Corporate Park News
---- THE LATEST INDUSTRY NEWS ----
(8/2/21) Merlin - Madame Tussauds in Washington DC May Be No More (MORE...)
(8/1/21) Universal Developing Possible Waterworld Streaming Series (MORE...)
(8/1/21) Disney Store Brings Back Masks and Jungle Cruise Review (MORE...)
(7/31/21) Universal Theme Parks Now Profitable Again In Latest Quarter Report (MORE...)
(7/30/21) Disney To Require Most Cast Members To Get Fully Vaccinated Within Next 60 Days (MORE...)
(7/24/21) Madame Tussauds Opens Marvel 4D Attraction In Two US Locations
APEX PARKS GROUP - (5/11/20) According to this news article, Apex Parks, who filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last month, is now planning on selling the Big Kahuna’s Waterpark & Adventure Park property. The Florida waterpark is slated to be sold at an auction set to take place on Monday at 11am EST, though it sounds like the plan may be to auction off the park to another company related to Apex called APX Acquisition Company LLC.
(4/12/20) According to a local news piece about a possible sale of Indiana Beach pending, the article goes on to confirm that Apex Parks Group has filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy to restructure and sell off certain assets to pay some debts, such as Indiana Beach. This should see Apex able to still operate their existing waterparks and FECs, once local quarantine and stay-at-home orders are lifted. Apex’s lenders will also “provide financing” to support the company during the restructuring.
(2/19/20) The news that Apex Parks Group is closing four of their properties rocked the industry on Tuesday evening, as the move was very unexpected. Apex is opting to close down their only two amusement parks (Indiana Beach and Fantasy Island) as well as closing their only two attractions in Texas, a Boomers mini-golf style FEC in Houston and a SpeedZone mini race course themed FEC in Dallas.
The rest of Apex’s properties include nine more Boomers locations (most in California) and one more SpeedZone, also in California, as well as two waterparks: Big Kahuna’s in Florida and Sahara Sam’s in New Jersey. The Apex website has already removed any mention of the closed parks and attractions.
Cedar Fair - (6/30/21) Is Cedar Fair thinking of moving their corporate headquarters? Numerous trade publications have mentioned how Cedar Fair’s current CEO, Richard Zimmerman, works most days out of a Cedar Fair satellite office somewhere in Charlotte, as he has a home in the greater Charlotte area. A number of other corporate staffers also work out of this offer, which has caused the business trade publications to note this as a slow migration of staff from the current Sandusky, Ohio HQ to this Charlotte, NC office space.
This wouldn’t be the first time Charlotte was selected to serve as the corporate home for a theme park chain, as the former Paramount Parks chain kept their own corporate HQ in Charlotte, which is home to one of the former Paramount Parks, Carowinds. Why Charlotte? It’s a business kind of town that has served as primary office and HQ locations for several large banks over the years, as well as being a transportation hub for American Airlines, and a primary hub for US Airways for many years before American merged with US Airways.
Of course the region is also the current home location for Screamscape as well, and I had the pleasure to visit the Paramount Parks HQ in early 2006, just as I was moving to the area. By strange coincidence, the Viacom corporate overlords had just announced their intention to sell off the Paramount chain of parks not just before my visit, causing me to speculate during my visit that a purchase by Cedar Fair made the most sense to me at the time, not knowing how right I was.
While no actual location was given for the current Cedar Fair satellite office in Charlotte, I do have to wonder if it exists in the same location as the former Paramount Parks office. As Cedar Fair is a much bigger chain than they were before when the company’s primary focus was on the Sandusky, Ohio area, so moving their HQ to Charlotte does come with a whole list of positives as Cedar Fair continues to grow.
(5/7/21) Cedar Fair has announced that they will invest about $100 million into their theme parks over 2021, as they expect to see a lot of “pent-up” demand for theme parks in 2021. According to the rough breakdown, about a third of the money will got to finishing up various 2020 projects that were not completed due to COVID-19, another third will go to various internal improvements and infrastructure projects. The final third will actually go towards starting new projects in the works for the 2022 season.
(4/8/21) Cedar Fair will release their Q1 2021 earning report on the morning of May 5, 2021, followed by a conference call at 10am EST that you can listed in online by clicking here and then on Investor Information to look for the listen to listen in to the live webcast or the replay to be available shortly after the live webcast is over.
(1/25/21) Cedar Fair has announced that they will announce Q4 / 2020 Year End Results on February 17. You can listen in to the earnings call starting at 10am EST through the official Cedar Fair investors website.
(11/8/20) A detailed article about Cedar Fair’s earnings results reveals some interesting facts. While the chain was only able to open seven of their 13 properties thus far in 2020, the company says they gained valuable experience about how to run the parks during a pandemic that has helped them plan their operations plans for the 2021 season.
The biggest parks to open in 2020 would have been Cedar Point and Kings Island in Ohio, who ran an abbreviated season, but according to the Cedar Fair CEO, the parks still “generated positive cash flow, with revenue exceeding costs.” Attendance at the parks was able to grow through the season as guests became more comfortable with the idea of visiting theme parks. Attendance levels started around 20-25% compared to prior-year levels, but actually reached as high as 55% by September. Seeing that attendance levels continues to build throughout the 2020 season the longer the parks were able to stay open has given the company “confidence as we look ahead to 2021.”
(9/28/20) Cedar Fair has announced the departure of John Scott from the company's board of directors, effective immediately. Scott who has been on the board since 2010 has resigned to “focus his time on other business interests.” According to the press release the board, “is currently in the process of addressing the vacancy”. In other words, they have not yet confirmed that the open seat will be replaced at this time.
(5/7/20) Cedar Fair has posted their Q1 2020 results and as expected, the numbers reflect the early damage from the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the shut down they say the numbers were tracking to show an improvement over the previous year, but the official net revenue was just $54 million in Q1 2020 compared to $67 million from the same time period the year before. They also reported a 239,000 decrease in attendance from the year prior also due to the parks being closed. Prior of the closure, attendance was actually up 149,000 (19%) up to the same time period from the year before, with revenue up $8 million, due to a fantastic start at Knott’s Berry Farm for the year. Click here to read more details from the Q1 2020 report.
(4/18/20) Cedar Fair posted an update on Thursday afternoon regarding the measures the company is taking regarding the threat of the COVID-19 virus. In addition to talking about cutting costs, staffing and pay percentages, they are taking a page out of the Six Flags playbook and will reduce capital spending. At this point, clearing a lot of the planned 2020 money has been spent, as new rides like Orion at Kings Island are now full built and likely ready to roll on opening day, but the plan is to cut between $75 and $100 million of “non-essential capital projects” from the planned 2020 and 2021 seasons. This will cut the 2020 spending budget down to $85-100 million from the previous budget, which I believe was likely around $140-150 million, but I’m not sure if they ever revealed an exact number.
So with this in mind, and knowing Cedar Fair usually plans to have their big steel additions in place for the start of each park’s season, then I’m guessing the 2020 cuts to be taken now may have more to do with internal improvements (restrooms, restaurants) or capital attached to pay the budget for big festival or holiday events, such as the Grand Carnivale parade, the Monster Jam trucks, cutbacks to Halloween Haunt (no new haunts) or cuts to the new Winterfest events.
For 2021, this will likely mean a reduction in the number of new attractions on the way, until the company feels they are on more solid ground and able to properly budget for bigger mega projects without fear of another pandemic related closure. This may also explain why they are extending all 2020 season passes to include the 2021 season for free, as new attractions will be fewer and it will give them a solid base of guests to visit while cutting back on marketing and advertising through to 2021. I’d also plan on seeing the opening of that new hotel under construction at Canada’s Wonderland pushed back to at least mid-2021 at this point.
Compagnie des Alpes- (4/30/21) BlooLoop has posted a new update about the ongoing evolution of Compagnie des Alpes from an interview with CDA’s Director of Leisure Parks, Francois Fassier. Fassier speaks about how they are growing the company’s theme parks into more resort like experiences by adding hotels to increase the number of days guests visit and more. At Parc Asterix for example, attendance has been quickly rising, from 1.7 million guests in 2014 to 2.4 million in 2019. The Parc Asterix resort currently features three hotels and has plans for a fourth hotel in the parks, as well as looking into ways to add a second gate in the future.
