Corporate Park News
---- THE LATEST INDUSTRY NEWS ----
(8/7/20) Six Flags Might Have Some Surprise 2021 Annoucements After All (MORE...)
(7/31/20) Are All Cedar Fair Parks Closing After Labor Day? (MORE...)
(7/31/20) SeaWorld Entertainment To Delay 2020 Coasters Until 2021 (MORE...)
(7/29/20) Six Flags Releases Q2 2020 Results (MORE...)
(7/23/20) SeaWorld Entertainment Offering Free Admission To US Veterans and Their Families (MORE...)
(6/24/20) Is SeaWorld Chairman Pushing Company Into Bankruptcy? (MORE...)
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 - (7/31/20) Some interesting rumors are coming out regarding the future of Cedar Fair parks in 2020. While Cedar Point’s online schedule shows no more open days after Sept. 7, several readers pointed out seeing signs in the park over the past week promoting fall hours that said, “Life Needs More FALL FUN. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Sept 18 – Nov 1.”
Meanwhile the latest rumors quietly going around suggest that Cedar Fair has internally cancelled all of their Halloween events AND is planning on shutting down virtually all of their parks for the season after the Labor Day holiday on Sept. 7.
Meanwhile parks that have not opened for the season at all, like California’s Great America, Canada’s Wonderland, Carowinds, Kings Dominion and Valleyfair are said to just be giving up on opening at all. The only other exception to this rule may be Knott’s Berry Farm, which if given the opportunity to open, will likely do so… but the way things are going in California, the state may not allow it until 2021.
(5/31/20) According to a news release from Cedar Fair, they reveal some of the changes we can expect from their parks as they reopen. Cedar Fair has confirmed they will be using an online reservation system that will be required for guests to visit the park. Along with the reservations will come a “time-bound entry voucher” to be used. All guests will be asked to complete a self-health check questionnaire before entering, which can also be done on the park’s mobile apps. Cashless payment methods are being expanded for use in the parks as well as expanded mobile food ordering options coming to at least four parks in 2020.
Nothing was mentioned about temperature screenings in the release, or face mask requirements on either staff or guests. Given that the chain’s parks are spread out across the continent, the ruling on face mask usage could change from park to park depending on the local government restrictions in effect at any given 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.
(4/23/20) Cedar Fair announce the company’s 2020 Q1 results on the morning of May 6, with a conference call set to take place at 10am EST. Click here to visit the investor site and look under the Investor Information / Events & Presentations / Upcoming Events tabs to listen in to the webcast live, or the recording posted soon after.
(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.
(4/14/20) Good news for Cedar Fair theme park season passholders. It looks like Cedar Fair is going to follow Knott’s Berry Farm’s lead and extend all existing 2020 Season Passes through to include the 2021 season as well at no extra charge. Updated notices similar to this one for Carowinds seems to be in the process is being added to all of the Cedar Fair park sites today.
(3/7/20) Cedar Fair’s CEO and President much feel very good about where he plans on leading the company right now. According to this article on insider trades, Richard Zimmerman and seven other Cedar Fair execs increased their holding in the company on Friday, with Zimmerman investing $186,000 into the company stock, increasing his personal share to 2.64%, currently worth $7.32 million.
As previously reported, Cedar Fair’s year-end 2019 report was well received and it looks like the top execs opted to strike while the price was good following a nearly across the board price drop in theme park company stock prices seen on Thursday amid speculative fears of how the industry may be impacted by the COVID-19 virus outbreak. A month ago FUN stock was trading around $54 a share, but dropped to the $37-range by the end of March 6th which is the lowest it has been in over 5 years.
(2/20/20) Good news from the Cedar Fair year end report for 2019 came out this week. Cedar Fair reported an 8% attendance increase and 1% rise in PerCap spending. The 8% increase however includes the addition of the two new Schlitterbahn parks to the chain’s lineup, so taking the results of those two waterparks away, the chain still saw an increase of 5% attendance over the same existing parks from last year. You can read more details from the report here.
(1/31/20) Cedar Fair has set the date of Feb. 19, 2020 for when they will announce their Q4 and Full Year Results for 2019. You can listen live to the webcast call on Cedar Fair’s investor site at 10am by clicking here and going through the following tabs for Investor Information / Events and Presentations / Upcoming Events or if you want to listen late, look under Past Events where it will become available shortly after the live call ends.
(12/20/19) Cedar Fair has announced a change-up on the Board of Directors for 2020. Starting on Jan. 1st, 2020 Dan Hanrahan will take over at the new Chairman of the Board. Matt Ouimet who has currently been serving as the Exective Chairman since Jan. 2018 will go on to serve as a Director on the board under Hanrahan along with Debra-Smithart-Oglesby who is currently the lead independent director. Dan Hanrahan has been serving on the Cedar Fair Board of Directors since June 2012.
Disney - (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.
