belle), as well as the Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey and Newport Aquarium in KY. In what was described as a once in the lifetime opportunity, the opportunity to purchase and save the world renown Vancouver Aquarium took place in 2021.
The pandemic just rocked the Vancouver Aquarium to the core after shutting down operations completely in early 2020 while still needing to take care of the over 65,000 animals contained within on a daily basis. A great new article at Blooloop goes over the history of the Vancouver Aquarium and how this not-for-profit facility suddenly found itself on the brink of extinction.
(7/25/22) Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park will soon be under new management. In 2021 Herschend Family Entertainment who had been functioning as the management company for the attraction since 1998 asked to end their contract early. HFE was to keep running Stone Mountain through to early 2028, but instead their run will now come to an end on July 31, 2022.
A bidding process was opened to find a new management company, and a new company called Thrive Attractions Management LLC, created by a former HFE VP, will be taking over. Herschend has cited various reasons for leaving, including decreasing revenues from the property as well as “protests and division” fueled by the park’s Confederate imagery.
Loopings Group - (3/29/22) According to a report at Blooloop the Loopings Group has acquired Aquapark Istralandia, a popular waterpark in Croatia. The waterpark was built in 2014 and is said to be the first waterpark in Croatia. With the addition of Aquapark Istralandia, Loopings Group currently owns a collection of 17 parks and attractions, including theme parks, water parks, aquariums and animal parks.
Meow Wolf - (3/29/23) Dealing with gateways and portals to other worlds is nothing new for the creatives at Meow Wolf, but now they’re working on enabling their fans to get a taste of one of Meow Wolf’s worlds through VR. According to this report, Meow Wolf is working with Mighty Coconut to create ‘Walkabout Mini Golf: Meow Wolf”, an VR mini-golf course world based on the same Numina world guests to their Denver “Convergence Station” location get to experience.
(1/15/2023) Fun things are all starting to come together for the greater Dallas area in Texas. Earlier this week Universal announced they were planning to build a new small theme park in Frisco on the North end of town, and now Meow Wolf has announced that the portal their newest location in Grapevine will open this summer at Grapevine Mills. More than just at artistic immersive experience, this Meow Wolf location will also host space for local artists and vendors, a retail space and a live performance venue.
Every Meow Wolf has an entirely different overall theme to it, starting with the original location in Santa Fe which was named the House of Eternal Return. The Las Vegas location is themed around the concept of excessive consumerism and is called Omega Mart, while the Denver gateway to another dimension labeled as the Convergence Station. To date, I don’t think Meow Wolf has released a name or theme for the new Dallas location, but if someone knows otherwise, please do let me know!
(10/14/22) The original Meow Wolf location in Santa Fe, otherwise known at the “House of Eternal Return”, just grew even bigger with the opening of three new ‘permanent portals’ within the attraction’s ever evolving exhibit space. The three new portals include:
“Sirens: Secret Passkeys & Portals” (featuring characters from Virgil Ortiz’s Revolt 1680/2018 project series.
“The Ancestral Crypt” - a two-story room accessed via a round portal from the forest from creator Lauren YS.
And finally look for Jacob Fisher’s “until I see you again” accessed in “the depths of the exhibition space covering “Space Sphere”.
(9/4/22) Meow Wolf has announced a list of artists who will be helping create their new 4th installation in Grapevine, Texas, set to open sometime in 2023. Earlier this year Meow Wolf announced that their next two installations would both be in Texas starting with Grapevine in 2023 and followed by a location in the Houston area in 2024.
For those wondering whatever happened to the once proposed Washington DC installation, that was originally going to open by the end of 2022, it was announced back in May last year that Meow Wolf was no longer attached to the Art Place at Fort Totten project.
Thus far there still has been no confirmation if Meow Wolf was planning to open another location inside the second Area 15 project announced for Orlando earlier this year. The original Area 15 in Las Vegas was the location of Meow Wolf’s second permanent installation titled, Omega Mart.
(5/14/22) Meow Wolf has confirmed plans to expand into Texas next, with two brand new locations. While the original Meow Wolf location opened in Santa Fe, New Mexico back in 2016, the group was able to open two new locations in 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada (inside the Area 15 complex) and later in the year in Denver, Colorado.
According to an official statement from Meow Wolf they will open their next location at the Grapevine Mills mall in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2023 inside a former “big box retail” store site. The mall is also home to a few other attraction experiences from Merlin Entertainment, with a Legoland Discovery Center and SeaLife Aquarium already on site.
After that the next site will open in the Houston areas “Fifth Ward” in 2024.
According to the statement these two sites are set to be Meow Wolf’s “next permanent exhibitions”. This has left a big hanging question mark about just exactly what is planned for the recently announced second Area 15 location in Orlando, Florida. The original Area 15 in Las Vegas, which is a collection of interesting collection attractions that blend art and technology was home to the first expansion “portal” from Meow Wolf, named “Omega Mart”. Most were assuming another Meow Wolf location would be part of the Orlando Area 15 as well, so while it may just being kept under wraps for the time being, the wording here suggests that if Meow Wolf comes to Orlando, it won’t be until after the two locations in Texas open first. This could be the plan anyway, as the “Omega Mart” installation opened about 9 months after the rest of Area 15 in Las Vegas anyway.
Merlin Entertainment - (5/20/2023) Along with the opening of the new World of Jumanji themed land at Chessington in the UK and a pair of Jumanji attractions at Gardaland in Italy, Merlin Entertainment has reveals that they are working with Sony on plans to build more attractions, ride and lands based on Sony-owned IP. Apparently this is not just limited to Sony’s film vault, as they are also looking into ideas that could be based on Sony’s music, TV, anime and video-game franchises as well.
The opening of Universal’s Nintendo video game themed land and attractions in Japan and Hollywood is something of a wake-up call, along with PortAventura in Spain preparing to open a new dark/coaster attraction themed around the Sony Playstation’s popular Uncharted game series which spawned a film adaptation last year.
Of course this isn’t the first time Merlin and Sony have worked together, as you may recall that Heide Park in Germany opened an amazing looking Ghostbusters dark ride in 2017, and with the GhostBusters IP revived by the latest film, it would only be fitting if more attractions based on this IP were in development.
(3/10/2023) Would you believe that Merlin is moving forward to build a second Peppa Pig Theme Park in the US? But it isn’t going where you think it might!
Unlike how the first Peppa Pig Theme Park was built right next to the existing Legoland Florida theme park, Merlin’s plans for a sequel will now see them add a Peppa Pig Theme Park as a stand-alone project coming to the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area. More specifically, the plan is to build it in the “North Richland Hills” area, with work to start sometime next year. Much like the Florida park, this will be a small stand-alone park experience meant for smaller kids.
Interestingly enough, this seems like a move from Merlin to try and capitalize on the marker and get their park open before Universal Studios can open their proposed new mini-park in Frisco. Unlike the Universal proposal, which will see a small part built in the northern side of the greater Dallas area, the Richland Hills area closer to the Fort Worth area, and a short 18 to 20 minute drive from Arlington, long-time home to Six Flags over Texas and maybe just 15 minutes away from the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.
It should be interesting to see what kind of impact this news has on Six Flags. Especiallyin terms of what kind of steps or expanded development plans they may try to put into place in order to retain their long-time dominance as the premier theme park in the area once they are not the only game in town any longer.
(2/25/2023) Merlin has announced that their new attraction coming to Blackpool in May 2023 will be called the “Gruffalo & Friends Clubhouse”. This will be a new family-friendly all-indoor attraction located next door to Merlin’s Sea Life aquarium and feature a number of themed experiences based on the Gruffalo character and other related works.
(1/7/2023) Merlin is preparing to build a new £2.3 million attraction in Blackpool that will involve converting the space under the Sea Life aquarium they already operate. According to the report at Blooloop, a spokesperson for Merlin stated that this will be “another IP-led attraction” and they are finalizing all the details before they can reveal more about what exactly it will be. They did state that the ‘brand-led attraction’ should be ready to open in the first half of 2023.
In addition to the Sea Life aquarium, Merlin also operates a Madame Tussauds location, the Blackpool Tower, the Blackpool Tower Dungeon, and the Peter Rabbit: Explore & Play attractions in the area and started a new management contract to run the nearby Sandcastle Waterpark as well.
(11/15/22) Merlin Entertainment has named Scott O’Neil as their new CEO, erffective Nov. 15th. O’Neil comes to Merlin from his previous post as CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. Follow the link to learn more about his previous history.
(4/30/22) In an interesting bit of news, Merlin’s CEO, Nick Varney, has announced his plans to retire from the company, giving a 12-month notice to the company so they can find a suitable replacement to transition in. Merlin’s Chief Development Officer, Mark Fisher, has also announced his pending retirement in 12-months to allow time for his replacement as well.
According to a statement from Merlin, they will begin the search and will look for both internal and external candidates. Nick Varney has been with the company ever since he joined the Tussauds Group to work at Alton Towers back in 1990.
(3/25/22) A lengthy article posted to Blooloop looks over Merlin’s relationship with the Bear Grylls brand of adventure-tainment that resulted in the opening of the Bell Grylls Adventure attraction. Speaking with Marc Bell, the director of the “Merlin Magic Making Division”, they go over the creation of the attraction, how the unique collection of offerings within make it unique like the Royal Marines-inspired Assault Course, indoor skydiving or the opportunity to swim with sharks. Looking forward, they are exploring the idea of expanding the concept to other Merlin attraction sites in the UK as well as into the Asia-Pacific region.
(3/19/22) Various reports have confirmed that Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed a deal with Merlin Entertainment to allow the theme park chain to create various Jumanji themed attractions, rides and themed hotel experiences based on the film series across Europe, the UK and in North America. The first such attraction will open in Gardaland in Italy in early April and a second attraction was confirmed to be opening in 2023 at another park elsewhere. According to previous details uncovered, this second attraction should arrive at the Chessington theme park in the UK.
(2/16/22) The one and only ‘Dungeon” attraction from Merlin Entertainment to ever be built in the US has now closed forever. Popular all across Europe (with 6 versions in the UK alone), the first US location opened in San Francisco in 2014, but 8 short years later the San Fran Dungeon has now officially closed for good according to the website.
Merlin’s other area attraction, the Madame Tussauds wax museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, remains opens.
(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.
Premier Parks - (6/3/22) Premier Parks has announced that they have “acquired operation” of the Canadain Valcartier-Calypso Group Resort and Water Parks. The deal includes taking over the operations of the group’s four-star resort hotel property that features a spa and indoor waterpark, as well as two outdoor waterparks, a campground, a “unique ice hotel” and “the largest winter games center in North America.”
The deal includes the Calypso Waterpark outside Ottawa, Canada and the Valcartier Vacances Village complex that includes the Hotel Valcartier, the Bora Parc indoor waterpark, the Valcartier Water Park (outdoor waterpark), the Hotel de Glace ice hotel, Valcartier Winter Playground and Camping Valcartier.
Puy du Fou - (3/27/23) According to a Chinese news article, Hangzhouj (capital of China’s Zhejiang province) signed several contracts with various tourism projects. One of which was a 5 billion yuan investment contract with Puy du Fou that will include the construction of “a new riverside theme park in the city.” The government had been previously dropping hints about signing a deal to build a “world-class tourism park” and this was it.
Puy du Fou has already launched a teaser website for this latest park project.
(1/12/2023) Puy du Fou continues to expand their portfolio of unique attraction experiences. the theme parks. In addition to two theme park experiences in Europe (France and Spain) the group is also working on stand-alone concepts in China and America, and now they’re looking to bring their unique entertainment style to the rails of Europe with the creation of “Le Grand Tour”.
Puy du Fou’s “Le Grand Tour” experience will take travelers on a “6-day, 5-night Grand Tour journey across the railways of France starting in Summer 2023. From start to finish guests will travel about 4,000 km (2485.5 miles) in an authentic “Belle Epoque” train to experience a journey filled with history, wonder, legends and a few surprises along the way.