The article is a great read and clues you into a lott of future expansion plans for virtually all of the CDA parks!
Disney - (8/1/21) Just a quick update, but in addition to face masks now being required indoor at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks, upon visiting a mall yesterday I noted that The Disney Stores have also seem to have been looped into the new face mask mandate for all employees and shoppers. While COVID mask rules vary from location to location, state to state, I was actually surprised to see this, as they appeared to be the only retail location in the mall requiring masks. I’m not going to name the mall, but this was in North Carolina.
Fortunately they had a cast member stationed at the entrance to provide free masks to everyone, which was great, as the majority of shoppers in our region had abandoned mask wearing several months prior.
On a second note, and the reason we were at the mall in the first place, for the first time since the pandemic began, we returned to the movie theater to watch Disney’s latest creation, Jungle Cruise. If Disney was hoping to create a new film franchise to take the place of the seemingly retired Pirates film series, then I think they did exactly just that. Jungle Cruise is a great adventure film with just the right amounts of action, comedy, thrills and elements of the supernatural to make for a fantastic voyage. Normally when I see a movie like this, I’d say that it was deserving of having a theme park attraction. The problem is, Jungle Cruise is already a theme park attraction, so perhaps they need to look into expanding the concepts of the movie to create a whole land inspired by the IP instead.
While nothing has been announced, I’d be highly surprised if we don’t hear news about a sequel being put into works in the not too distant future, and I’m good with that, as I’d cruise with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson anytime. Little easter egg nods to the film have already been deposited into the Disneyland attraction’s queue, and the film does create an interesting new take on the “Trader Sam” character that I’d love to see more of as well.
(7/30/21) In perhaps a bit of a surprise, The Walt Disney Company has also mandated that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the US now must be “fully vaccinated” and that they will have the next 60 days to fall into compliance with the new corporate policy. Disney has also begun talks with their unions to get the change put into effect for those Cast Members as well. All new hires must also be fully vaccinated before they can start their new positions, and staff working from home must also get fully vaccinated before they can return to on-site work.
It’s no surprise that this comes into play after Disney had to put face mask rules back into effect that their US theme parks today only weeks after rolling back the mask mandates in Florida and California theme parks. The rise of the new Delta COVID variant serves as a wake-up call that stronger action is needed before they let the company slip back to the point that they could be forced to close the parks once again.
Disney isn't’ alone in this action either, as reports have gone out that Google, Facebook and even Walmart are putting new vaccination policies into effect for members of their staff.
(7/17/21) Disney Park’s Chairman, Josh D’Amaro, announced the other day that they were moving forward with a plan to open a new Disney work campus in the Lake Nona area of Orlando (located just South-East of Orlando’s airport). The plan will see roughly 2,000 jobs moved to the new Florida campus from Disney’s “Parks, Experiences and Products division”, including a number of Imagineering cast members. Many of these employees will be existing staff from Southern California who will be given the offer to relocate to Florida, provided their job isn’t dedicated to servicing just the Disneyland Resort only.
On the business side of things, they mention Florida’s more business-friendly climate (something that I’m sure came to light after California went on the nation’s most strict lockdown orders, plus the ability to “consolidate our teams and be more collaborative and impactful both from a creative and operational standpoint.” What hasn’t been mentioned is the likelihood that Disney will also be filling these positions at a cheaper pay-scale than what they are now paying for staff in California due to the state’s cheaper cost of living, plus no state taxes on income.
It is worth mentioning that each year more and more companies involved in the theme park business have been opening new offices in the Orlando area, even if they are just sales offices. With the annual IAAPA convention now effectively locked down to take place in Orlando each year for the foreseeable future, and the location’s global reputation as the theme park capital of the world, it does just make sense to locate more staff in Florida.
As a side thought, it does make me wonder if we’ll see Disney ramp up their efforts regarding the construction of new attractions and experiences in Florida going forward. With Universal Orlando moving ahead with their own new theme park project, many have wondered if Disney may be thinking of adding a fifth major park of their own. While I don’t believe this is the case just yet, as Disney seems focused on upgrading their existing parks currently, I do think this could be something they might consider as a more long-term concept plan.
(6/27/21) Disney has been known to make feature films based on their theme park attractions in the past. They’ve got five blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean theme films to prove it. Despite the runaway success of the Pirates films over the years, they’ve also put out a good assortment of box-office bombs that either failed to find an audience, or were identified as being so sketchy, they just released them straight to video or on broadcast TV. Past bombs would include The Country Bears (2002), The Haunted Mansion (2003 with Eddie Murphy) and Tower of Terror (1997 starting Steve Guttenburg).
Most of the bombs were before the Pirates era and now Disney is banking on Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt to headline their new blockbuster based on The Jungle Cruise, which is set to hit theaters in late July. While i’m sure Disney is hoping The Jungle Cruise will evolve into a multi-chapter franchise for them, they’re already moving ahead with another interesting project. According to the trades, Disney and Scarlett Johansson are working together to bring the Tower of Terror to life one more time. It’s isn’t known is ScarJo is going to star in the film or not, as currently she is attached in a producing role.
The concept is interesting, as technically The Tower of Terror is a story concept Disney Imagineers made up to be told as part of the “Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror” attraction that opened in Walt Disney World in 1994. As the “Tower of Terror” was really never a story told in the various Twilight Zone TV series or the feature film, Disney can feel free to use whatever part of the Tower of Terror mythos they want, as long as they do it free from any mention of the Twilight Zone brand.
Keep in mind Disney has more ideas kicking around in the vault as well, as it was mentioned in late 2020 that they were looking to use Space Mountain as the theme for another film concept. Back in 2010 Disney had also entered into talks with the legendary Guillermo del Toro to write and produce a new film themed around The Haunted Mansion, but unfortunately this went nowhere. The project lingered in development hell for the next decade and saw del Toro drop out to do other projects, but according to new reports Disney was said to have hired Justin Simien to serve as Director in April 2021 so perhaps there is hope yet for this one. Simien is currently involved as a Writer/Producer for Disney’s Star Wars: Lando mini-series coming to Disney+.
(6/19/21) As for June 17th, with the reopening of Disneyland Paris and the Walt Disney Studios Paris theme parks, that marked the first time that every Disney theme park across the globe was open once again at the same time. Over the past 17 months, starting with the closure of Shanghai Disneyland on January 25, 2020, the various Disney parks around the globe have been in the process of shutting down and slowly reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the planet. Follow the link to see a quick history and rundown of how this has affected the Disney parks over the past 17 months, as various parks and resorts would open and then later close again, in a new article posted to the OC Register.
And while congratulations are in order to Disney for getting this done, I feel we must place a small asterisk (*) on this achievement, as there is still one small Disney park that has yet to reopen. Typhoon Lagoon, one of the theme park giant’s waterparks in Walt Disney World, is still closed. To be fair, Typhoon Lagoon closed for winter rehab on January 5, 2020, about two and a half months before the rest of Walt Disney World shut down due to COVID in late March. And while Walt Disney World reopened the Blizzard Beach waterpark earlier this year, they have yet to reopen Typhoon Lagoon, making it the longest closed Disney park of them all, currently closed 531 days and counting.
(5/31/21) While there are many details to be worked out, Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, told JPMorgan this past week that he felt that the Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks would return to full capacity sometime this fall. While we are seeing many strides in the direction of the company’s parks returning to ‘normal’ currently, one bit of a wildcard for the time being will be the issue of international travel and how that could affect things.
(11/28/20) In an unfortunately news addition, The Walt Disney Company has announced that they will now lay off 32,000 employees by the end of March 2021, an increase of 4,000 more over the previously announced 28,000 layoffs.
(11/25/20) Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde announced on his social media that after 40 years with Disney he will be retiring this January. Joe explains his reasons better than I can in his post, so I’ll leave that below for everyone to read. But after 40 years, I salute Joe for a fantastic career behind him and a well deserved rest ahead. Though honestly, I’ve got a feeling his drive to explore, learn and experience the world first hand will continue to send him on many an adventure.