(4/14/20) According to Reuters, The Walt Disney Company reported that they have entered an unsecured credit agreement for $5 billion. This will give the company needed liquidity to pass through the current troubled waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile... Just when you thought Bob Iger was retiring… he is apparently back in the thick of things at Disney. Make no mistake, by all official accounts Bob Chapek is still in the CEO seat, but as previously mentioned, Iger said that he would be helping transition and guide Chapek as the new CEO over the coming months. With the company, and world, undergoing some of the biggest challenges of all time, Iger is not one to sit idly by and do nothing. Much like a driving instructor with a young student, Iger is said to have asserted more direct control over the company for the time being to help guide the empire through these troubled waters.
What does this mean for Chapek? As much as some would like this to be an indicator that he has failed, or may be on the way out, I don’t think that is what is happening at this stage of the game. With all the experience Iger has under his belt, I would think it would be foolish if he simply sat by and did nothing and let the company that he ran for 15 run without his guidance.
(3/19/20) The growing number of things and places shut down following Disney’s own stunning announcement has been staggering to say the least, and certainly unprecedented in my lifetime. As we begin to adjust to a world where not a single Disney theme park is open anywhere ont he planet, a few quiet rumors are beginning to leak out, claiming that you may have to wait longer than April 1st before you can visit either Disneyland or Walt Disney World again.
According to one source, Disney is rumored to have an announcement in the works that will extend the closure from the end of March to more of a 30-day window that would push back the soonest possible reopening date to sometime between April 18 - April 25. Even that window is very tentative, and subject to a thorough review of the conditions of the world at that time to determine if it is safe for either resort to resume even limited operations.
(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.
(9/29/19) Disney is shaking up the assignments of their theme park Presidents around the globe. Starting in November Josh D’Amaro will become the new President of the Walt Disney World Resort, moving in from his previous post as President of the Disneyland Resort since early 2018.
At the same time Rebecca Campbell will take over the President spot at the Disneyland Resort, moving in from her previous position as the President of ‘Europe, Middle East and Africa” for Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer International department.
George A. Kalogridis will be moving on from Walt Disney World to take on a new role as “President, Disney Segment Development and Enrichment”.
Michael Colglazier who oversaw the Disney parks in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo will now become President of Disney Parks International, adding Disneyland Paris to the parks under his watch.
Just prior to these changes it was also announced that Catherine Powell had left her positoion as “President of Disney Parks West”, where she oversaw aspects of the parks in California, Florida and Paris. That position has now been eliminated in the wake of these new changes.
(9/11/19) Over the years it has not been uncommon to see Disney file various theme park technology patents. Often times these patents don’t seem to reflect anything that is getting built, but a few do come to life, usually in spectacular fashion. One such new patents does look like something we could see Disney put to use in their theme parks, which has been dubbed the “capturepult”. The idea is to add technology into a themed boat ride attraction that can not only stop a moving boat in the water, but also propel it forward at the proper speed once it is ready to release the boat. The idea being that normally when a stopped boat is released, it takes a significant bit of time for the flowing water to slowly accelerate the boat and get it up to the proper traveling speed intended. With the Capturepult, the boat can then be released and send off at the intended speed right away, preventing back-ups due to slow moving boats.
(5/15/19) I had a feeling this would happen, but according to the latest reports from the Hollywood trades, Disney has stuck a deal worth at least $5.8 billion with Comcast that will allow for Disney to buy Comcast’s 30% ownership of HULU in 5 years. This will put full control and ownership of HULU firmly under the Disney corporate umbrella, adding this already strong streaming media player in as a firm tentpole in Disney’s own push to enter the streaming marketplace.
This also makes sense as the Disney+ streaming service that will launch near the end of the year will firmly focus on family friendly content, HULU already is home to more adult fare (movies and self-owned content) in addition to the large collection of TV show content. I would imagine Disney would leverage the power of HULU’s large audience to launch their new Disney+ service as a possible add-on to HULU, or bundle them together with some kind of discount rate.
Some other details: While the purchase part of the deal won't happen until 2024, Disney will assume full control of HULU effective immediately.
Comcast / NBCUniversal have also agreed to continue to license their content to HULU through late 2024, though starting next year some NBCUniversal content will be given non-HULU exclusive status and allow NBCUniversal content to be licensed out to other streaming services as well. (To who? Well it seems NBCU is planning to launch their own free (but ad funded) streaming service sometime in 2020.)
In 2022 NBCUniversal will have the rights to cancel most of their content agreements with HULU if they choose to do so.
Great Wolf Lodge - (10/8/19) Blackstone was confirmed to be buying a 65% controlling interest in Great Wolf Lodge from Centerbridge Partners. The two companies will now form a new joint venture to own the indoor waterpark resort company. According to Murray Hennessy, Great Wolf Lodge’s CEO, “We are pleased to welcome Blackstone as a new member of the Great Wolf pack and excited to begin the next chapter for our rapidly expanding company.” Under the new partnership, the company says they are looking forward to expanding at a more rapid pace.
(9/20/19) Blackstone Group is reported to have made a $2.9 billion offer to buy Great Wolf Resorts, the company behind the Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark resorts scattered across America. Currently Great Wolf is owned by Centerbridge Partners, who bought the resort company away from Apollo back in 2015.
The move is interesting for Blackstone, as they are also involved as a partner in the $7.6 billion buyout of the Merlin Entertainment parks and attractions, which includes numerous parks in Europe and the UK as well as the Legoland theme park chain. In that particular deal Blackstone had partnered with Kirkbi, an investment company founded by Lego’s “founding family”.