(5/17/22) I hadn’t seen this before, but a tweet from Blooloop shares a look at concept art for the the “407: Gateway to Adventure” project, otherwise known as the gateway exit to Pigeon Forge where Puy du Fou is supposed to build a new stand-alone immersive attraction that will feature an authentic Cherokee story of the First World War. The artwork shows off a large building on the right with a rocky facade out front along with a large statue of what we assume to be a Cherokee soldier holding the American flag. According to the description, this and the surrounding complex of buildings will represent just phase 1 of the project.
(5/7/22) According to a local news report the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has “inked a deal” with Puy du Fou to develop a “spectacular immersive show” to be installed as part of their 200-acre development project on I-40’s exit 407. This matches up with a previous report that Puy du Fou was looking at this location amongst others in Tennessee for a future project.
(This is also the same overall project area that will include the world’s largest Buc-ee’s location.)
According to the report the tribal council that approved $75 million to move forward with Phase 1 of the site development as they seek out other world-class attractions that will appeal to the anticipated crowds (6.7 million visitors in the first year after phase 1 is complete). While the timeline is still fluid, they are hoping that this will all be ready before the end of 2024.
The creative team at Puy du Fou has been able to create fascinating attractions and shows based on actual historic events and timelines and according to a statement from the Tribal Council, “We are excited to take the first steps towards developing this world-class attraction that will help support our nation economically while creating a new platform to share dimensions of Cherokee history many have never heard.”
The early description of the Tennessee site is not going to be as massive as the full Puy du Fou theme park in France, Instead Puy du Fou will create an “immersive walk-through show inspired by the journeys of Cherokee Indians who served in World War I” that should be a “patriotic and moving journey for the entire family.”
As North America is considered “the new world” in terms of the overall history of the planet, the location is also rich with a variety of historic events and cultures that would serve as an excellent landing point for the Puy du Fou team who is rumored to be looking to expand into new locations across the world.
(2/26/22) Screamscape sources tell us that Puy du Fou is apparently looking into a second possible site in Tennessee. While last week we heard they were looking into a location at the gateway to Pigeon Forge in the eastern part of the state, I’m now being told they were also eyeballing a site on the west end, close to Nashville. It seems clear the company is serious about expanding into the US somewhere, so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about them looking into other potential sites elsewhere as well over the next few months. If the rumors are true, they plan may be to narrow their choices down to one or two possible sites by the end of the year.
(2/18/22) Earlier this month we heard that Puy du Fou was looking into a possible site in Florida, just north of Daytona to build their first US theme park, but apparently the French theme park company is also wisely eyeballing some other locations in the US as possible sites as well. According to a local news article reps for Puy du Fou have also been meeting with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who are currently developing a 200-acre site on I-40 at the main exit guests take to get to Pigeon Forge.
The site has already announced that it will be home to the world’s largest Buc-ee’s gas station and convenience store and now it seems there is a chance that Puy du Fou may also be willing to plant their flag in Tennessee.
(2/4/22) Would you believe that another theme park company is possibly looking to bring their brand of parks to Florida? According to Screamscape sources Puy du Fou who currently operates historic themed adventure parks in France and Spain, and developing another park in China, may be looking into buying a rather large plot of undeveloped property in Florida just north of Daytona Beach. Puy du For is unlike any theme park in Florida, and perhaps may better be described as a sort of turbo charged merger of a Renaissance Fair meets Medieval Times with the flair of Cirque du Soleil.
Check out this teaser video below for the 2022 season coming to the park in France as a prime example of what I mean. The only complication I see would potentially be weather related, as the Florida summers are hot and with the high potential for a very wet and lightning filled storm to pass overhead daily in the late afternoons or early evening. As Puy du Fou parks appear to be primarily outdoor environments, featuring many large outdoor show venues, some kind of modifications are going to be needed to operate in the theme park capital of the world.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment - (5/15/2023) SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment posted their Q1 2023 earning report last week. Despite a small attendance slip for the quarter compared to same time-period the year before that was blamed on bad weather, the chain reported that this was their 8th consecutive quarter of record financial results. Total revenue for Q1 2023 was said to be $293.3 million, up 8.4% over Q1 2022. Adjusted EBITDA was listed as $72.4 million, an increase of 9.8% from Q1 2022. With several new ride openings taking place, including Pipeline in Orlando this past week, DarKoaster in Williamsburg, to be followed by Arctic Rescue in San Diego and Catapult Falls in Texas, plus the opening of the new SeaWorld Abu Dhabi theme park later this month, the company is looking forward to even better results next quarter.
(4/23/2023) SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has announced that the company will release their Q1 2023 financial results on Tuesday, May 9th, with a conference call to follow that morning which you can listed in to via the investor website starting at 9am EST.
(3/5/2023) According to the Q4 and 2022 Year End report, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment reported some fantastic numbers. Overall attendance for Q4 2022 was said to be 4.9 million guests, and while this was a very small decrease from Q4 2021, the number is actually higher than the company’s pre-pandemic Q4 2019 attendance figure. Full year (2022) attendance was reported as 21.9 million guests across the chain, up 1.7 million from 2021 and only down .7 million from the year end figure from 2019.
CEO Marc Swanson commented that attendance and other numbers would have been even higher in Q4 if it wasn’t for the impact of Hurricane Ian & Nicole, along with some other “adverse weather impacts”.
The chain reported a Q4 record revenue of $390.5 million, net income of $49 million for Q4 and 2022 year end revenue of $1.7 billion (up over 2021 and 2019) and net income at a record high $291.2 million.
It seems pretty clear that not only has the chain managed to reach pre-pandemic strength levels, but it also seems to finally be recovering from the “Blackfish” effect that plagued the company for many years before the pandemic A strategic switch and heavy investment into adding new rides and waterslides to all of the chain’s parks year-after-year seems to have helped with the turn around. This is expected to continue into the 2023 season as a new wave of family and thrill rides prepares to open at virtually every park across the chain over the coming weeks.
(1/29/2023) SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has announced a series of 8 different leadership promotions as part of a company restructuring to “accelerate business transformation, performance and growth”. The changes include the creation new positions such as the “Chief Transformation Officer” and two “Chief Park Operation Officer” positions.
The chain’s current Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer, Chelle Adams, has been tapped to serve as the first Chief Transformation Officer, with the goal of “ streamlining and re-engineering organizational processes and implementing high-value initiatives to ensure successful execution of our transformation strategy. She will also be responsible for leading our business development and growth activities”.
Jim Forrester has been promoted as Interim Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer and Shekufeh Boyle as Chief Accounting Officer.
Kyle Miller has been selected as the Chief Park Operations Officer overseeing all of the chain’s Florida parks, while Byron Surrett was selected as Chief Park Operations Officer to oversee all of the chain’s non-Florida parks.
And finally three new Park Presidents were selected. Jon Peterson at SeaWorld Orlando, Bradley Gilmour for Aquatica Orlando & Discovery Cove and Jodi Davenport for SeaWorld San Antonio / Aquatica San Antonio.
(8/5/22) SeaWorld Entertainment announced the results of their Q2 2022 report this week. Highlights include attendance of 6.3 million guests, an increase of half a million guests (7.8%) over Q2 2021, and only a 3.1% decrease from Q2 2019 attendance levels (pre-COVID). Over the first 6-months of 2022 total attendance was 9.7 million, up 1.6 million (20.5%) from the same time period of 2021.
Total Revenue hit a record level of $504.8 million in the quarter, up $65 million (14.8%) from Q2 2021, and up 24.3% compared to Q2 2019 (pre-COVID). Total revenue PerCap was up 6.4% compared to Q2 2019, with in-park PerCap’s up 8.2%.
Other notable actions being taken include a company repurchase of 7.1 million shares of common stock at a cost of $390.1 million, performed between April 2022 and July 2022. The Board of Directors also approved a new $250 million share repurchase program.
(5/5/22) According to the local news SeaWorld Entertainment published their Q1 2022 earnings report today. The company’s revenue for the quarter increased by $99 million compared to revenue posted in Q1 2021 and across the chain, they reported 3.4 million guests visited the parks, making this the best attendance in Q1 since 2013. While revenue and attendance levels are rising, the company has yet to see international traveler numbers return to pre-COVID levels, and staffing levels remains an issue that they plan to work on as in-park spending levels continue to rise.
(4/4/22) While doing a little searching through the US Trademark database I came across a new entry for the SeaWorld chain of parks to use the name “ABYSS” for a theme park ride, with a filing date of March 28, 2022. The other interesting thing is that SeaWorld had already filed to use the same name way back in August 2019, which was still listed as being active as well. Given the number of new projects throughout the company intended for 2020 that were delayed until 2022, it would make sense that the next wave of projects would be preparing to move forward now after two years of delays. The question is… just which park is likely to get an attraction worthy of the name Abyss?
While the name would have worked as an alternative for a Dive Coaster like Emperor in San Diego, keep in mind that Emperor was also first announced as Mako before they wisely changed that one. There are actually a few new rides rumored to be in the works that could use the name Abyss, such as the indoor dark coaster said to be planned for Busch Gardens Williamsburg inside the former DarKastle building structure, then there the new flume ride being planned for SeaWorld San Antonio. Perhaps more of a long shot may be the new coasters said to be in the works for SeaWorld Orlando and San Diego as well. Of course Abyss is always a perfect name for a waterslide, which could arrive at any one of the chains numerous waterparks, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Six Flags - (6/3/2023) Six Flags park fans… check out the website for your local park as it seems that some kind of new replacement for the fortner “Membership” program is now launching under the name “Six Flags Plus”. In common Six Flags practice, the price will vary depending on which park you sign up at, however the Six Flags Plus plans will get you “Access to all 27 Six Flags Theme Parks and Water Parks” and includes parking and discounts on food and merchandise.
Price wise, this isn’t a bad deal at all, though it does lock you into an initial 12-month term, after which it appears to switch over to a month-to-month payment plan that you can then cancel at any time. Six Flags appears to be pricing this as an option between their Platinum Passes and the more expensive Diamond Pass. For an example, Six Flags over Georgia has Gold Passes for $60, Platinum for $75, and Diamond for $140, but at a price of just $8.99 a month for 12 months, the Six Flags Plus plan would cost you $107.88 over the first 12 months. On the higher end of the spectrum, the Six Flags Plus plan at Six Flags Magic Mountain is $12.99 a month, which comes out to $155.88 after the first 12 months.
(5/10/2023) Six Flags has posted their Q1 2023 earning report and in a bit of a surprise, the company has posted record revenue for a first quarter report, despite also showing another decline in attendance at the chain. According to the summary, Six Flags’s revenue for the quarter was $142 million, up $4 million or 3% compared to the same quarter in 2022.
The increase was said to be driven mostly by higher guest spending, but would have been even better if not for a drop in attendance as bad weather hampered the parks that were open in California and Texas at that time of year.
Six Flags CEO, Selim Bassoul, is still sticking to his guns regarding the future direction for the company, claiming that “our new strategy and o ur new culture are beginning to take hold.” They are also looking forward to more improvements in Q2, claiming that season pass sales have been accelerating, though that probably has more to do with the chain lowering the prices on them once again.
The end result was that Six Flags did beat the performance levels estimated by market trackers, so the stock price rose as investors bought in. In other new, comments made by Six Flags during a conference call also indicated that Six Flags would be testing out a ‘dynamic pricing program’ in the parks starting in July, that would allow them to raise the ticket price on busy days, and lower it on slow days. This is similar to how Disney has been pricing their tickets for the past few years.
(4/20/2023) Six Flags has announced that they will post their Q1 2023 earnings results on the morning of May 8, 2023. You can listen in to the investor call that will follow later that morning on the Six Flags investor website or by phone by calling 833-629-0614.