(11/20/20) Disney’s EVP, Digital & Global Chief Technology Officer, Tilak Mandadi, has posted a fascinating article on LinkedIn this week in regards to a virtual IAAPA presentation. The topic was how “Physical + Digital” experiences are going to be a driving force for present and future guest experiences with Disney Parks. This includes new digital methods of staying in touch and engaging with Disney fans through new digital content during the COVID-19 pandemic, enhanced virtual queue technology used for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, the ability at Walt Disney World Resorts to skip the front desk for digital check-in experiences and more.
Looking to the future they want to create a new connected experience, a “Theme Park Metaverse”, that will “transcend the physical and digital barrier” to allow for the possibility of adding new layers of storytelling and interactivity with guests through the use of digital technology both inside and outside of the theme parks.
(10/13/20) Cedar Fair will announce their Q3 2020 Earnings Report on Nov. 4, with a conference call you can listen into starting at 10am. Follow the link to the investor site to listen in to the call.
(10/11/20) In an interesting move, many of the Hollywood blogs are reporting that Disney is looking into ways to transform their Space Mountain IP into a new family friendly movie series, trying to copy the success of what happened with the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. Unlike how Pirates had a number of characters and iconic scenes that could be pieced together into a possible film story concept, Space Mountain however is much more vague, featuring no characters, locations or even a hint at a possible storyline. At least not the way the ride was done in the US parks… the version at Disneyland Paris is a very different beast with a heavy Jules Verne influence. Plus there are no “Mountains” in the void of Space… so… I’m very curious to see just how this concept turns out. (In my head, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up somewhat similar in feel to the Lost In Space revival on Netflix.)
While the release has been delayed, we already have a Jungle Cruise film waiting in the wings of 2021 starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Disney has also been kicking the idea of a Haunted Mansion film around for years, while still trying to shake the bad vibes from the 2003 comedy attempt with Eddie Murphy that bombed. I’ve always been surprised they never went after Big Thunder Mountain instead as a possible IP for a film or ongoing series attempt given the rich visuals, but I think Disney got scared away from all Western themed concepts after The Lone Ranger film bombed in 2013.
(10/1/20) In a very sad move, Disney has announced that they will be laying off 28,000 employees due to the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on the company, and in particular the move was “exacerbated in California by the state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.”
Currently all of Disney’s theme parks around the globe have reopened with the exception of the two parks that make up the Disneyland Resort in California. Disney will begin the process of reducing their workforce at their “Parks, Experiences and Products segments at all levels, having kept non-working Cast Members on furlough since April, while paying healthcare benefits”. About 67% of the 28,000 domestic employees to be laid off will be part-time employees.
(9/12/20) According to a report released by Deutsche Bank, they believe that Disney’s theme parks will be facing another ‘lost year’ in 2021 and that it could be 2023 before the Disney parks have recovered back to 2019 levels of performance. To that I can only say, “Ouch!”, but if there a more positive note to this prediction report, they also believe that Disney’s theme park division will surge higher than ever by 2025.
(5/20/20) The Walt Disney Company has announced a number of new people to the leadership teams in charge of the resorts and theme parks this week.
Josh D’Amaro has been named Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products
Jeff Vahle has been named as President of the Walt Disney World Resort
Ken Potrock has been named as the President of the Disneyland Resort
Kareem Daniel names as President of Consumer Products, Games & Publishing
Thomas Mazloum named President of Disney Signature Experiences
To read more about each person and their previous experiences within the company, click here.
(2/26/20) Disney announced that effective immediately Bob Chapek will be assuming the role of CEO of the company from Bob Iger. Iger will continue to stay with the company for the remainder of his contract through to the end of December 2021 serving as the Exec. Chairman of the Board. A replacement for Chapek who will take over the role of Chairman of the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products has not yet been announced. According to Iger, his focus for the remainder of his term will be on Disney’s “creative strategy”, which is probably for the best as the word I’ve been getting from those involved with the more creative aspects of the industry is that to date Chapek just did not seem to have much in the way of creative vision. Let us hope that Iger can mentor him over the next 22 months, and Iger himself almost said as much as he commented that “he would be able to help transition Chapek into the role”. According to CNBC, Disney’s stock price fell 2.5% after hours following the announcement.
(11/22/19) There has been a bit of a change-up over at Walt Disney Imagineering this week as a number of people have shifted positions and some of the Creative Execs for each of the theme parks have now changed.
Chris Beatty is now the WDI Park Creative Exec for the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Joe Rohde will remain in place as Creative Exec for Disney’a Animal Kingdom.
Zach Riddley and Tom Fitzgerald will co-hold that spot for EPCOT.
Daniel Jue is the Creative Exec for the Tokyo Disney parks.
Luc Mayrand will take that spot at Hong Kong Disneyland.
Nancy Seruto has the Creative Exec spot at Shanghai Disneyland.
Tom, Fitzgerald will oversee both Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Paris.
Lastly, Scott Trowbridge will become the Creative Exec for both Disneyland and California Adventure, while also staying in place as the master WDI planner for all things related to Star Wars at all the parks.
Herschend Family Entertainment - (4/17/21) Herschend made major headlines earlier this year when it was announced that they were adding Kentucky Kingdom into their small theme park chain and now Herschend is making headlines again. In addition to a small group of theme parks, Herschend is also known for owning a small collection of major aquariums which has now added the famous Vancouver Aquarium to that list as of this week.
This is great news for the Vancouver Aquarium who was forced to shut their doors in September 2020 after the impact of COVID-19 had just caused the former owners to financially bleed out to the point that they could no longer operate. Herschend now has 100% ownership of the attraction, but will keep existing Vancouver Aquarium CEO, Clint Wright, on to oversee the operations of the Aquarium as well as their Marine Mammal Rescue Center.
According to the statement from the Vancouver Aquarium, they are already working on their plan to safely reopen the Aquarium. Other Aquariums under the Herschend banner include Adventure Aquarium (New Jersey) and Newport Aquarium (Kentucky).
Merlin Entertainment - (8/2/21) According to a local news report, the Madame Tussauds location in Washington DC is now expected to be closed for good. Officially and according to the website the closure is listed as temporary, but behind the scenes the attraction is apparently working with a real estate broker to sublease the space that it has occupied for nearly 15 years. According to the report Merlin Entertainment has not been willing make any comments about it.
(7/24/21) Madame Tussauds has teamed up with Marvel to open a new experience called “Marvel Universe 4D”. The new 4D Theater experience can currently be found at the Madame Tussauds locations in New York and Las Vegas. This isn’t the first partnership between Marvel and Madame Tussauds, as I believe the London location opened a “Marvel Super Heroes 4D” attraction back in 2010, and I believe a different version of the “Marvel Super Heroes 4D” opened opened in the New York location in 2013 for a time, which should be different than the new film now showing in the US locations.
(6/19/21) Merlin has announced plans to open a brand new Madame Tussauds wax figure museum in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest in early 2022. In addition to the expected list of international figures and celebrities to be represented inside, the attraction will also feature of number of Hungarian celebrities, musicians, athletes and historical figures.
(3/2/21) While Merlin may have announced their “exclusive” and “multi-territory” deal with Hasbro to create the Peppa Pig park at Legoland Florida, I have to make a few major corrections that are entirely my fault. Merlin has already created Peppa Pig themed kiddie lands inside two of their existing theme parks, namely Gardaland in Italy and Heide Park in Germany. The rights seem to be entirely with Paultons Paul in the UK for the time being, but Paultons Park has had their own Peppa Pig World area for longer than 2018. I also incorrectly stated that they opened it in 2018, but this was actually an expansion to Peppa Pig World that Paultons opened in 2018. The Peppa Pig World at Paultons actually opened way back in 2011, so it is turning 10 years old this year.
Merlin has also created four small stand-alone indoor Peppa Pig World of Play attractions: one in Shanghai, China and three in the US in Texas, Illinois and Mighican.
(2/28/21 / Corrections Made 3/2/21) After the announcement of a separate admission gate Peppa Pig park at Legoland Florida, this got me wondering how long it will be before we see more Peppa Pig themed parks and attractions at the Merlin owned parks. After all, most park chains don’t sign a licensing deal with a big company like Hasbro just to only build one thing. Fortunately Merlin provided some exact verbiage in their press release regarding their deal with Hasbro.
“Merlin Entertainments, a global leader in location based entertainment with brands including LEGOLAND, Madame Tussauds and SEA LIFE® Aquariums, has an exclusive multi-territory licensing agreement with Hasbro, owner of the Peppa Pig brand, to build and operate the Peppa Pig attractions, targeted at the preschool market, as part of its broader strategy to engage in partnerships with some of the world’s most popular brands.”
So the two key words you must remember from that are “exclusive” and “multi-territory”, which also help explain why you will find an existing Peppa Pig World kiddie land in the UK at Paultons Park, which is not part of the Merlin chain of parks. Paultons opened their very own Peppa Pig World kiddie land in 2011 after signing their own licensing deal with Entertainment One, a Canadian entertainment company whose Family Brands division was in charge of Peppa Pig along with PJ Masks.
Entertainment One was later purchased entirely by Hasbro in December 2019, giving Hasbro the ownership of Peppa Pig, but it has also kept “eOne” to serve as a production subdivision for Hasbro to promote and put into production some of the IP’s that Hasbro owns such as Transformers, Power Rangers, My Little Pony, Nerf and many others.
This brings us back to the Merlin deal with Hasbro for Peppa Pig that is “exclusive”, but is not global, rather it is “multi-territory”. While I don’t know the terms of Paultons deal with eOne, typically if you are a theme park planning to build an entire land themed around an IP, you would sign a regional IP deal for at least 10-years up front and one or two renewal extension clauses built in to that deal for at least another 10-years each beyond the first 10-years if Paultons deems it worth-while to pay more to keep the IPs. If you are a very savvy company, you may have even scored an IP deal that could allow you to endlessly renew your rights to use the property in your park as long as you are willing to pay for it. My favorite example of this kind of deal would be the one Universal Orlando signed with Marvel to use their characters at the Islands of Adventure theme park in Marvel Super Hero Island. It has been years since Disney purchased Marvel and they still have a great number of limitations of what they can do with it in their theme parks due to this pre-existing deal with Universal Orlando.
While we don’t know how exclusive a deal Paultons Park signed with eOne, there is a good chance that Merlin may not be able to use Peppa Pig at any of their UK attractions for quite some time. Beyond the UK however, Merlin has already added Peppa Pig lands at Heide Park in Germany and Gardaland in Italy. I would imagine Merlin may already be planning on more new locations where possible.
(9/15/20) Merlin is looking to grow the Legoland theme park empire once again. According to an update at BlooLoop, Merlin is in early talks with government types in Belgium about building a new Legoland theme park in the country. They’ve got their eye on a former Caterpillar site in Gosselies.
(6/6/20) While I don’t think anything is set in stone yet, the current “guidance” from the government given to Merlin’s parks in the UK has set them in motion to reopen their parks to guests on July 4, 2020. Things are always subject to change, but this seems to be the direction they’ve been planning on for a few weeks when guests with reservations before that date were asked to reschedule.
All guests will be required to pre-book their tickets to visit the park in order to limit the capacity of the park each day. Information about how you can pre-book your visit will be coming to the park’s websites in the near future, so keep an eye open. All guests and staff will undergo a temperature screening before being admitted into the property and face masks are encouraged, but not required.
So look for Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures and Alton Towers to reopen on July 4th until they say otherwise.
(6/30/19) I was a bit shocked by this, but Merlin Entertainment has agreed to a £6 billion ($7.6 billion) acquisition deal coming from Berkeley Bidco Limited. This is actually a new partnership company between the LEGO Kirk Kristiansen family group known as Kirkbi, along with Blackstone Group and CPPIB. Kirkbi will own 50% of Merlin, while the remaining 50% will be owned by a partnership between Blackstone’s private equity firm and CPPIB who is a Canadian pension fund. While Blackstone is a name that many in the amusement industry are familiar with over the years, Kirkbi is a newer “investment vehicle of Lego’s founding family”. This is interesting, as it puts the fate of the LEGOLAND theme parks back in control by some of those who helped create and build the LEGO brand in the first place.
The deal is expected to be finalized in Q4 0219.
Miral - (3/27/21) According to a local news article Miral’s Abu Dhabi’s theme parks (Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros World) will soon adopt a complete contact-free solution for the parks that will use face recognition technology. Miral has called the launch of this new tech at their theme parks as “FacePass” and that will be start at the theme parks and then roll out to other locations in the area as FacePass will not only be used as a form of admission, but also as a contact-free payment technology for guests who opt in to use the program.
Parks and Resorts Scandinavia - (3/14/21) I missed this announcement previously, but according to this press release, AMF, a pension company, has invested SEK 400 million into the Parks and Resorts Scandinavia company back in December 2020. Parks and Resorts Scandinavia are the owners of Grona Lund, Skara Sommarland, Kolmarden and Furuvik.
Parque Reunidos & Palace Entertainment - (1/22/20) A Screamscape source tells us that Palace Entertainment / Parque Reunidos is opting to keep the Raging Waters waterparks in Sacramento and San Jose closed for the 2021 season. There is also a chance that some of the chain’s other smaller parks and attractions may also opt to stay closed as well, especially in California where the current state rules are not likely to allow parks to open for quite some time.
This is just an early rumor right now, so things could change, as currently nothing has been confirmed on the official websites yet. According to what I’ve been told, Palace Entertainment is in something of a transition at this point, with a number of team members having been laid off at the attractions as well as the corporate office, with more layoffs expected to come over the coming weeks as the company seeks to stabilize itself financially.
(12/20/19) John Reilly, the former interim CEO for the SeaWorld Entertainment parks has just surfaced again. Palace Entertainment has announced that John Reilly has joined their company as the new Chief Operating Officer, effective Dec. 4, 2019, where he will oversee all the US parks for parent company, Parques Reunidos.
Puy du Fou - (5/22/21) According to an article posted at BlooLoop, Puy du Fou is working on the launch of a new $76 million Euro ($92.5 million US) show called SAGA that is planned to open in Shanghai in 2022. Saga Shanghai will be located at the Everbright Convention center and feature the world of Shanghai from the 1930s with a new immersive experience.
In the meantime, Puy du Fou is also working on plans to build a new Puy du Fou theme park in China.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment - (7/17/21) SeaWorld Entertainment has announced that reservations are no longer required to visit any of the chain’s theme parks. This includes: Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld San Antonio, as well as the three Aquatica waterparks as well as Water Country USA, Adventure Island and Sesame Place.
(6/29/21) SeaWorld Entertainment has appointed Tom Iven, formerly a VP of Park Operations for Six Flags, as the chain’s new Chief Operating Officer.
"We are excited to have Tom join the SeaWorld team as we continue to drive the business forward and emerge an even stronger company post COVID-19," said Marc Swanson, Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. "Tom brings significant theme park operating experience and a long, successful operating track record. I am confident he will make immediate contributions as we continue to execute on our strategic plans to realize the full, long-term potential of the company," continued Swanson.
SeaWorld Enterainment’s former COO, Walter Bogumil, is said to have been terminated as of June 27, 2021. No reason was given for Bogumil’s termination.
(5/26/21) According to statements issued by SeaWorld’s CEO Marc Swanson, the company is now looking to build hotels and add more new rides to their parks. After a long period of focus, and perhaps from watching smaller properties like the Legoland parks successfully launch their own resort hotels, the company is now focused on finding a way to execute plans to bring resort hotels to their US parks.
While they haven’t opened most of their latest batch of attractions, Swanson confirmed that the company’s goal is to be able to offer new rides and new attractions at every park, every year. “We have some things that we can’t obviously announce right now, but I think people will be excited when they see the future plans for not only our Florida parks, but really our parks all across the country.”
(5/6/21) According to a press release from SeaWorld Entertainment earlier today, interim CEO Marc Swanson has been officially appointed as the official CEO of the company effective immediately after having served as the interim CEO for the past year. Other company appointments include naming Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy as CFO and Treasurer, and like Marc Swanson, she was also serving in the same position as interim CFO and Treasurer for the past year prior to this.