(4/16/2023) These kind of things come and go over the years, but I’m hearing that Six Flags appears to be switching to outsourcing the operations of their midway games at many of their parks right now. In many cases, if you’ve noticed that the midway games in the park have been suddenly remodeled and are now better staffed than in the past, that’s a fair indicator that they’ve been outsourced.
On a related note, I’m also hearing they may be looking at doing the same with their on-ride photos as well in the future. Photo operations, both from live photographers and from on-ride automated systems at parks are a frequent item that park’s seem to swap back and forth between outsources and bringing them in-house over the years, so I’m not surprised. Given the difficult nature of keeping parks fully staffed anymore, I’m not surprised by these actions, as sometimes an outside company with a smaller focus on just one area can be more nimble and makes things work.
(3/12/2023) Simply Wall St has posted an interesting take on an issue they see taking place within Six Flags at the moment. In short, they say that Six Flags Entertainment “could be struggling to allocate capital”. Reviewing financial metrics for various companies, they say that there are two trends they often see as tell-tale signs of a business that is “potentially in decline”. This would be a “return of capital employed (ROCE) that’s declining, and a base of capital employed that also declining.”
Breaking that down into more plain english, they say we’re seeing Six Flags spending similar levels of capital on the business over the past several years, and yet the return the company is seeing on that capital, pre-tax, has been in decline. Currently they say Six Flags ROCE is 17%, which is well above the average 10% generated by much of the Hospitality industry, however in comparison to prior performance figures, Six Flags previously was earning 22% just five years ago. “Since returns are falling and the business has the same amount of assets employed, this can suggest it's a mature business that hasn't had much growth in the last five years.”
Investors have noticed this trend, and they note that the average stock price has also declined by 51% from where it was 5-years ago as well. As such, they are recommending to investors to look elsewhere “Unless there is a shift to a more positive trajectory in these metrics”.
(3/10/2023) Six Flags posted their Q4 2022 and Year-End Report last week, and as expected there were some very interesting results contained within. For starters, Q4 2022 revenue reported was $280 million, a 12% decrease from what was reported for Q4 the year before. This ended up with a $13 million Net Income for the quarter, however, this was better than the $2 million loss reported from Q4 2021, so at least that part seemed to be good news.
Attendance wise, Six Flags was bleeding heavily compared to the 2021 numbers, continuing the trend we’ve seen reported previously during the year. Q4 2022 attendance was just 4.1 million guests, down a heavy 30% from Q4 2021’s 5.8 million guests. However, you will remember that an attendance loss was forecast as part of the company’s strategy for the year. The goal was lower attendance levels a bit in order to offer a better and less crowded experience in the park’s for the guests that do come. They would then off-set the lower attendance numbers by raising prices on just about everything.
So while attendance for the quarter was down 30%, total guest spending PerCaps were actually up 23% with admissions spending alone going up 24%. It was also mentioned that some of the attendance loss in Q4 was due to the fact that Six parks that were normally open in the winter months for Holiday in the Park events were left closed.
So how did Six Flags stack up for the entire 2022 year then? Total Revenue was down 9% to $1.358 billion, with a reported Net Income of just $109 million, down 16% from 2021’s $130 million. Chain-wide park attendance for the entire 2022 year was just 20.4 million, down 26% from 2021’s reported 27.7 million guests. So year-to-year comparisons show across the board decreases in Revenue, Net Income, Adjusted EBITDA and Attendance. The only place where 2022’s performance exceeded 2021’s numbers was in terms of guest spending, which saw increases between 18 to 25%, attributed to increased costs for things across the board and the elimination of free and heavily discounted ticket programs. While I didn’t see an exact number, the report also confirmed that Six Flags was selling less new Season Passes / Membership programs as well, which could likely be attributed to disgruntled guests balking at the higher costs, or a less than spectacular announcement period for new 2023 attractions across the chain.
As reported on Screamscape, it seems some steps are now being taken to resolve some of those issues in 2023. We’ve seen season pass prices drop once again, and a few assorted new attractions were just confirmed for select parks just ahead of the 2022 year-end report release. While it is always great to see new attractions announced, these are a far cry from the kind of attractions that long-time supporters of the chain have come to expect.
(3/1/2023) Six Flags has announced that they’re “extending their multi-year partnership” with Coca-Cola. “Coca-Cola will continue to have exclusive rights across the drink portfolio inclusive of Coke®, diet Coke®, Coke® Zero Sugar, Sprite®, Dasani®, and Powerade®, Simply® Juices, Gold Peak® tea, smartwater®, Monster®, Minute Maid® Lemonade.”
“As part of the extension, Six Flags and Coca-Cola will create innovative activations and unique in-park offerings that can only be experienced at Six Flags. In Summer 2023, the partnership will launch an exciting new endeavor in the eGaming space that will deliver some first-of-its-kind experiences. In addition to eGaming, the partnership will deliver long-term guest enhancements throughout the parks, engaging with millions of guests through VIP lounges, specialty beverages, and multiple tentpole events and festivals.”
(2/24/2023) A few interesting happenings have taken place lately over at the Six Flags corporate office. According to an announcement, the company has appointed a new Chief Marketing Officer. Effective Feb. 27, 2023 Six Flags will welcome Edithann Velez Ramey to the post to oversee the company’s “marketing strategy, including guest experience, group sales, and sponsorships, as well as driving growth and brand awareness”. She comes to the company with a background heavy with marketing experience working with many big-name brand restaurant chains (On The Border, Chili’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy) as well as some time at TopGolf.
For those who haven’t yet purchased a Six Flags season pass this year due to the increased prices that took effect last year, you may want to check again. We already know prices were reduced greatly earlier this year, and I’m told that the price of the upper tier single-park passes is down to $89.99 in many locations, and the top-tier Diamond Pass now appears to be between $124.99 to $149.99 in almost every location.
Currently it looks like SFA, SFOG and SFSL are offering the best prices on Gold passes at $49.99 and for Platinum at $64.99 (also at SFDL). Those first three parks also have the best general pricing for the Diamond Passes too at $124.99, however a special limited time sale is in effect at SFFT through Feb. 26 that can get you a Diamond Pass for as low as $89.99!!
Sorry to Six Flags Magic Mountain fans… that park has the highest prices in the chain.
Current prices for Gold/Platinum and Diamond Passes are currently:
SFMM - $89.99 / $114.99 / $159.99
SFDK - $59.99 / $79.99 / $149.99
SFOG - $49.99 / $64.99 / $124.99
SFGAm - $74.99 / $99.99 / $149.99
SFA - $49.99 / $64.99 / $124.99
SFNE - $59.99 / $74.99 / $149.99
SFSL - $49.99 / $64.99 / $124.99
SFGAdv - $74.99 / $99.99 / $149.99
SFDL - N/A / $64.99 / $149.99
SFOT - $69.99 / $89.99 / $149.99
SFFT - $69.99 / $69.99 / $89.99 (Sale offers Only Through Feb 26)
While I don’t have the old figures for reference, many are saying that these new prices are essentially in line with the old prices that were in effect before the new CEO took over last year. We can only assume that Season Pass sales figures must have dropped by quite a bit in order for them to roll back last year’s new pricing strategy.
(2/1/2023) Six Flags has announced that they’ve appointed Marilyn Spiegal to their Board of Directors. Spiegal comes to the board with previous experience serving as President of seven different Las Vegas casino and entertainment properties, including the Wynn, Encore, Harrah’s, Rio, Bally’s Paris and Planet Hollywood Las Vegas. Interestingly enough, the press release includes a quote from Land & Buildings’s Jonathan Litt, who seems pleased with her appointment to the board. Of course, if you’ve followed along with Screamscape’s Las Vegas news reports over the past few years, you’ll know that a lot of the major casinos in Vegas have taken lease-back deals, where they’ve sold the land under the casinos to REIT style companies in exchange for cash and long term property lease deals, which is essentially what Land & Building’s is wanting Six Flags to look into doing with the valuable real estate under the chain’s theme parks.
(1/22/2023) Remember that cheap new Diamond Pass sale that was only being offering at Six Flags’ Texas parks last week? Normally priced from $224.99 to $249.99, the discounted offer for the $149.99 Diamond Pass has now been extended to Six Flags over Georgia, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Six Flags Great Adventure, The Great Escape and Six Flags Darien Lake. It is also worth mentioning that Six Flags Magic Mountain has dropped their price for the Diamond Pass to $179.99.
As of today, the rest of the parks are still holding onto their $224.99 or $249.99 prices, though I’d expect to see most of them drop as well over the next week or two. With as much flux and change that we’ve seen in season pass offerings from Six Flags over the past 12 months, if you were considering buying one, I’d do it now before they change their minds again and raise the prices.
(1/21/2023) Six Flags is set to announced their Q4 and 2022 Year End earnings report on March 2, 2023. An investor call will follow, starting at 7am Central Time, and you can listen in through the Investor website portal link, or by calling 833-629-0614 in the US.
(1/19/2023) Remember back before the pandemic rocked the world and Six Flags was working with the Riderside Investment Group in China to build several brand new Six Flags branded theme parks? The deal was first announced back in 2014, and while construction did start, by 2019 issues began to arise that were having a negative financial impact on Six Flags, and I believe at the start of 2020 the deal was dead as the “Riverside” group had begin to default on payments owed.
As you might expect, Six Flags management attempted to assure their shareholders and played down the impact this might have upon on their company. I do believe there was a little fit of fuss at the time about possibly misleading their shareholders, but in a similar timeframe the SeaWorld Entertainment parks were also facing similar accusations because they played down the impact that the film “Blackfish” had on their own company.
I don’t know much at this time, but apparently the class action suit against Six Flags has been revived this week, based on testimony from a “key confidential witness”.
(1/16/2023) Six Flags fans… a few of the Six Flags theme parks are testing out a special low low price on 2023 Diamond Passes, which have dropped from the typical $250 range to $149.99 currently. There is no word on how long this price drop will last either, but so far you can find them only being offered at Six Flags over Texas and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
If your home park lies elsewhere, keep checking back, as sometimes deals that start off at only a couple of parks will eventually be offered at the rest.
(1/8/2023) I’ve reported on a lot of lawsuits against theme parks, but here is a new one that I’ve never heard of before. A man in California is now suing Six Flags because the theme park chain failed to provide an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for his family during their visit to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. According to the details, Melvin Patterson and his wife are both Deaf and have “Gold Plus” passes to Six Flags for them and their two children.
Planning a visit in advance, the family contacted the park to request the ASL interpreter for their visit and was denied and told they would have to bring their own. They were also apparently told that Six Flags would not issue any refunds or cancel their memberships despite the chain’s refusal to accommodate them. So… lawsuit time.
Your initial reaction may have been the same as mine, and wondering why Six Flags would be expected to provide an ASL interpreter. This is where I was quickly educated, because Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s’ own downloadable Safety & Accessibility Guide PDF file (aka: ADA-Guidelines) on Page 7 actually states that “American Sign Language Interpreting will be available if requested at least 7 days in advance of your visit.” And yes… the lawsuit says they attempted to schedule this more than 7 days in advance. This rule doesn’t just apply to SFDK or California parks, there is a file like this for every Six Flags park in the chain, and they all offer the ASL Interpreter service, though each has a different email or phone number to call to set it up.
Six Flags has so far attempted to dismiss the case, claiming the family didn’t make “a good faith attempt to make a timely future request for accommodation” but a U.S. District Judge has already denied this request, noting that the family had tried to schedule one for six different planned visits, so the lawsuit is going forward.
So consider yourself educated about this service that Six Flags has available at all their theme parks.
(1/3/2023) Six Flags has lost another park executive this week as Dameon Nelson has confirmed on his LinkedIn account that he ended his 30-year career with the company and worked his last day at the end of the last week of December. He last served as the GM of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom for much of 2022 as well as serving double-duty as the Senior Director of Corporate Operations for the past two years, and prior to that he also served the company’s efforts in China as well as at Six Flags Great America where he first started way back in 1992. Well done for having such a long industry career, and if retirement isn’t in the cards just yet, it should be interesting to see where he turns up next.