In other news, the company released their Q1 2021 report this morning, and you can follow this link to read the details. Highlights include a reported attendance of 2.2 million guests in Q1 2021, which is actually only down 4.5% from Q1 2020, which isn’t that bad all things considered, but attendance this quarter compared with Q1 2019 however was down 1.1 million guests (33.7%).
Total revenue reported for Q1 2021 was $171.9 million which is actually up $18.4 million from Q1 2020, with total revenue per capita reported as up 17.2% compared to the same quarter in 2020. Admission per cap increased 10.8% and in-park per cap spending increased 26.4% compared to Q1 2020.
(11/8/20) According to this report SeaWorld Entertainment revealed on Thursday that their theme parks suffered a $79 million loss in Q3 2020, with attendance over the summer dropping 81% from the 2019 levels due to COVID-19. The drop was to be expected however, especially as how the parks were all closed for so long earlier this year.
The article also mentions how SeaWorld’s Florida parks have always been very popular with the local market, which is very true. Living and working in the area myself when 9/11 happened back in 2001, I saw firsthand that while tourism dropped for a time after 9/11 when people were afraid to fly, the SeaWorld parks seems to flourish in that market at the time due to a huge local passholder base while the bigger parks at Disney and Universal suffered attendance losses.
The effect from the pandemic however is not the same as the 9/11 terrorist attack, but it does give good hope that all the parks will survive this as long as they aren’t forced to close down again.
(9/23/20) Is SeaWorld just swirling around the inevitable drain of a bankruptcy filing? On Monday a pretty telling opinion piece on the possible future of SeaWorld was posted to SeekingAlpha by the “Bears of Wall Street”, claiming that SeaWorld was likely on the path to bankruptcy.
It is no secret that the theme park chain has been on unsteady ground since the whole Blackfish documentary came out in Summer 2013. Meanwhile over fiscal year 2018 and 2019 we finally saw the company crawling back to decent performance levels once again, despite a good amount of bad press about struggles between the board-room and the corporate leaders, causing many experienced execs and freshly tapped CEOs to resign and leave the company. Now rocked to the core by the COVID-19 pandemic, SeaWorld along with all fellow theme parks, are now struggling and trying to survive.
The bottom line of the Bear’s article to potential investors is to “Avoid, Avoid, Avoid” as the company is growing a huge debt level that will be difficult to pay off, especially in light that they are burning through cash daily. One line in particular also stood out to me, claiming that “ the latest private debt placement that SeaWorld executed is likely going to be used by debt lenders to take some portion of its assets during bankruptcy hearings. After all, the company is in a distressed state, and some parts of its assets, such as real estate, have more value on their own than under the roof of SeaWorld.”
Prior to the Pandemic closing the parks, there has also been a lot of speculation about the future of the theme park chain and what direction it will be, led by the company’s primary investor, Hill Path Capital, who’s CEO (Scott Ross) is also SeaWorld’s Chairman of the Board. Currently Hill Path Capital now owns roughly 34.8% of SEAS with over 27 million shares. At this point Ross is clearly driving the bus… but unfortunately no one seems to know just what his final destination will be and if all the parks will still be part of the chain by the time they get there.
(9/7/20) According to various news stories and personal reports, the SeaWorld parks have started to permanently lay off a large number of the staff members who were previously furloughed and not brought back to the parks in Florida and Texas as they reopened. I’m told that the layoffs should not be happening at the Busch Gardens Williamsburg park at this time as they just started the process of reopening in August, and the San Diego park is also likely to get similar treatment as they are just now reopening as an animal only park at this time.
(8/21/20) SeaWorld’s interim CEO made some interesting comments about the chain’s possible future expansion plans this past week. Curious to know more about where the SeaWorld Parks may be planning to go next, and just what it could look like as they evolve, I dug a little deeper and shared my thoughts on that subject in my latest article for BlooLoop. Follow the link and check it out.
(8/15/20) According to the OC Register, SeaWorld dropped and interesting comment the other day when the company speculated on what they might do with some of the money they’re been storing up. SeaWorld CEO Marc Swanson mentioned to analysts earlier on Monday that the company has an eye open for any possible small attraction, hotel or park that may not be able to weather the COVID-19 shutdown that they could purchase cheaply and convert into a new attraction.
They aren't looking for a whole theme park mind you, the exact comment specifically mentioned looking at “a water park, a hotel or something like that” along with the idea of being something they could quickly convert into a “Sesame Place” style park. Given that they are already converting the Aquatica waterpark in San Diego into Sesame Place for 2021, I would assume that the California market is off the table. The East coast already has the original Sesame Place and the company tried and failed to run a Sesame Place park in Texas a long time ago. That doesn't mean they couldn’t try Texas again, but I guess it depends on the market and how much competition there is nearby. Still… it does make me wonder where else a Sesame Place might work, especially if the company is willing to expand into new markets, or try out a new location where Legoland hasn't already planted their own flag.
(7/31/20) According to various posts, SeaWorld Entertainment has officially announced in an earnings report that all of the big new roller coasters at their parks intended for the 2020 season are now officially delayed until 2021. This should include Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa, Pantheon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Emperor at SeaWorld California and Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando. That said… there is always a chance Iron Gwazi could open in late 2020, as I’ve heard work crews were spotted trying to finish it up once again.
(6/24/20) Over the past week it has become increasingly clear that something odd is happening over at the SeaWorld Entertainment HQ. News story after story have filled the headlines about how the chain of parks seems to have stopped paying their bills to their contractors, despite reporting earlier in the year that they had taken steps to have enough cash flow to get the company through to late 2021.
According to an interesting article at Orlando Weekly there is a line of thought out there thinking that Chairman of the Board, Scott Ross, may now be intentionally pushing the company towards a possible bankruptcy filing. I have to admit, I’ve heard some of these rumors myself as well, but the strategy makes me wonder just what the possible endgame plan may be. Are they seeming to find a buyer, in the midst of all this global economic uncertainty, willing to buy out the entire chain? Or perhaps they have something more drastic in mind, such as selling off the chain’s various parks piecemeal to whoever is willing to pay. There are even rumors claiming that the chain may go so far as to be willing to sell off many of their animals as well.
All these things were previously unthinkable… so it speaks volumes that even such drastic measures are considered to be within the realm of possibility these days.
(4/14/20) SeaWorld is in the news once again this week, after furloughing 90% of their staff and canceling their health insurance in the middle of a global pandemic, and then the board drives away yet another CEO. So just what did they do this week? Would you believe that the company will now award the group of six surviving executive officers nearly $7 million in stock awards to be given out over the next two years, if they stay with the company through to 2022.
It's a brilliant way to entice the company's upper management from jumping from a potential sinking ship, especially in light of the 20% salary cut just taken from these same execs. I think the move would have gone over better had they not kicked the rest of their staff to the curb so early in the game while Universal and Disney were still paying their staff.
(4/7/20) I hate to say it, but each time this happens the message just gets more and more clear… there is something very wrong with the Board of Directors calling the shots at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. Or perhaps more specifically, the true source of the problem may actually be the current Chairman of the Board, Scott Ross.
So what happened now? In what is becoming a clear pattern for the company, the latest CEO, Sergio Rivera, has now opted to leave the company after just five short months. Just like his predecessor, Gustavo Antorcha, who put in his resignation last September, they both cited disagreements between the actions they wanted to take and the marching orders being handed down from the Board of Directors.
For those keeping score, this is now 3 CEO’s who have left the company within the past 2 years, and a total of 5 have resigned since Scott Ross joined the Board of Directors as owner of the park’s majority investor, Hill Path Capital. Along with all the departed CEOs, the company has also driven out several upper execs and three park presidents.
So why did Rivera leave? According to an anonymous source when the board sent the orders down to furlough 90% of the company’s staff along with cutting all health benefits in the middle of a pandemic, Serigio Rivera wasn’t going to stand for it and quit after not being able to stop it. The board then appointed Marc Swanson, the current CFO, to act as interim CEO, and gave him the hatchet orders to carry out.
The “Stand with SeaWorld” facebook page has posted an open letter to “condemn the leadership and actions of Scott Ross” and is asking the Board of Directors to remove Scott Ross as the Chairman, and to remove him entirely from the Board of Directors. They paint a pretty clear picture of what’s been going on and why this really needs to happen if the company is going to ever recover. You can see the letter embedded below, so I encourage you all to read it and spread the word as well.
Six Flags - (7/17/21) Staffing has been troublesome for theme parks this summer and now Six Flags is taking extra steps to retain the employees they have and bring in even more through to Halloween with a newly announced employee bonus program. According to the news report, the new program could provide a new bonus from $500 - $1000 along with a 10% increase in pay from now through September and 15% for hours worked in October.
(6/13/21) A couple of years ago you may recall hearing about an interesting lawsuit against Six Flags Great America over the use of fingerprint based biometric scanners in the park. Apparently the use of the scanners between 2013 and 2018 was found to be in violation of an Illinois state law that requires companies in the state to obtain and keep a record of customer permission before using certain biometric devices to identify customers.
According to the local news, Six Flags has now opted for a $36 million settlement to the class-action lawsuit in the state. As such, passholders who used the system at Six Flags Great America theme park between late 2013 and 2018 may be granted payments upwards of $200 each.
(4/30/21) Six Flags reported revenue of $82 million and 1.3 million in attendance at their theme parks for Q1 2021. As you expect, due to the start of COVID shutdfowns in March 2020, the 2021 attendance figures are actually down due to ongoing restrictions and capacity limitations in many areas, as well as having less operating days. You can read up on the official numbers and details here.
(4/8/21) Six Flags has announced that they will release the Q1 2021 earnings report on the morning of April 28, 2021. You can listen in to the investor conference call starting at 7am (central) that morning through investors.sixflags.com or by dialing 855-889-1976 in the US.
(1/29/21) Six Flags will make their Q4 2020 / Year End earnings announcement and conference call on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. The investor call will take place at 7am Central Time and you can listen in at the investor website.
(1/20/21) Six Flags is currently conducting a survey to get everyone’s opinion about COVID-19 and theme parks that may be worth your while to take. Click here.
(1/2/21) A new rumor has leaked my way regarding planned 2021 budget cut measures for Six Flags chainwide. This ties in to the previous confirmed report from the corporate office that they were planning on removing 15 attractions, chainwide, before the start of the 2021 season. As this works out to one attraction per park in the chain, we’ve then begun some speculation and rumors about which rides may be removed from some of the parks.
If the latest rumor is true however, it may be much more difficult to tell which rides are being retired until the parks actually open, and even then it may still not be clear. Since it sounds like Six Flags’ plan was to retire rides that were not worth saving due to high operational costs, high maintenance costs, or low guest satisfaction numbers, it is unlikely that all of these rides will make it out into the used ride marketplace, with many to be scrapped or used as spare parts elsewhere in the chain.
Scrapping a big ride however isn't free, and since Six Flags is looking to cut expenses wherever possible, the unfortunate result is that these rides may be left standing, but not operating (SBNO) in their respective parks for all of 2021. Making the issue even more confusing is a second rumor claiming that Six Flags may opt to not run select rides at each park until they approach peak Summer season and get an idea of how 2021 will play out for each market.
For some of you out there, this may be nothing new, as select Six Flags parks in the chain have been known to leave a number of their rides closed early in the season anyway under the guise of just having not finished off season maintenance or not running them due to colder weather. It just sounds like this unpleasant practice may spread chain-wide for 2021, so just something to keep an eye out for.
(11/11/20) According to this detailed report about Six Flags Holiday in the Park event, they confirm that the seasonal special event will take place at Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags over Texas, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Six Flags St. Louis, Six Flags America, Six Flags over Georgia, Frontier City and The Great Escape.
A new “Holiday in the Park Lights” event will take place at Six Flags Great America and at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, with both events slated to take place over weekends and a few select other dates through to early January 2021.
(11/3/20) Six Flags has been sending out guest surveys over the past week that include several questions regarding possible scenarios where Six Flags could require guests to take some kind of COVID-19 test on site, or present proof of having taken a COVID test within 7 days of visiting the parks. Nothing is firm yet, but it is clear that Six Flags is trying to gather their guest’s opinions on what kind of extra safety measures they would be willing to take to ensure a safe visit to the parks in 2021. You can see a few of the questions they are asking over at OrlandoWeekly.
(11/1/20) While going through the Six Flags Q3 2020 earnings report, about three quarters of the way through some interesting comments came up that I missed before regarding the chain’s efforts to reduce operating costs going forward that don’t involve staff cuts.
“... we are reviewing each operating cost with a fine toothcomb to eliminate excess. For example, we are eliminating two of our satellite offices and modifying our T&E policies to lower our corporate expenditures. A large portion of our non-headcount operating cost reductions will involve leveraging the scale of Six Flags as a whole, to centralize procurement, consolidate vendors and renegotiate contracts. As we go through this process, we are leaving no stone unturned, examining light items, as small as our lettuce expense, which serves as an interesting example. If we standardize that one order and by just one kind of lettuce, we will save $40,000 per year. We have hundreds of goods, where this concept would apply, from napkins to paint, to chlorine, to uniforms.”
Now here comes the really interesting part. “In addition, optimizing our rides will save us enough capex to fund a new ride every single year. Our park Presidents, engineers and maintenance teams have studied the performance of each and every ride, calculating the cost against the ride's throughput productivity. We now know which rides to redeploy across parks, which rides need to be refurbished, and which can be removed entirely. We are eliminating 15 underperforming rides this year, reducing maintenance costs, and freeing up significant capex resources.”
So in addition to settling on a list of well performing, cost-effective rides that they can clone throughout the chain, Six Flags will be removing “15 underperforming rides this year”, that they’ve determined to have high enough maintenance costs and issues that removing them will free up funds to allow for “significant” CapEx spending.
No rides were named of course, but Six Flags does have some rides that are well known for suffering frequent downtime issues, or those that are extremely costly to maintain. Now I’m not sure if the list of 15 rides to be removed includes attractions at the waterparks, but as maintenance at waterparks is usually fairly low-cost when compared to big iron rides, I have a feeling this list will be focused on the big rides. Six Flags currently has 12 Six Flags branded parks in North America, plus La Ronde, The Great Escape and Frontier City, for a total of 15 amusement parks. With that in mind I can only guess that each Six Flags park has been asked to sacrifice one of their rides before the 2021 season starts.
With that in mind, I’m sure the fans of just about every park in the chain can probably narrow down the list at least park to two or three rides likely to be on the chopping block. Some of these may just be old rides that are long past their prime while others could be more modern high profile rides that are just costly to maintain. Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure immediately springs to mind here as Intamin’s Accelerator style coasters feature a Hydraulic launch system that is prone to very costly and lengthy downtime issues. When it works, it is a beautiful thing that can launch coaster trains with amazing power, but when they break down… well… it’s never a pleasant affair for the maintenance team. Now, I’m not saying Kingda Ka is gone… especially since the park has also strapped the Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom ride to the same tower structure, but I’d certainly think that the “Ka” could just be one spectacular breakdown away from being retired if it ends up on chopping block short-list at the wrong time.
So I’ll throw this out to you Six Flags enthusiasts out there… send me your best guess as to which ride will likely be removed from your favorite Six Flags park before they reopen in 2021.
(10/29/20) According to a Tweet, Six Flags is said to have lost 3.3 million members and passholders during the 2020 COVID Pandemic, keeping an estimated 3.8 million as they head towards 2021.
A good breakdown of all the other financial stats revealed during the Q3 2020 conference call and report can be found here, comparing how the company did over the first 9 months of 2020 compared to what took place in 2019.
(10/15/20) Six Flags announced that they would be laying off about 10% of their full-time staff throughout the chain of theme parks this week, which would be about 240 positions. While we don’t have numbers for each park, one anonymous source reported in to Screamscape to say that most parks either lost their PR Manager or Marketing Manager and that the “Group Sales” departments across the chain seem to have been eliminated. They also felt that many long term / higher salaried staff members may have been targeted, which is often a common theme when it comes to layoffs from any company. I’ve also been told that Six Flags is closing their satellite offices in Hollywood and New York as well as part of this procedure as well as eliminating some vacated full-time positions that were left unfilled over 2020.