(1/1/2023) Some updates news has come out regarding that proposal from activist investor, Land and Buildings, for Six Flags. According to the latest word, the actual concept they are proposing for Six Flags would be for the chain to sell the property under the parks to a REIT group (Real Estate Investment Trust) group for a significant sum of cash, and in exchange the REIT would then lease-back the land to Six Flags who would continue to own and run the park’s themselves, but they would also have to make ongoing lease-payments to the REIT for the indefinite future.
It is a huge short term gain for Six Flags in exchange for a long-term loss they will likely never recover from. If you look at it from a personal point of view… lets say you owned a home and money was getting tight and more difficult to make your mortgage payments. Out of the blue someone offered to buy the land under your home for a huge sum of cash and a promise that you could keep living there as long as you kept paying them rent.
If you take the deal, your monthly expenses may drop a little as the rent may be less than the mortgage at first, and you can use that cash offer to pay off bills, maybe buy a new car, and things may be good for a few years. But no matter how long you stay in your house, you’ll never own it completely, because you’ll be making lease payments forever on the property to the group you sold it to. Selling the house will also be more difficult because any new owner would also have to buy the house from for a lot less than you thought, because they also have to sign a lease agreement to make payments for the land forever to someone else.
It’s almost a trap if you think about it, as you can offer to buy the land back, but the REIT has no reason to ever want to sell it back to you at a reasonable cost. The REIT is there to squeeze the most money they can from the property… they’re playing the long game and hoping that eventually disaster will strike and for one reason or another, whoever is sitting on the land they own will eventually be forced to leave and they can pick up the pieces and maybe even pick up the pieces for pennies-on-the-dollar at a bankruptcy auction and then own everything. Then it is time to find a developer looking to buy the property and build something new on it, like a new housing development, a mixed-use development, big box retail space, or a new commercial office / warehouse space. Regardless of what happens, it won’t be a theme park ever again, and if you think I’m exaggerating, we’re seeing this very thing take place across the nation in one form or another. The upcoming loss of the Elitch Gardens or California’s Great America properties to new owners/developers may have made the news, but there are a lot of smaller parks out there that have also gone this route to try and save themselves from an uncertain future. Six Flags knows best how this works, as they are currently managing several properties they do not own for EPR, including Frontier City and Six Flags Darien Lake. So when you ask yourself why those properties never seem to add major new attractions anymore… it is because Six Flags does not own them. Why would Six Flags build an expensive new ride in a park they are simply being hired to perform the day-to-day management for?
Improvements at these kind of parks will be very small and very infrequent. The REIT isn’t in it to make the park successful, so they aren’t likely to fund huge capital improvements. In the end, the REIT will win one way or the other.
You can download and view the actual presentation Land and Buildings made here. Within L&B mentions that VICI Properties has expressed a strong interest in acquiring real estate related to theme parks and currently has the ability to buy it from Six Flags in a deal that would be valuable for the Six Flags shareholders. In other words… appeal to that short term gain crowd of investors out there, always looking to make the quick buck and move on to look for the next deal. If VICI Properties sounds familiar, they should, they’ve been buying up all the land under most of the major Casinos in North America, including the Caesar’s and MGM Resorts properties along with several others. The proposal goes on to mention possibly interest in the Six Flags properties from other groups such as Blackstone (ones involved with Universal and SeaWorld parks on the investor level), Gaming & Leisure Properties, Realty Income and good old EPR Properties once again who Six Flags knows well.
We’ll have to wait and see if Six Flags is willing to keep working on their current plan of action, or if they are tempted to seek a more extreme that will forever change the landscape of how they operate.
(12/22/2022) Six Flags gained a new ‘activist investor’ by the name of Land & Buildings Investment Management, LLC who has purchased 3% of the theme park chain’s stock. Six Flags confirmed in their own statement that they had received a “communication” from the investor, and this was not the first time they have have spoke with reps from Land & Buildings over the years.
The so-called “activist investor” essentially is trying to convince Six Flags to take advantage of their substantial real estate holdings and “unlock shareholder value’ through “potential monetization of real estate.” In other words… land value is very high right now, maybe Six Flags should look into closing some underperforming parks to sell them to land developers, or in the case of other parks that sit on large sections of underdeveloped property, to look at the idea of selling off some of that. According to Land & Buildings’ founder, “Six Flags real estate alone is worth more than the company’s $1.7 capitalization and that real estate and private equity firms would be interested in acquiring the land”.
According to the statement from Six Flags, “Six Flags is encouraged by the early signs of progress against its strategic plan and remains focused on delivering an exceptional guest experience to drive sustainable, long-term earnings growth.” So, it doesn’t look like they’re looking to sell anything and want to press ahead with their current business plan.
(11/23/22) Six Flags released their Q3 2022 report the other day, and just as expected, it is an interesting read, along with the various items brought up in the earnings conference call. Earnings are down, passholder numbers are down, and as expected, attendance is way down. But there was some glimmer of light at the end, including a confirmation that the company is working on plans “to add new record-breaking coasters to our parks over time”.
Make the jump on over to my report at Blooloop to read all the official numbers Six Flags is reporting. While at the same time, I did have to wonder why none of the analysts on the earnings call attempted to question Six Flags’ CEO about the large number of departures from the company over the past year, including a record number of Park Presidents and other execs. This kind of question would have been an especially fitting question in response to Selim Bassoul’s opening statement where he mentioned that it was through “investing in people is how I have taken companies like Middleby to the next level.”
Personally, I found that to be a bit of a head-scratcher, as how lay-offs and/or dismissals equate to “investing in people”. Regardless of everything, the market seems to be behind Six Flags’ efforts, as the stock prices jumped up from a low of about $19 a share before the release, to a high of just under $25 a share within a few days before settings back down around today’s current level of around $22 a share. It was also revealed that following the Q3 report filing, Six Flags also reached a deal with H Partners that will allow the investment company to increase their ownership stake in Six Flags to as much as 19.9%. Previously H Partners were limited to owning a maximum of 14.9%.
(11/6/22) Six Flags is slated to release the company’s highly anticipated Q3 2022 earnings information and host an investor call on the morning of Nov. 10th. Look for your option to listen in at the Investor website as the company has undergone a somewhat turmoil filled quarter with many changes made to management in place at the chains parks and new pricing initiatives and changes to the 2023 season pass program.
(10/8/22) Just a heads up, but essentially every Six Flags theme park in the chain announced an update to their Bag Policy that went into effect yesterday (Oct. 7, 2022). The new policy now says that all bags, including backpacks and purses, must be no larger than 12” x 12” x 6” to enter the park. I know this includes Fright Fest operations, but it may also include regular daytime operations at some parks as well.
Digging a little deeper, the only exceptions to this rule are for those who need a larger bag to carry medical necessities, or for a diaper bag for those visiting with an infant or very young child. For the exact details for your local Six Flags theme park, please visit the official website.
(10/2/22) Oh boy… would you believe that Six Flags corporate is now revamping their 2023 Season/Annual Pass program once again?! Yes… believe it! From the look of things they haven’t rolled them out to every park in the chain just yet, so I’m going to reference what has been posted on the Six Flags over Texas page at this very moment.
Please note that it appears that these are being rolled out as “Season Passes” rather than Annual Passes or Annual Memberships, and the difference is very important, as some of these pass options expire before the end of 2023, starting with:
2023 Gold Pass - Includes Parking and Unlimited Visits to the park you purchase it at for the rest of the 2022 season and Unlimited visits in 2023 but only through to Sept. 4, 2023. So after Labor Day weekend, your pass is dead… so no Fright Fest or Holiday in the Park. Six Flags over Texas is pricing this at $64.99 which actually is a good deal, as a single-day ticket to the park is currently priced at $49.99 but that doesn’t include the $40.00 slap-in-the-face fee for parking! So with that in mind, who in their right mind would purchase a single-day ticket and pay $89.99 when they could save $25 bucks just by buying the Gold Pass?
The next tier is the $89.99 2023 Platinum Pass, which you will note is the exact same price as buying the Single Day Ticket + Parking, but Platinum comes with Free Parking, Unlimited Visits to Six Flags over Texas for the rest of 2022 and ALL OF 2023, plus admission to the local Hurricane Harbor waterpark, 1 Skip the Line Pass and 2 “Specialty Rate Tickets” which I assume let you bring friends with you at a big discount. You’ll also get a 15% discount on food and merchandise in the park.
The top tier is the 2023 Diamond Pass, which is the only one that gets you Unlimited Visits to ALL SIX FLAGS PARKS, but you’ll pay a premium price for the privilege at $249.99 per pass. Other benefits include a 20% food and merchandise discount, 4 skip the line passes, 5 of those “Specialty Rate Tickets”, a 50% discount on Cabana rentals, 50% off Flash Pass and Priority Entry into the parks.
As I mentioned, this isn’t offered at all the parks just yet, as some are still offering the old Annual Membership plans that offer a cheaper option to get admission to all Six Flags parks at the Platinum level still instead of forcing you to buy the Diamond level for that perk. There are also some some slight price fluctuations, but so far this is what I see posted today (Oct 2, 2022) at the various park websites:
SFA - Still offering old “Annual Memberships” and a “Season Pass” for $59 good now through Labor Day 2023, but does not include parking.
SFDK - Still offering old “Annual Memberships” and a “Season Pass” for $79 good now through Labor Day 2023, but does not include parking.
SFDL - New Passes Only but no Gold Option - $59.99 (Platinum) and $224.99 (Diamond)
SFFT - New Passes Only - $64.99 (Gold), $89.99 (Platinum) and $249.99 (Diamond)
SFGAdv - New Passes Only - $64.99 (Gold), $89.99 (Platinum) and $249.99 (Diamond)
SFGAm - New Passes Only - $64.99 (Gold), $89.99 (Platinum) and $249.99 (Diamond)
SFMM - New Passes Only - $79 (Gold), $99 (Platinum) and $249.99 (Diamond)
SFNE - Still offering old “Annual Memberships” and a “Season Pass” for $69 good now through Labor Day 2023, but does not include parking.
SFOG - Still offering old “Annual Memberships” and a “Season Pass” for $79 good now through Labor Day 2023, but does not include parking.
SFSL - Still offering old “Annual Memberships” and a “Season Pass” for $59 good now through Labor Day 2023, but does not include parking.
Frontier City - Still offering old “Annual Memberships” and a “Season Pass” for $59 good now through Labor Day 2023, but does not include parking.
The Great Escape - Still offering old “Annual Memberships” and a “Season Pass” for $59 good now through Labor Day 2023, but does not include parking.
La Ronde - Still offering old “Annual Pass” and a “Summer Pass” for $69 good now through Labor Day 2023, but does not include parking.
(9/24/22) I’ve talked about it on Social Media before, but in case you were wondering, Six Flags is currently looking to hire an amazing five ‘Park Presidents’ all at the same time to fill in open positions at Six Flags over Texas, Six Flags over Georgia, Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags St. Louis and Six Flags America. I don’t think there is a time in theme park history that this many Park Presidents positions have been open at the same time before from any chain.
It is also very interesting that these positions are being opened up to outsiders to apply for these top positions, potentially bringing in candidates to run parks who may have had zero park experience, or zero experience with Six Flags as a company itself. Of course the stories going around about how the CEO has been firing park presidents left and right probably also had a hand in making internal candidates gun-shy about submitting for the posts.
(9/2/22) Remember those layoffs we talked about in August? For a number of them, they turned into quietly recommended early retirements that were to take place starting on Sept. 1st. We know the Park President of Six Flags Great Adventure announced in August that he would be retiring on Sept. 1st, and apparently a number of other staffers across Six Flags either chose the same day to retire, resign, or were also laid off.
According to Screamscape sources Sept. 1st was the last day for the Park President of Six Flags over Georgia (who was in our previous list back in August) who left along with a coupe other Directors at the park, and we’ve heard that the HR Manager may have also resigned. Jumping over to Six Flags over Texas… Remember Sharon Parker who made the news just four months ago when she became the first black female Park President of a Six Flags theme park? Regretfully, we have heard from more than one source claiming that she was also just let go. We have not had time to get an official confirmation of this yet, so still holding out hope, but after the past few weeks, this would just be yet another domino to fall under the reign of the current Six Flags CEO who seems to be in the middle of turning the entire company inside-out.
Speaking of Six Flags CEO, Selim Bassoul… before joining Six Flags he was the Chairman, President and CEO of the Middleby Corporation until he opted to “step down” in February 2019. According to the news articles back then, Selim retired from Middleby to “focus on his family and his humanitarian efforts'', though apparently that didn’t last too long as one year later Selim was added to the Six Flags Board of Directors in Feb. 2020 and by November 2021 he was appointed to become the new CEO. While I never really looked too deeply into Selim’s previous company, a reader pointed out a somewhat funny fact about the Middleby Corporation. Selim Bassoul was touted as having grown the revenue stream of the Middleby Corporate from $100 million in 2001 to over $2.7 BILLION by the time he left in 2019.
So you may be wondering just exactly what does Middleby Corporation do? According to their own website, Middleby is “a leading solution provider in commercial kitchens worldwide. Engineering the most advanced innovation for all commercial kitchen needs”. Scrolling down the page on the Middleby website you’ll come across a huge laundry list brand-named commercial food machine companies, most of which you probably have never heard of unless you spent some time in a restaurant or fast food kitchen.
One name on the list stands out as one you may have heard a lot about in the past few years however, which is Taylor. If you’ve ever gone to a McDonald’s and wanted an ice cream or a shake only to be told that their machine is down… then you can blame the Taylor company. The complaints about the notoriously fussy Ice Cream machines got so bad that it actually sparked a probe from the Federal Trade Commission last year and is at the center of some lawsuit action involving McDonalds and Taylor claiming the roll out of the device mandated by McDonalds was a cash-gram scheme as franchise owners are required to pay costly and frequent repair bills to Taylor to fix the machines. According to a lawsuit involving Kytch, a 3rd party company who designed a fix to the problems with the Taylor machines, they claim to have uncovered “a multimillion-dollar “‘repair racket” where Taylor designed flawed code that caused the machines to malfunction.” The fix from Kytch was designed to detect these pending problems before they happened and prevent it from causing the machine to break at all.
So we see at least one way that a company under the Middleby umbrella was able to turn record profits during Selim’s time at the helm. Now, I’m not saying the CEO had anything to do with this… it’s just an interesting story because I’ve been following the story behind the McDonald’s ice cream machines ever since Wired published a fascinating piece about how the hacking of the machines caused a new “cold war”. In a way, one might think of installing the Kytch device in the way that the Tron program was added to the ENCOM server in Disney’s “Tron” as an independent security watchdog program to prevent malicious software and even the “MCP” from wreaking havoc on the system.
Just as Tron’s creator described it… “If it finds anything going on that’s not scheduled, it shuts it down.” In similar fashion… big corporate McDonald’s and Taylor aren’t too happy about the concept of having another piece of programming keeping an eye on what their equipment is really doing.
I never knew that there was a thread that connected this story to Six Flags’ current woes until today.
(8/23/22) Six Flags launched all new season passes earlier today across the chain, though this time around they are going back to calling them memberships it seems. As before there are different tiers (Gold, Platinum, Diamond) and different prices and perks for each, and you’ll find that the pricing will vary depending on which park you buy them from.
And yes, it seems the dining plan has returned, though this time it is only good at the park you purchase your pass at, no matter what tier membership you buy. Oh, and monthly payment plans are also available. So while it was Six Flags’ intention to loose some of their passholder base to try and shake the “daycare” syndrome, it seems clear now that they lost too many passholders/members that they would have rather kept and are now stepping back a bit to try and get that customer base back once again.
For those wondering about the different pricing… here’s a brief rundown of the pricing for a few parks in the chain as an example, though right now the pricing seems mostly the same, unless you want to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain which has higher prices than everyone else, but likely due to the park’s ‘year round’ status.
Six Flags Magic Mountain - $175 (Gold), $225 (Platinum) and $320 for Diamond.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - $115 (Gold), $155 (Platinum) and $280 for Diamond.
Six Flags Great America - $115 (Gold), $155 (Platinum) and $280 for Diamond.
Six Flags Over Texas - $115 (Gold), $155 (Platinum) and $280 for Diamond.
Six Flags Great Adventure - $115 (Gold), $155 (Platinum) and $280 for Diamond.
(8/22/22) Back before the August 11th release of the Q2 2022 earning report it appears that Six Flags had a new majority shareholder, with Blackrock, Inc. taking on a reported 12% ownership in the company. The latest tally of the top shareholders in Six Flags has changed a bit over the past week with H Partners Management returning to the top spot by increasing their stock ownership to 11.4%. Vanguard Group is back in second place with 10.92% followed by Blackrock who is back in 3rd place with 8.19% ownership, having dropped the number of shares they own back down to 6.8 million and change.
(8/20/22) As the summer season winds down, a number of new interesting developments are taking place over at Six Flags Theme Parks as part of the fallout from the Q2 2022 report data. Changes are taking place, including reports of increased prices brought about by the company when Six Flags’ CEO stated that they needed to take action because the park’s had become ‘a cheap daycare center for teenagers during breaks and the summers.” He went on to state that his future vision for Six Flags was to attract a more affluent customers base to the theme park chain. In addition to price increases, the chain has eliminated their discount and free ticket programs that they claim were just giving away the park experience, and a cause for overcrowding issues in many parks. They also claim to be planning on launching new dining plan that makes more sense for the company than the old one, as well as bigger and better Fright Fest events and a new Oktoberfest event in an attempt to increase attendance and profits.
However, what is said in the corporate headquarters does not properly reflect what is starting to happen in a number of the parks right now. A few initial parks claim that whole lands or sections of their park have been ordered to be closed for the rest of the season as a cost cutting measure, or to deal with staffing issues as younger summer staff members return to school. Two such lands were already reported as being closed at Six Flags America, and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom who has already cut back their schedule to be closed three days a week (Mon, Tue, Wed) and has eliminated most ride operations on Thursdays and Fridays from their schedule which is not going to sit well with the majority of the Six Flags customer base who buys annual passes for the RIDES and not the animal attractions. We are also hearing that a small number of the chain’s more troublesome attractions may be closing for good, though I’m not sure if they will remove them or just let them sit idle.
Looking ahead, we’ve heard a few more disappointing rumors for the fate of the California parks as winter approaches. This could include Six Flags Discovery Kingdom operating only as an animal park for the winter months with virtually no rides at all, and the possibility of Six Flags Magic Mountain going back to a weekend only schedule for the slowest part of the winter season next year. Rumor also has it that most of the other parks in the chain are currently being analyzed by corporate management to determine how they too can close-off various attractions and even whole sections of the parks for further cost savings to help the new CEO save face with investors. There are also reports that many of the special and upgraded menus across the parks are being simplified to eliminate the most costly new food items added this season, and returning to their generic and uninspired roots, featuring mostly burgers, fries and chicken strips.
All this and the prices are expected to increase as well.
Honestly, I get the concept Six Flags is trying to emulate, because Disney has been doing it for decades. I also can agree with the raw concept their CEO is expressing, as the chain did need to upgrade their product somehow to offer an improved experience.
BUT! To do this successfully however, Six Flags needs to open their wallet and really upgrade their product offerings across the board before they can claim that they are deserve the higher prices they want guests to pay. This is going to be a necessary step after decades of essentially training their customer base that the cost of their product was so much less than what they want guests to pay now. The anger from the general public this past year over the stratospheric soaring of gas prices in the nation should have served as a clear example as to why this current strategy is a bad idea in execution. After all, even at the higher prices, gas is a necessity for most, while theme park tickets are not. Add in the latest cutbacks at the parks and it would seem clear that increasing prices while offering less than even the old standard service their customer base has come to expect is going to be a recipe for disaster.
Even in the best of times, funds for the massive upgrades Six Flags will need would be an issue to generate across the entire chain at once. Following the impact COVID had on the industry, funding these kinds of projects is going to take even more time and money to put into place. Since it is clear that upgrading the entire chain at once is an impossible task, I’d like to suggest that perhaps it is time for Six Flags to begin to price out the experience of each park individually, based on the experiences each park offers. As each park gets “plussed” or enhanced in enough ways, then the prices can be increased as a representation of the improved product offering.
(8/11/22) Today is the day that Six Flags Entertainment has released their Q2 2022 earnings report, though something else of interest took place two days prior.
According to a new filing with the SEC dated August 9th, 2022, Blackrock, Inc. appears to have obtained a substantial amount of new stock in Six Flags. According to the filing, at the moment it appears that Blackrock, Inc. is now the majority shareholder in Six Flags Entertainment (SIX), with a reported 12% ownership (10,386,393 shares).
This is an increase from their previous ownership percentage filed on March 30th as being at 7.55% at that time. According to the March 30th, 2022 data, the previous majority shareholder was listed as “H Partners Management, LLC” with an ownership of 10.32%, followed by The Vanguard Group at 9.44%, just ahead of Blackrock’s 7.55%.
While Blackrock, Inc. now has the majority of ownership shares in the company, according to the August 9th filing with the SEC, “the securities referred to above were acquired and are held in the ordinary course of business and were not acquired and are not held for the purpose of or with the effect of changing or influencing the control of the issuer of the securities and were not acquired and are not held in connection with or as a participant in any transaction having that purpose or effect.”
So in other words, Blackrock isn’t seeking to take over control of Six Flags, nor to change or influence control of Six Flags at this time. That said, as the majority shareholder, that position alone is always going to be one able to case some influence on the direction of the company, as SIX is going to always want to please their biggest shareholders.
While the conference call is set for this morning, here are some basic data points gleamed from a quick scan of the Q2 2022 report issued.
A statement from the company in the header of the release claims, “This is a transitional year for Six Flags, as we reset the foundations of our business model to focus on delivering a premium guest experience, while at the same time, correcting for decades of heavy price discounting,” said Selim Bassoul, President and CEO. “Our guest satisfaction scores are well above 2021 and our guest spending per capita has increased more than fifty percent versus pre-pandemic levels. We believe our initial progress validates the potential of our new strategy, and provides a very healthy earnings base from which we can grow.”
Total Revenue for Q2 2022 is listed as $435 million, which is a decrease of 5% from the revenue reported in the same quarter the year prior, which was $460 million. This is due to lower attendance figures and a reported “$5 million reduction in sponsorship, international agreements and accommodations revenue.”
Net Income attributable to Six Flags Entertainment is $45 million, down 36% from Q2 2021 which was $71 million.
Overall chain wide attendance is listed at 6.7 million guests for the quarter, a loss of 22% from the 8.5 million guests served in Q2 2021. This falls right into place with the rumored loss of attendance our own sources were predicting.
However, as the new strategy from CEO Selim Bassoul was intending for some kind of loss in attendance, they were also predicting an increase in guest spending to attempt to make up for it. Increased guest spending PerCaps has been a trend this year across the industry, and Six Flags was able to report an increase to $66.87 million, up 23% from last year’s figure for the same time period of $51.94 million. This was further broken down to a 27% increase in Admissions PerCap spending, and 18% increase is In-park Spending PerCap.