(8/29/20) In an interesting development Six Flags has announced that they have amended their credit agreements to extend an existing repayment waiver for an additional year, moving a “covenant waiver” from from Q4 2020 to Q4 2021 and extended the modification period up through Q4 2022. The adjustments allow for Six Flags to remain flexible in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, and better able to manage the turbulent waves the industry is experiencing as a result.
As such, it appears that the stock market has reacted well to what Six Flags has been doing so far. Six Flags stock was trading at a low for the month at $16.36 on August 3, but has currently risen up $23.43 by Aug. 28, 2020.
(7/30/20) Six Flags released their Q2 2020 results, which were pretty much as expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With park operations “suspended” starting on March 13, 2020, revenue for Q2 2020 was only $19 million, with a total attendance of just 433,000 (down 96%) compared to the same quarter in 2019. Six Flags also reported a net loss of $137 million for the quarter. Click here to read the more in depth details.
(4/10/20) Six Flags has made some changes late this week to help them survive this extended closure. They have worked with their lenders to increase the company’s revolving credit line by an additional $131 million. This mixed with the credit they had left and $23 million in “cash on hand” for the company, is now said to give the company enough cushion to cover their debts through to the Q4 2020, with no debt maturities due until 2024.
The company is also taking measures to reduce operating expenses as well as trim back about $40-50 million in funds previously slated for various capital projects during 2020. They don’t get specific, but while some of these may have involved various minor park improvement projects, some of these cuts may take the form of cancelling some new rides and attractions that were announced, but may not have gotten very far into the construction process.
Again, nothing has been confirmed, but rumors suggest that Six Flags Discovery Kingdom may be one such victim, as the park’s previously announced coaster is now no longer mentioned on the website.
For the time being, we are waiting for some kind of confirmation from Six Flags about what is being cancelled or put on hold and what will still open this year. In general though, projects that are far along in construction should be allowed to finish, such as the Jersey Devil coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure.
(4/1/20) Six Flags knows that their stock price is down 72% from where it was at the start of the year, and in order to protect itself from a hostile takeover the company has enacted a “stockholder Rights Plan” that will be in place for the next 12 months. From what I understand, if any one person or company were to suddenly purchase 10% or more of the company’s outstanding stock, it triggers an option for all shareholders, except for the new one who triggered the event, is immediately qualified to buy shares of Six Flags at a 50% discount. Any current investor who already owns 10% or more of the company is exempt from activating this poison pill unless they try to buy more.
(3/2/20) After just adding two new members to the Board of Directors, another new announcement can be found here describing a “cooperation agreement” between Six Flags and H Partners that would put Arik Ruchim, a Partner at H Partners, on the Six Flags Board of Directors as well as being appointed to serve of the “Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee and to the Compensation Committee”. H Partners Management, LLC is listed as an “investment management firm”.
With the sudden addition of three new members to the Board, it sounds like some bigger corporate changes could be in the works for Six Flags, other than moving the headquarters. I mentioned this on the Six Flags over Texas page previously, but Six Flags did sign a new 15-year lease with the owners of the Globe Life Park stadium (the former Texas Rangers stadium, across the way from the park) to move the Six Flags corporate headquarters from their current location into new office space within the stadium.
This should be good news for Six Flags over Texas itself, which has been under heavy criticism for the past couple of seasons about the condition of the park and how it seemed as if it was rarely visited from the suits in the corporate office. With the new Six Flags HQ sitting just across the street from the Arlington theme park, there is no excuse to not venture out of the office space and into the park once in awhile to put some boots on the ground.
(2/25/20) Six Flags has announced the appointment of two new members to their Board of Directors this morning, bringing the total members up to nine. They have added Selim Bassoul, a former President/CEO of Middleby Corp which specializes in food service and processing equipment. The second addition is B. Ben Baldanza, CEO of Diemacher LLC (a firm who specializes in helping with business restructure to grow revenue and cut costs) as well as being the former President/CEO of Spirit Airlines.
Both of these new members have proven track records of taking under-performing businesses and turning them into huge profit makers. Clearly Six Flags is hoping a little of their magic will rub off on them under their influence, as well as be seen as a positive sign of good things to come to the stock market.
This move follows the 2019 Year End report from Six Flags which saw their stock price take a tumble. Not counting the new small parks added to the chain over the 2019 season, on a same-park basis the Six Flags only saw a small $1 million growth in revenue from the previous year, and an attendance increase of only 65,000 guests. Meanwhile operating costs rose $15 million along factored along with other bad numbers such as flat PerCaps, rising Operating Costs and Wages, relatively flat attendance growth and a drop in Single-Day ticket guest attendance and it was clear that Six Flags was struggling a bit in 2019.
Add in to that the loss of expected income from the China parks in 2020. Six Flags confirmed that they have terminated their contract to work with Riverside in China, and they are not expecting at this time that anyone else in China will rise to take their place, so it looks like the Chinese parks are a loss at this point.
According to the new Six Flags CEO, Mike Spanos, they are planning to work on improving the guest experience in 2020 after cost cutting efforts in 2019 led to drop in guest satisfaction scores. It was also mentioned that they want to increase the single day ticket sales back up as well, as prior to now management was more focused on increasing the number of Season Pass Memberships.
On a personal point of view, I think the park needs to focus a bit more on their CapEx plans, because while the idea of adding a new attraction to every park sounds good, when your overall budget for CapEx is so low (only $140 million in 2019) and you are spreading it out to over 20-something properties… that budget gets pretty thin and we seem to be missing out on the addition of major headline grabbing new attractions on select parks. In addition I feel that Six Flags new schedule of waiting to open new rides in the Summer isn’t helping matters, as the new additions don’t serve to help drive any significant attendance growth until Q3. Opening new attraction in the Spring would help drive up numbers starting in Q2, and serve not only as a way to get positive word out about the new attractions by the Spring Break crowds, but would also give the parks a window of time to solve any problems or issues that are common with new attractions before the more busy summer season crowds arrive. This would work out better in the long run better than opening your new ride in June, suffering a breakdown a few weeks later that keeps it closed for half the summer, resulting in those dropping guest satisfaction numbers they talked about.
Triple Five - (3/30/21) Triple Five Group, owner of the American Dream mall, has announced that they are putting up a 49% stake in their two other mega-mall properties, Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, with their investors in an effort to stabilize their financials. Triple Five defaulted on their loan for American Dream as the property was kept closed for much of 2020 and unable to generate any revenue.
(6/21/20) According to this news article, Triple Five has apparently missed three mortgage payments on their Mall of America mega-retail site, home to the original Nickelodeon Universe theme park. The article goes on to note that the Mall of America was used as collateral for Triple Five when they secured $2.8 billion in financing to open the American Dream property in New Jersey, and that 100 workers have also been laid off from America Dream.
Universal Studios - (8/1/21) Waterworld! The name of this particular Universal carries a lot of weight, not so much for the success of the film, or lack thereof, but more for the storied history of the film followed by the success of the IP as a theme park attraction. I’m not going to get into the history of the movie’s production, which includes massive cost overruns, sinking floating sets, to say nothing of the rumors that the production problems were played up by Hollywood management to drive off the studio’s Japanese parner, Matsushita, over increasing cultural-clash problems with the American studio.
In the end, Matsushita sold off their ownership stake of Universal for $5.7 billion to Seagram in 1995, the same year that Waterworld hit the theaters and “bombed”, at least on the books. Say what you want about the film and the performance that ended up on the screen, but the concept of the “world” put on display in the film was something that has retained interest over the years. After all, watch the news on any given night with tales of climate change and warnings of polar ice caps melting, and it feels like we’re living out the events that brought about “Waterworld”. Add in that every Universal Studios theme park resort on the globe, with the exception of the Orlando, has an extremely popular “Waterworld” themed stunt show and you’ll know that the IP has never been far from the studio’s mind.
This brings me to today where it was announced by the Hollywood Reporter that Universal has begun early development of a Waterworld follow-up “series” to the events of the film. This is aimed at taking advantage of the current trend of reviving old IPs for streaming services, such as Paramount+ new Star Trek series or Cobra Cai on Netflix. The concept would catch up with all the surviving characters, 20 years later, though no actors have been attached to the project yet, so I’m not sure if we might see Kevin Costner return as The Mariner or not. Either way, I’m actually curious to see where this leads, as it could prove to be far more successful than the film ever was, and potentially give new life to the theme park stunt shows as well. Stay tuned!