Further data was also presented comparing the first six months of 2022 to the first six month’s performance data from 2021. In this comparison the total revnue for the company was listed as being up 6% to $574 million, and the attendance loss was only 16%, dropping to 8.3 million from 9.9 in 2021. Total guest spending increases from 2021 was reported at 66.21%, up 26% from 2021, driven primarily by an increase of $8.49 in Admissions, and $5.21 in In-park spending.
(8/9/22) Without mincing words, it seems that the best way to describe what is happening over at Six Flags headquarters right now is that essentially the shit has finally hit the fan. The theme park chain is set to release their next quarterly results and host a conference call this Thursday morning, but according to several Screamscape sources, a series of major layoffs began late last week chain wide. We are not talking about the shedding of mainly lower level staff either.
According to Screamscape sources so far somewhere between 200 to 250 full time staffers have been laid off by the chain, including five Park Presidents along with numerous other top level execs. According to our sources the Park Presidents of Six Flags New England, Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags America, Six Flags over Georgia and Six Flags St. Louis are all now gone or heading towards a “retirement” starting on September 1st. This is also on top of how Six Flags over Texas’ previous Park President (Ron McKenzie) was also fired after disagreements with the current CEO, Selim Bassoul.
In addition we’ve been hearing that the heads of numerous departments at several parks have been let go, and in some cases a few individuals are said to have quit in protest as well. In short, the parks have been gutted this week, with the word being that Six Flags over Texas may have been hit hardest of all. The end result is that no one is quite sure how things are going to run for the rest of this month, let alone how this could affect operations of things going forward, especially when it comes to big events like Fright Fest.
I also think it is fairly safe to say that if things were looking happy and bright over at Six Flags just before the quarterly report was released, none of this would be going on. If the whispers are true, some parks may be reporting an attendance loss of up to 25%. While a loss of attendance was actually exactly what Selim Bassoul was wanting to happen, the goal was for it not to hurt the parks because of increased spending that was predicted to occur from the guests who did still come to visit. The chaos taking place right now tells me that it seems very unlikely that this actually happened.
To be honest, in all my time writing Screamscape, I can’t recall there ever being such a wholesale culling of staff before on this level. To put it bluntly, this is some Game of Thrones level slaughter going on right now, where things are said to have gone far beyond a professional atmosphere and broken down into verbal fisticufs between park management and the axe-wielding Selim Bassoul who will apparently not listen to reason.
To this end, I have to also point out a strong movement online that started with an open letter to the Six Flags Board of Director and Six Flags Investors posted to Reddit entitled, “Step Down Selim”. The author laid out some powerful words that really must be shared in their entirety because if someone doesn’t address this at the Six Flags conference call on Thursday, then there is something wrong.
So without further words, here it is:
Step Down Selim
An Open Letter to the Six Flags Board of Directors and Investors
The sentiments shared in this letter are shared by most if not all of the Six Flags Team Members and many of our guests.
You ousted Mike Spanos and named Selim Bassoul CEO of our company in November 2021 after we had a great year. Selim addressed all of us in a virtual Town Hall shortly after and told us why he felt the change was necessary. He stated that spending was out of control. We know he didn't take the time to learn why and where the money was being spent. He complained about a 300+ page report that was submitted to the board and told us he doesn't read reports. Did any of you read the report? While we don't know, specifically, what was in the report, we can tell you where the money was being spent. It was being spent on rehab and repair of our infrastructure that has been neglected for many, MANY years! Would any of you allow your homes to fall into such disrepair? I doubt it.
Selim had a lot to say in a later virtual town hall with all the parks. He made some good points which all of us agreed with, but much of what he went on about was absolutely ridiculous and laughable. He would have heard everyone at every park laughing AT him had the parks not been muted. He went on at length about guests wanting 2-ply toilet paper. He spent a great deal of time complaining about guests dumping ice from their cups in the bushes. He rambled a lot about wanting various things that aren't going to generate revenue, only decrease it.
There was plenty to like about the ideas and thoughts Selim shared with us, including his past successes as a business person. Who wouldn't like the bonus program he implemented at a previous company that increased the bonus potential for every employee every year until the bonus reached $10,000? All of us could certainly get on board with that. There's only one problem. We’ll never achieve the goals necessary to qualify for the bonus due to Selim’s leadership or lack thereof.
Selim made it clear that he realizes he has a lot to learn and would rely on those of us who have lots of experience in the business to teach him, but he's only done the opposite. He eliminated layers of team members, including Bonnie Weber who is one of the best in the business, and now has all the Park Presidents reporting directly to him. It didn't take long for the Park Presidents to realize they're better off not offering ideas or thoughts to him. Why? He fires them, yet he can't seem to understand why nobody offers suggestions anymore.
We had a great 2021 season yet Selim felt it was necessary to freeze wages in 2022 after we went for 2 years without wage increases due to COVID. Nobody complained about the 2-year freeze because it was understandable. It's not acceptable, however, to freeze wages after we had a great return and then expect everyone to rely on a generous bonus every year. While a large bonus every year would be great, our next CEO might not like that method of compensation and eliminate it. Will our salaries be adjusted at that point or will our compensation remain several years behind? We all know the answer to that. Thankfully, he backed down and gave most hourly employees a 75 cent/hour increase after quite a bit of pushback. He still left salaried employees without.
Morale is at an all-time low at Six Flags. We've lost a lot of great people to reductions in workforce and other great, skilled team members are preparing to leave because they aren't happy working for Six Flags anymore and they can't afford to continue working for Six Flags. They have families to support, but it's become increasingly difficult to do so given the current state of the economy.
The performance of Six Flags will continue to plummet, as will the stock price, as we continue to lose such skilled, experienced labor. We can't hire enough people to run all of our attractions and retail locations. It's become increasingly difficult to hire skilled labor to maintain our infrastructure and rides. We're just hiring bodies at this point to fill the positions, and that's not good. A high percentage of the people we're hiring aren't able to perform well, but we don't have a choice. It's severely impacting the service we offer our guests.
What is the #1 thing people come to Six Flags for? They come for our rides in case you didn't know. We can't hire enough people to run all our rides, let alone maintain and inspect them. We're losing valuable labor there, too. More are preparing to leave. Some of the people inspecting the rides are certainly trained and qualified, but don't necessarily have enough experience to adequately perform a thorough inspection. That’s scary. Safety is going to suffer and there’s nothing worse for an amusement park than an accident. We hope it doesn’t happen, but it probably will.
Selim expressed that he wants Six Flags to be considered a premium product like Disney and Universal. That simply isn’t going to happen under Selim’s leadership. We’re charging our guests more and offering far less. Our attendance has been abysmal and many of our guests won’t be returning. The proof is on social media. People aren’t happy with the product and service we’re offering and our attendance proves it. Cedar Fair is doing quite well this year, so you can’t blame the economy.
Selim released a rather dumb video to us with him saying, “Have no fear!” numerous times throughout. Unfortunately, we have plenty to fear as long as he remains in charge. He wants us to do more with less as he said in the virtual town hall. He also expects guests to pay more and get less. We all want Six Flags to succeed, but it won’t while Selim is CEO unless he changes his ways.
Selim is the laughing stock of the entire company. None of us have an ounce of respect for him, but we certainly fear him. He reminds us a lot of Mark Shapiro in both his energetic style of speaking and his leadership style. It makes us wonder if we’re heading down the same road.
It is up to you, the board, to fix this. There will be consequences if you fail to do so. Our stock price is already 40% lower than it was a year ago. Stay on course if the goal is to drive us into the ground.
Investors, we ask you to hold the board accountable and demand a change in leadership. Cut your losses and sell every share in Six Flags if they fail to do so. We are capable of providing you with an excellent ROI, but not while Selim is in charge.
(8/5/22) I’m not sure how true this is just yet, but rumor has it that Six Flags may have started a new round of layoffs that will affect positions throughout the chain. With the Q2 2022 earnings call set to take place next week on August 11th, a round of layoffs in addition to guests reporting cut-backs in operational hours at many parks, this doesn’t bode well for good news from the Q2 report.
In other news, Six Flags has announced the addition of Chieh Huang was nominated to the Board of Directors as of August 1st, 2022. He will fill the place of departing director, Denise M. Clark who has resigned from the Board for personal reasons, effective August 1st, 2022.
(7/24/22) Unlike how most chains essentially own all their respective theme parks, Six Flags has evolved into a different kind of beast. For example, Six Flags began leasing a number of parks from their respective owners under various Management Deals, especially in the past 5 years or so with the additions of properties like Six Flags Darien Lake, Frontier City and various water parks. The status of each property is shown in the chain’s annual report, but it is the ownership situation around of the chain’s first two theme parks that will be coming into focus very quickly.
Six Flags over Texas is actually owned by a Texas Limited Partnership group, and Six Flags Entertainment itself currently owns 54% of that group, with the remainder said to be owned by Six Flags Over Texas Fund, Ltd (a private-equity and asset management firm). On the horizon Six Flags Entertainment Corporation will have a rare option to purchase the remaining 46% ownership stake for the Six Flags over Texas property when the current lease expires in 2028.
Six Flags over Georgia also currently exists in a similar relationship with a set of partners in Georgia for that particular property, and a window to purchase 100% ownership in that park will also open when that lease expires in 2027.
It is hard to think that corporate Six Flags would pass up this opportunity to finally take complete ownership of these two important properties, but they will also have to budget ahead a decent amount of cash to fund these particular transactions as well, which could very well affect the budgets of all things to come over the next several years.
On a related note, it is also mentioned that Six Flags Mexico has a “permit agreement” with the Federal District of Mexico City to operate that particular park which will expire in 2024. Given the success that Six Flags Mexico has seen compared to other parks in the nation, I would be surprised if this deal wasn’t extended when the time comes.
(7/2/22) I have a small update regarding the conversion of the Justice League dark rides from 3D to 2D mode. After a discussion with some very technical minded folks, it was revealed that the installation of the Justice League rides actually just use one very high-end projector per scene rather than the normal two projections that are typically used to project a 3D image. The breakdown is a bit technical, and based on some assumptions, so I wont get too much into it, but the basic thought is that the projectors used at the Justice League attractions are said to be one of the Digital Projection company’s line of high-end Titan Laser Series units. The interactive images for Justice League’s projected scenes are then thought to be delivered at double the normal frame rate, but shot through a device that splits the image into two images to be bounced onto the screen. Think of it as a way of separating the individual frames intended for the left and right eyes, which are normally filtered through different polarized lenses in the glasses worn by the riders, which gives the illusion of 3D on the flat screens.
So currently the rides are through to be running in a 2D mode, with the 3D gateway splitter now only sending the 2D image frames through half of the system, which results in a dimmer and softer image on the screens. Also, you may notice that your targeting may be a bit off, as the interactive components are still calibrated to be running in 3D mode, where the true bullseye would normally be located somewhere just between the two 3D images seen on the screen. So the end result really is no saving for Six Flags on the projector end of things based on this news, as there is still only one projector for each scene. This means the only saving Six Flags is seeing from switching from 3D to 2D would be the elimination of the person who would be normally staffed to take care of the cleaning and use of 3D glasses for each shift, along with the cost savings of not having to purchase 3D glasses at all this year.
(7/1/22) A quick note for anyone interested, but it seems that as of this Summer, all of the Six Flags Theme Parks that have installed a Justice League: Battle for Metropolis dark ride attraction are now said to be running them in 2D mode only. My initial thought was that perhaps they were switched from 3D to 2D during the start of the COVID outbreak in 2020, but apparently this is not the case most of them switched to 2D mode at the start of the 2020 season, including the one at Six Flags Magic Mountain that was reported to have still been running in 3D until about a month or two ago. This latest move is thought to be a quiet cost-saving measure, as it allows the parks to eliminate a position (the person cleaning the glasses), eliminate the cost of replacing the glasses as they wear down, and eliminate half of their budget for maintaining / replacing the bulbs on the ride’s projector systems but shutting off a projector at every one of the 3D projection scenes. The unfortunate result is a dim and slightly fuzzy image, along with a now slightly inaccurate targeting system.