(7/31/21) According to various news reports things are definitely moving in the right direction over at Universal’s theme park division. According to the Q2 2021 earnings report from parent company, Comcast, for the first time since the pandemic began the Universal theme parks had their first profitable quarter, with the Universal Orlando resort leading the way.
According to the report the theme park division’s reported revenue was $1.1 billion, driven mostly by the Universal Orlando resort where the pent up demand for theme park experiences was described as being “exceptionally” strong. Attendance at the Orlando parks has already returned to the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019, and this is without most international visitors being allowed into the country at this time due to travel restrictions.
Based on my own visit to Orlando in early June, I would confirm that this seems to be the case, as attendance at the parks seemed to me, visually, to be even stronger than what I had experienced at the same time period in previous years. The ultra successful launch of Universal's new VelociCoaster is expected to be a major piece of the success story here as well. The extreme themed coaster has been a huge draw, not only for coaster enthusiasts, but for all potential theme park guests from far and wide, and has received praise for being one of the best roller coasters on the planet right now. Universal Orlando just pointed out not long ago that the VelociCoaster had already delivered thrills to over one million riders so far since it opened on June 10th which is amazing.
Meanwhile Universal Studios Hollywood was able to finally reopen in April and premier a new dark ride based on The Secret Lives of Pets animated series, and run without restrictions since June. In the Japanese market the guests have been loving that park’s brand new Super Nintendo World land as well, and a scaled back version of it is already under construction for Universal Studios Hollywood, with plans to also bring it to Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Singapore in the future.
(2/3/21) According to the Q4 2020 earnings report from Universal’s parent company, Comcast, the Universal theme parks division was able to reach a breakeven point by the last quarter from having parks open in Orlando and Japan, despite the continued closure of their Hollywood theme park. Revenue dropped of course, but that is to be expected when attendance capacity limits are in place at the parks.
(1/9/21) Universal fans… especially Universal MONSTERS fans, be aware that for a limited time many Classic Universal Monster movies will be available to watch for free on YouTube. From what I understand once they go live they will be available for about a week before being removed from the service. You can find them on the “Fear: The Home of Horror” YouTube channel and from what I can see the schedule is as follows, with the movies being added in the evening hours:
January 15 - Dracula (1931) and The Mummy (1932)
January 16 - Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
January 17 - The Invisible Man (1933), The Wolf Man (1941) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
(1/2/21) An interesting series of drawings taken from a patent for a new ride system from Universal can be found at ThemeparX. The overall idea is fascinating, as the proposed ride concept would start off as a boat ride, not unlike the Jurassic Park River Adventure, but at some point that looks like a giant forklift style device hidden underwater, but mounted to an overhead track system would swoop in behind the riders and lock into place under the boat. The artwork then depicts the idea that the boat would drift towards a large waterfall, but instead of plunging down with the river, the boat would then leave the water and fly away, attached to the overhead track system. The second half of the ride would then be seen from the air, before the boat of riders would eventually be placed back in the water to drift back into the loading station.
It is a neat concept, and according to some rumors, it could have been something envisioned as a proposal for a Zelda themed ride concept as part of the Nintendo deal. Previous rumors once indicated that Universal was lining up possible ideas to add other Nintendo ride and land concepts to be added to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida after Epic Universe opened with a Super Nintendo World land. The delay to the new park caused by COVID-19 has kind of put everything on hold at the moment, so there is no way to know what will still make it off the drawing board, and where it might land. One of the last popular rumors at the time, was that they were considering adding a Pokemon themed area to Universal Studios Florida and a Zelda themed land or attraction could fit into Islands of Adventure, either as a replacement for Toon Lagoon or the remainder of Lost Continent.
(11/16/20) People magazine decided to look back at the creation of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal theme parks which started 10 years ago. And in case you were wondering, Universal Creative’s Thierry Coup slys confirms that “we’re not done”. Over the past ten years the Wizarding World has grown to include theme parks all around the globe and added onto the universe with new expansions outside of the parks like like The Cursed Child, the Fantastic Beasts movies, the Wizards Unite mobile game and more. “The Wizarding World is not resting. It keeps building.”
Thierry Coup doesn’t go into detail about what is on deck to happen next, but we know that the next planned expansion to the Wizarding World in the theme park realm was planned to be a major part of the planned Universal’s Epic Universe theme park. Unfortunately COVID-19 has put those plans on hold for the time being, but the COVID situation gets under control and people are able to freely travel the world once again, I think we’ll see those plans for Epic Universe begin once again. While there is every possibility the original plans for the park may have evolved and changed by the time things get moving once again, I’m pretty confident that we will still see another chapter of the Wizarding World unlocked as part of the new park.
(11/1/20) According to comments made by Comcast’s CEO Brian Roberts, he believes that their Universal branded theme parks which have suffered in 2020 due to Covid-19 may be able to “break even” by 2021 once again. Comcast reported that theme park revenues fell around 81% in Q3 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions that have kept the California park closed, and allowed for only limited operations in Florida and Japan thus far. Based on how business is “rebounding” thus far in 2020 in Florida and Japan, NBCUniversal’s Jeff Shell commented that “I really feel that parks are going to be very strong business” in terms of recovery in 2021.
(9/23/20) Universal Studios is taking their relationship with Nintendo to the next level it seems. In addition to theme park lands under construction, the studio is now reported as working on a Super Mario Bros animated movie for release in 2022 that will see Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto serving as co-producer along with Illumination’s (Despicable Me / Minions) Chris Melendandri.
(4/25/20) The various LEGO movies have been fairly entertaining thus far, especially the original “The LEGO Movie” (2014) and the fun take on superheros in the LEGO Batman Movie (2017). While these along with the The LEGO Movie 2 and LEGO Ninjago movie were all produced by The LEGO Group and Warner Bros., a new 5-year deal was just signed between Universal Pictures and the LEGO Group to produce and develop new theatrical movies based on Universal owned IP. So what does this mean?
Just about anything may be possible now, as we could be brand new LEGO style films themed around current popular Universal franchises like Jurassic Park/World, or set in the Fast & Furious universe… or they could try poking through Universal’s back catalog and revisiting some old classics such as a LEGO Back To The Future, LEGO Jaws, LEGO The Mummy, or heck… even a LEGO Dark Universe or Classic take on the Universal Monsters. I would also think that it is a given that these new projects would also arrive in the Universal theme parks as well, while Warner Bros was content to let the original LEGO movie characters be used by the Legoland theme parks.
(4/1/20) According to a local news report, early construction work is still moving ahead as planned on the site of Universal’s future “Epic Universe” theme park. They also reconfirm that the intention is to be able to open the new park by 2023. According to Universal chairman and CEO Tom Williams, “Our construction projects around the globe—Super Nintendo World in Osaka and Hollywood, Universal’s Epic Universe in Orlando and Universal Beijing all remain active and on track under protocols established by government officials and with their support”.
Village Roadshow - (12/20/20) According to reports a $440 million deal that will see Village Roadshow Limited taken over by private equity firm BGH has been approved over a rival offer from Pacific Equity Partners. In addition to owning several theme parks and attractions in Australia and being involved in others in Asia the company is perhaps more known for their chain of movie theaters and their film distribution company. Village Roadshow has suffered in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 harming their film, theater and theme park businesses. The buyout from BGH will put some needed financial stability under their feet once again.
(12/1/20) Details about a takeover bid offer for Village Roadshow, who owns the Warner Bros Movie World and Sea World theme parks in Australia can be found here. The latest bid offer from BGH Capital are said to be lower than previous offers than came in from BGH and others before COVID-19 ravaged the planet, but may still be enough for the company to sell itself to a new owner before 2021 is over.
(5/20/20) According to Deadline, Village Roadshow is entered into exclusive takeover talks with BGH Capital, following an offer from the private equity firm to buy Village Roadshow for $465 million. Apparently this latest bid is lower than one offered by BGH Capital in 2019, though there are some interesting terms of the current BGH offer which can raise the price if Village Roadshow is able to open their various theme parks (SeaWorld of Australia, Warner Bros. MovieWorld and others) before the deal is finalized.