Reaching out on social media to guests of all the parks, it has been confirmed that this change has been chain-wide this season as part of a move likely ordered by the corporate office. So if you thought it was just your local park’s ride looking a little odd, it isn’t just you. So if you want to see Justice League restored to the way it was intended to operate, feel free to let Six Flags know at both your local park and the corporate level. Only you can “Make Metropolis Great Again”.
(6/13/22) If you are still interesting in purchasing a Six Flags Annual Pass, check out your local park’s website. Most, if not all of the Six Flags parks seem to be launching a few three-tiered group of APs this week, which once again allow for guests to purchase them with a monthly installment payment program once again, which was a key selling point of the retired Membership programs.
(5/17/22) Six Flags finally released their Q1 2022 earning report late last week. Between that and the investor call that followed, some interesting things came to light, especially comments from Six Flags’ new CEO, Selim Bassoul. He was very clear that he was on a mission to transform Six Flags into something new. It isn’t often in an earnings call where you hear the execs say that they want attendance to drop. I can’t recall hearing someone say that previously they were so focused on seeing increased attendance year after year, that free tickets given out were suffocating the parks at the expense of the guest experience.
Honestly, these were usually the kind of comments you would hear from critics, but in this case Six Flags honestly appears to be on a mission to distance themselves from their own past and try something new. Are they going about it the right way? In my latest article for Blooloop I dug into their latest efforts and how the market is reacting thus far.
(5/1/22) Starting in limited form at a few parks across North America in 2021, the trend of theme parks switching over to be entirely cash-free has surged in 2022. By cash-free, we mean that they will not be able to accept cash (dollar bills or coins) for transitions at or within the park, and instead have moved their entire system of financial transitions to require the use of card (credit or debit) or mobile payment systems (Google Pay, ApplePay, etc…). For those who arrive with cash, the trend has been to install cash-to-card kiosks that will convert the cash for use onto a pre-paid / non-reloadable credit-card that can be used anywhere inside or outside the park after you leave.
While we have posted stories that the entire Cedar Fair chain of theme parks as well as Hersheypark and some others have switched to a cash-free system, it is also worth mentioning that Six Flags Theme Parks also began the process of converting all of their parks last year and is now entirely cash-free as well.
(4/28/22) Six Flags has announced that they are rescheduling the release of their Q1 2022 earning report from the previous date of May 2 to May 12, 2022 instead. The change is due to “unanticipated delays” in completing the process of closing out the quarter due to the addition of a new “enterprise resource planning system” that was added at the start of the year.
(4/9/22) Six Flags has been in the news a lot so far this year, starting with a lot of internal staffing upheaval and changes from the corporate office, then for a complete overhaul to the park’s season pass/membership program. Now with the parks starting to reopen we’re seeing lots of internal improvements being put into play at the park level with some chain-wide initiatives to add more guest comfort, more dining options, more mobile ordering systems and an initiative to add single-rider lines to many attractions in order to fill every seat and maximize ride capacity in order to shorten wait times.
Now Six Flags is said to release their Q1 2022 financial results on May 2, 2022, with an investor conference call following this at 7am that you can listen to online at investors.sixflags.com or by calling 1-855-889-1976.
While it may be a bit early to see how the in-park changes are affecting things, as most parks in the system were closed for most for Q1, we may get some insight into how the changes to the season pass program are being seen by the folks in the HQ and if any more changes and initiatives are expected to come based on the early results they are seeing. This could include some forward thinking comments about their plans for future night events, such as Fright Fest or Holiday in the Park.
(4/3/22) As the new tiers of season pass options have been slowly making their way through to the various Six Flags parks, I think the one option you could previously purchase on the old plans that is quickly becoming the most missed option on the new passes is the dropping of the Unlimited Dining Pass option.
Quick possibly the reason for the canceling of this pass option was a story that went viral last fall about a guy who bought the $150 dining pass option at Six Flags Magic Mountain back in 2014 and then proceeded to visit the park almost daily for all his meals over a six year period of time. WIth all the money he saved on food he managed to pay down his student loan, get parried and buy a house, so the idea of the unlimited Six Flags dining became a viral “life hack” story that spread everywhere.
This would include the eyeballs of some big Six Flags stockholders, who I’m sure were not at all happy and expressed that to the new CEO who took over the company and began a series of major changes late last year as well. Funny how the story is still living on as the new changes arrive to each of the Six Flags parks where I believe the best you can get from the most expensive “Ultimate” season pass now is a Dining Plan for just 10 meals to use for the entire season.
(3/2/22) Another big corporate change has taken place at Six Flags HQ. According to a press release from the company the chain’s current Exec VP and CFO, Sandeep Reddy, has announced he will depart the company effective March 27, 2022 in order to pursue a new position at another unknown company.
Stephen Purtell (Senior VP of Corporate Communications, Investor Relations and Treasurer) will assume the role of interim CFO at this point until a new replacement can be brought on board.
(2/26/22) While the article does not go on to say much about the future of food quality at Six Flags theme parks, a brief news article with comments from Six Flags’ new CEO, Selim Bassoul” does claim that over the past 100 days he has tasted over 100 burgers, 200 slices of pizza and 100 orders of chicken tenders.” This is all part of the plan as “Over the past 100 days, we have been reformulating out menu and testing new recipes”, finishing with the comment that the new food they’ve been taste testing is “better than any theme park I’ve ever visited.”
While this follows along with the rumored reports Screamscape has been getting since late last year that Six Flags has serious plans to raise the quality of their food and beverage options at the theme park chain starting this season. Bassoul also confirmed that we can expect to see higher ticket prices at the parks this season, as the chain will shift away from their former business model that offered heavily discounted tickets in exchange for higher attendance. Instead the focus will be on lower attendance at slightly higher prices along with over needed improvements to the guest experience.
The company also released their Q4 2021 results this week, claiming attendance of 6 million for the final quarter (Oct 4, 2021 through Jan 2, 2022), is only down 363,000 from Q4 2019, just prior to the pandemic. Total Revenue for Q4 2021 was $317 million, up $56 million from Q4 2019, with a net loss of just $2 million, an improvement of $9 million compared to Q4 2019. All said and done, Six Flags seems to be on stable footing at this time, and ready to see where the new changes and directions from the CEO will take them going forward.
(2/20/22) Consider the following just a rumor of changes to come until it actually happens, but I’m posting it anyway to give anyone who wants to purchase these time to do so before the changes take place.
According to the rumor, this will be the last year ‘food passes’ are honored at the Six Flags theme parks, and if you still want to purchase one at your local park apparently the day they will be sold online is February 28th. As of March 1st they will be removed as a purchase option along with some other changes.
For example, chain wide, I’m told that the option to purchase a Memberships plan will be retired. They have already been retired from several of the parks with more year-round schedules already, but the changes are expected to go chain-wide on March 1st. Memberships purchased before the change with whatever perks they come with will be honored however. Keep in mind that this won’t grandfather you in to having a membership forever, as Six Flags has the right to cancel the memberships at any time, though they will likely be expected to honor them for at least the first year. After that you will likely be forced into upgrading to the new season pass program tiers (along with the new payment options), or just dropping out entirely.
(2/13/22) As rumored, Screamscape sources tell us that as of right now, the plan is that only a small group of select parks will bring back Holiday in the Park for the 2022 season. For the most part this move will see the elimination of the event from the more northern region parks and focus it on those more comfortable able to operate in the winter.
As of this moment, the list of parks given by our source to offer Holiday in the Park in 2022 will be: SF Magic Mountain, SF Over Texas, SF Fiesta Texas, SF over Georgia, and SF Discovery Kingdom and possibly… SF Great Adventure. Apparently the event could still possibly get cut from Six Flags Great Adventure, as the only northern park still on the list but for now it is on the books. I’m told that corporate could also change their mind on Six Flags Discovery Kingdom having it as well, but for now it was determined that the park would need it to be able to compete with the WinterFest event at California’s Great America.
As for Fright Fest… as profitable as the event is normally for the parks it looks like Fright Fest will continue at most parks in 2022, however look for cuts to have been made to the number of days the parks offer it, as well as a cut in the length of the event, where it will likely not run late into the night any longer. The more security issues each park has had regarding unruly guests, fights breaking out and such, the more cuts you can expect to see made at that location.
So far this follows along with operational cuts being spotted in the various park’s summer schedules as they are slowly getting posted on the website. The days where the parks were open to 10pm, 11pm and occasional midnight are gone, and have been replaced with summer schedules showing the various parks mostly closing at 7pm, 8pm or 9pm. So for locals who used to buy season passes (or memberships) who liked to just drop in after work to wind down for the evening with a few rides out of the hot sun, it’s going to be a lot harder to justify keeping those passes.
(2/4/22) Six Flags will release their Q4 2021 and Full Year 2021 financial results before the market opens on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. A conference call will then take place at 7am Central Time that morning, and you can listen in through the Six Flags Investor website or by calling 1-855-889-1976 in the US or 1-937-641-0558 if you are outside the US.
(1/30/22) Robots may be coming to your local theme park sooner than you think. And no, I’m not talking about cute interactive character style robots, like the Star Wars themed R2D2 you can find roaming Galaxy’s Edge lands at Disney parks. And no… this isn’t a army of robots to replace workers in the kitchens flipping burgers and fries. Instead your first encounter with a robot at a theme park may actually be for enhanced security purposes.
According to Fortune a new autonomous robot called ROAMEO will begin patrolling Six Flags over Texas this week, with a second unit set to begin patrolling Six Flags Magic Mountain starting next week. Designed by a company named RAD, ROAMEO is is about 6.5 feet long and weighs in at 750-pounds, but as far as looks go, don’t expect to see anything like Robocop or ED-209. Instead ROAMEO looks more like a cross between a popcorn cart and a goggle maps camera car, featuring a large camero cluster around the top ring of the robot able to monitor and record in 360º everything that takes place around it. Don’t expect ROAMEO to come kick those line-jumpers out of the park either, as it really isn’t designed to respond directly to deal with “infractions”. Instead ROAMEO is designed as a “supplement” to the typical human security forces that already exist, able to assist and provide expanded security coverage. ROAMEO also features a touch screen able to provide assistance and information to guests in need, including wait times, map directions and more. Equipped with a communication system, ROAMEO will also be able to alert park security officers about issues it does discover on it’s own, with the ability to recognize when it spots humans inside “restricted areas”, as well as being able to tell the difference between humans wearing face masks and those who are not.
According to the RAD, they claim they are in talks with Orlando theme park companies at the moment as well, and feel that they could have a ROAMEO at work in an Orlando area park before the end of the year. Of course, if you’ve ever stayed at a Universal Orlando hotel, you may have come across a working robot already, as I’ve seen Universal testing out the RELAY robot on and off at the Cabana Bay and Aventura hotels since 2017. RELAY isn’t a security bot, but it proved to be a great way to offer contactless delivery of items to guests rooms that are needed, like fresh towels, shampoo and more. And yes, RELAY has the ability to remotely use the hotel elevators and alert you that it is outside your room’s door. I’ve even seen it go up to random guests in the lobby and offer them candy. So it looks like the era of robots is here… so how do you feel about it?
(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.
Universal Studios - (1/27/2023) Comcast has reported their Q4 and 2022 Year End financial results this week. So how has business been for Universal’s parent company? In short… staggering… according to CEO Brian Roberts, “We achieved the highest levels of Revenue, Adjusted EDITDA and Adjusted EPS in our history and returned a record $17.7 billion of capital to shareholders. We delivered impressive revenue growth in broadband; grew wireless lines by 1.3 million, our best result since launch; more than doubled our Peacock subscribers, surpassing 20 million at year-end; nearly tripled Peacock revenue to $2.1 billion; ranked second in worldwide box office; and generated record Adjusted EBITDA at our theme parks. Importantly, we achieved these results while continuing to invest in broadband, our 10G network evolution, Xfinity Mobile, Peacock, and theme parks, and we also took cost actions to further our growth in the future. We are excited to begin the new year as an innovative leader in large profitable markets with a strong balance sheet and a strategy to drive incremental returns and bring outstanding content and experiences to our customers. The Board's confidence in our position and path forward is underscored by today's announcement that we are increasing our dividend for the 15th consecutive year.”
As for the theme park division itself, the report lists an adjusted EDITDA Increase of $1.4 billion to $2.7 billion, making this the highest on record, and reflects performances increases at each of the Universal theme parks compared to their 2021 numbers. Follow the link to read more specific details for each division of the company. Attendance was said to have increased, but no specific numbers regarding attendance were listed that I could find.
(1/22/2023) Last month we reported how Comcast and Universal has launched a program that essentially offered great incentive packages for long-term older execs to early-retire out of the company. The end result saw some big names from Universal Creative depart the company right in the middle of the construction of the new Epic Universe theme park, such as Mike Hightower (President) and Thierry Coup (SVP and Chief Creative Officer). According to reports this was being done before the end of the year in order to help lower the company’s costs in upcoming financial reports by removing these top paid execs from the budget.
Now that January has arrived, apparently the time has come to re-fill these posts with some newer and lower paid personnel. For example, there is currently a new job posting to fill the Senior VP / Creative Studio position online for Universal Creative along with seven pages of other positions now open at Universal Creative if anyone is interested.
(12/17/2022) Screamscape first mentioned this back in November, and now it has been confirmed that several high execs from Universal Creative, including Thierry Coup (SVP and Chief Creative officer) and Mike Hightower (President of Universal Creative), have now left the company as part of an early retirement offer issued to those age 57+ who have worked for Universal for 10+ years. The offer went out to staff across all the park divisions and have seen a number of other high level staffers depart the company, including Mike Harrington (VP of Engineering and Safety) at the parks.
As I mentioned last month, the timing is very poor given that they are in a very active building phase for the brand new Epic Universe theme park. This makes me wonder how many of them might be tapped to come back on a temporary project or consulting basis as the park moves closer to completion.
(11/23/22) While I haven’t seen any official news reports of this yet, Screamscape sources are telling me that select high officials at Universal are departing the company as some kind of quasi-layoff is taking place. Keep in mind that this isn’t an actual official layoff, but instead the corporate office is apparently offering to buy out the contracts of high paid staff members who are around age-55 or higher and have been with the company for 10+ years. In exchange for leaving their positions they are being offered a golden parachute offer of severance pay and other benefits as compensation.
I’m told that several high profile names have agreed to take the deals, including a few staples from the halls of Universal Creative, despite being in the middle of the build-out of the new Epic Universe theme park. Now you may be asking why this is also happening just after Comcast announced that the Universal parks had generated record profit levels over this past year. I’m told that the answer is a timing thing, as this is in reaction to early warning signs of a possible recession, on top of the fact Universal is unlikely to repeat the same level of record profits next year, so by offering some early retirement before the end of this year, they can write off those benefits now and go into next year’s financial reports with lower operating costs that will help offset any reductions in earnings next year.
For now stay tuned and we’ll see just how this plays off in the news reports and which names are announced as departing the company in the near future.
(11/7/22) Theme Park Insider has posted a great look at some layout drawings from a patent for a new vertical dark ride concept that was filed by Universal Creative. Yes, I said ‘Vertical Dark Ride”, where they are attempting to pack in all the adventure and crazy features one might expect from a Universal dark ride experience into a tall tower structure instead of a large building that takes up a sizeable footprint. I can really see a concept like this being of benefit to some of the Universal parks where land is at a premium such as Singapore, Japan or the original Hollywood park.
(10/29/22) NBCUniversal’s Q3 earnings report show that their Universal Studios theme park revenues and EBITDA are now above pre-pandemic (2019) levels as the division is now reporting record theme park earnings. According to the report the theme park divisions adjusted EBITDA for Q3 is $819 million, not only higher than Q3 2019’s $731 million, but are now the highest on record. They also report that the year to date for first 9-months of 2022 is reported to be just over $1.9 Billion!
(10/23/22) Theme Park Insider has come across an interesting new patent application from Universal that would provide an interesting solution to the age-old problem of riders bringing cell phones on rides. Rather than banning the phones outright through warning signs, metal detectors and the offer of free lockers, the new patent brings forth the idea of creating an actual compartment on the ride vehicle itself that could not offer to charge your phone during the ride experience, but safely enclose it in a case positioned in a way so that riders could turn on their cameras and get a recording of themselves experiencing the actual ride.
The patent also mentions having the ability through docking the phone to the vehicle to allow guests to choose a possible audio track to listen to during the ride experience, or control certain features on the vehicle, or within the environment around the vehicle during the ride experience.
The idea is an interesting one, though given how short your average ride experience is, I’m not sure if it is worth including the ability to charge your phone during the ride as you’ll be lucky to go up a percent point or two during a 1-5 minute ride experience. Plus then the sure-fire complications of what kind of charging plus to include in the vehicle… as while iPhones are their proprietary Lightning cables are currently the leader in North America, world-wide Android phones are far more common, most of which have switched over to USB-C plugs, which Apple has strangely avoided doing for years to their phones, even while adding them to their iPads and Mac Books. But offering no cable connection would also block the ability to add those interactive vehicle features they mentioned, which could basically self-activate upon plugging in the device in much the same way that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay do in your personal vehicle.
So depending on the build of the device and how easy it is to get your phone in and out of it, we could be trading the added delay at the locker for a potential added delay during ride vehicle loading and unloading, which is exactly not the kind of thing you want to happen when designing a ride. So while this is a nice idea… it will likely prove to be impractical enough that we’ll likely never see it happen… or at least not in one of the North American parks. China may be a possibility however, as that park has embraced the use of mobile technology quite a bit more, including the use of facial recognition software for admission into Universal Express lanes, mobile payments throughout the park and much more.
(8/20/22) Universal has filed for an interesting new patent that could bring forth some amazing new content for their theme parks. The patent is for an “Interactive Pepper’s Ghost effect system” that would include the use of a sensor system able to detect a handheld device as well as know the direction it is being held.
For those who have never heard of the Pepper’s Ghost effect, it is a long-established real-world illusion setup that allows for a realistic image of a ghost or other etherial object to appear to be placed in a real environment when viewed by an audience at just the right angle.
Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction employs the use of this effect in grand scale in the famous ballroom scene.
Universal’s new device has been created with the idea of turning what has always been a “passive” effect into something that can now be made into an interactive experience. It isn’t quite clear exactly what Universal’s final intent with this new system would be, but the patent mentions that it would “includes a handheld device configured to be held by an operator, a sensor configured to monitor an orientation of the handheld device, a microphone configured to detect voice audio from the operator, a transparent or translucent screen, and a controller”.
Given the timing involved, it is likely that this would be used for some kind of experience within their new Epic Universe theme park now under construction in Florida. We also know that Universal is planning on launching an all new updated Magic Wand interactive system with this park that would be usable by guests visiting the various Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands that will be present in all three Universal Orlando theme parks, so this could be part of that initiative.
I know this isn’t part of it, but the theme park geek in me however would love to see something like this used for some kind of future Ghostbusters themed attraction as well. According to Blooloop, Universal also filed a patent earlier this year for an “interactive token system” that allows theme park guests using a wearable device to collect interactive tokens through various experiences in order to “unlock games or retail experiences”. This later patent seems to be some kind of evolution of the wearable device concept launched with Super Nintendo World in Japan that could be used at the US locations when they open in Hollywood in 2023 and Orlando in 2025.
(8/7/22) Would you believe that there is now a 7th kind of Butterbeer flavored treat at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Well… kinda…
Let me back up for a moment. If you didn’t know there were six kinds before, let me run them down. Butterbeer started off by coming in the two traditional drinkable forms, the regular Cold and Frozen varieties. This was followed in the years to come with additions like Butterbeer Ice Cream, Butterbeer Fudge, Butterbeer Potted Cream and finally Hot Butterbeer.
Back to today, and apparently a new “Vegan Butterbeer” option is now available as well. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, as I’m not sure if it is an entirely new concoction or if they are simply leaving off the foamy white topping layer to make it Vegan friendly, but either way, it is now an official option.
(5/2/22) As part of the latest Comcast earnings report, they did break down some impressive numbers from the Universal Parks & Resorts division of the company. According to the theme parks posted a 151.9% increase in revenue during Q1 2022 compared to the same time period from the previous year. This time period saw a revenue increase from $619 million to $1.56 billion over the first quarter of the year.
While this is fantastic news, you also have to keep in mind that during Q1 2021, the new Beijing park had yet to open and the Hollywood park had been closed for the previous 12 months straight. While Universal Orlando and Japan were open in Q1 2021, both were running at limited capacity restrictions. Despite all that however, the 2022 numbers don’t lie and the company’s theme park division is really performing well right now, with the reported revenue numbers still exceeding analyst projections.
According to CEO, Brian Roberts, “Our recovery from the pandemic at theme parks has been fantastic and shows no signs of slowing down”.
The Void - (1/7/2023) Remember The Void? In the years before COVID-19 arose, The Void was making headlines for their unique VR based walk-through experiences themed to some of Hollywood’s biggest IPs. New themed experienced based on Ghostbusters, Jumanji, Marvel, Disney and the Star Wars universe were being created and rolled out at new “The Void” locations around the world. The great relationship with Disney allowed not only the use of select properties, but The Void also had on-site locations at several Disney resorts.
In 2020 The Void came crumbling down as a result not only of the pandemic shutting down their locations, but also due to a rumored legal dispute with The Walt Disney Company over where they were using certain IPs at non-Disney approved locations.
By the end of 2020, The Void went bankrupt and was essentially dead and buried by the end of January 2021 as their website went offline. But that wasn’t the end after all…
An investor group named Hyper Reality Partners, formed by a former investor and board member of The Void, was able to acquire all the technology patents and trademarks of The Void in the summer of 2021 for about $2 million. According to various news articles they began fundraising in a planned effort to revive the brand and even went so far as to hire some former key execs, creatives and technology people who previously worked with The Void to do so. In fact, a quick search through LinkedIn reveals a good number of people listed as currently working for Hyper Reality Partners, most in Utah.
On the public front, things have remained mostly quiet. The official TheVoid.com website relaunched sometime around early March 2022 with the simple message that The Void would be returning “bigger, stronger and better than before”, promising upgraded VR technology, the latest innovations and a focus on a more “destination approach”. Regarding the later bit, the rumor was instead of opening numerous small locations, the new business model would see The Void return as a larger location able to offer more than just one or two small VR experiences, but instead able offer a larger assortment of entertainment options and concepts to enjoy beyond just the return of the VR experiences they were known for. This would transform The Void from a quick stop experience to a destination guests could visit to experience anywhere from several hours to the entire day, depending on the scale.
In July the website was updated with a new logo and to feature a very slick promotional look at the concept, with lots of links to previous media coverage about past experiences. They’ve even got a link to a page for job opportunities, but so far nothing has been posted. So far they’re keeping their cards very close to the vest here and clearly not ready to revealing anything more just yet, but we can only hope that 2023 will be the year The Void opens once again somewhere. If the more “destination” style concept is what they are planning, then obviously a location in a highly trafficked tourist area like Las Vegas or a big theme park resort like Disney World or Universal Orlando would be ideal. (Hey, I don’t think Disney Springs is doing anything with that big empty NBA Experience building at the moment…)
If you look back to the early days of The Void however, they really entered the market and gained their first successes by opening as a special add-on experience within other existing attractions, such as the Ghostbusters experience at the Madame Tussauds location in New York City. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be crazy to think we might see The Void attempt a few start-up locations like that once again as a way to tech out their latest technology and experiences.