While the buyout of Great Wolf Lodge, if finalized, would not make the waterpark resort chain part of the rest of the Merlin properties, it would obviously open the door to some friendly cross marketing opportunities.
(7/6/19) I did not know this was a thing offered at any Great Wolf Lodge Resort, but apparently the Lodge in Gurneee, IL (not far from Six Flags Great America) is starting a trial-program in which they will begin selling “Day Passes” to use the waterpark for the next 45-days. Previously the waterparks at the Great Wolf Lodge resorts were exclusive to the guests staying at the Lodge, thus keeping the crowd levels down as well as off-setting the high room-rates that are normally charged for this perk. Apparently this policy has changed in recent years, as it was not being offered during my last visits, but now seems to be offered at most of the other Lodges.
According to Great Wolf Lodge, the number of tickets offered on any given day are based on the number of vacant rooms they have each night, to make sure that the waterparks don’t become overcrowded. I’m not sure why, but for some reason the Day Pass program here had to be approved by the local Gurnee village board, and at the end of the trial, if they want to turn it into a year-round program they will once again have to get village approval.
If you are interested in visiting this or any of the other Great Wolf Lodges with a Day Pass they’ve got a website where you can buy them in advance, but they aren’t cheap, as they prices also seem to fluctuate based on how busy they are and if you are trying to visit in peak season or off season. They say prices can start as low as $50 per person, but looking up the price for my local Lodge in Charlotte, if I were to visit tomorrow (Sunday, July 7th) the Pass Passes would cost $90 a person, but would typically drop down to $65 a person if visiting on a weekday later in the month. Obviously the more Day Passes you need to buy for your group, the better the price option on just getting a room for the night begins to look.
Merlin Entertainment - (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.
Parque Reunidos & Palace Entertainment - (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.
(7/3/19) Parque Reunidos has opted to “terminate the contracts” to build new Lionsgate themed indoor attraction centers in Lisbon, Madrid and New York City. The New York City site was expected to open as early as late 2019, followed by the Madrid location in 2020, but no longer. The loss of the project is estimated to be around 42 million Euro and a reflection of lower than expected results from other indoor attraction projects they opened in Spain over the last few years.
(4/27/19) According to the local news reports Spain’s Parque Reunidos theme park chain is accepting bids for a possible buyout. The leading bid right now is from EQT, a Swedish private equity firm joined by Miles Capital and Alba, who are offering $15.6 per share for a 55.79% of the company. The total bid is estimated to be worth $702.7 million right now. Apparently Miles Capital and Alba separately already own the remaining 44% of the company.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment - (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.
(7/23/20) SeaWorld Entertainment is now offering free admission to US Military veterans and their families to visit SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Antonio and Busch Gardens Tampa. Those eligible can redeem comp single-day tickets now through Nov. 11 for themselves and up to three friends or family members online at WavesOfHonor.com.
Note: This offer will also be valid at SeaWorld San Diego and Busch Gardens Williamsburg once those parks are allowed to reopen.
(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.
(4/26/20) SeaWorld Entertainment has announced they will post their Q1 2020 earnings and have a conference call to discuss it on May 8, 2020. To listen in visit SeaWorldInvestors.com
(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.
(3/29/20) I have a quick update regarding the report yesterday about salaried office workers being repurposed to help animal care staff at the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks. According to another source, this may not be true at all, or not as dramatic as it was made to sound in the initial report. For example, while it is possible that some office workers COULD be asked to help out where possible at some parks, this isn’t what is happening right now.
In fact, according to this new source each of the company’s parks in Florida already have a designated ‘ride out crew’ list in place for major events (Hurricanes) that typically would cause the park’s to close for a few days. These ride out crews are the ones that are slated to be active at the parks during the extended closure, and according to our source, they have no intention of turning personnel from other departments into apprentice keepers at this time. These crews will be working long and hard hours to ensure the quality care for the animals under their charge during these difficult times.
(3/28/20) SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment confirmed late yesterday that they would not be reopening their parks on April 1, 2020. They do not state when they they believe they will reopen the parks, but I’d assume they would try to follow the model of the other theme parks in each market. Right now in Florida, the other parks seem poised to stay closed until April 18 or 19th before they determine if the time is right to reopen in about 3 more weeks. In California, Disney and Universal say the same thing, but Cedar Fair, the parent company behind Knott’s Berry Farm said they were not planning to reopen until mid-May. Either way, take that for what you will, though I’m sure it will come down to how the conditions are in each region at that time.
On a sad side note, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment also sent word to 90% of their employees late yesterday afternoon that they were putting “temporary furloughs” into effect for almost all positions. Unlike in many cases where this is done for a “temporary leave”, those unfortunately affected by this will also see their heatlhcare benefits also terminated on March 31, 2020, giving everyone just a couple of days to get their affairs in order and pick up any needed prescriptions or refills to get them through these troubling times.
While some say that this is necessary for the employees to be able to file for unemployment benefits, it is a sad reflection of the company that they are doing this while their direct competitors (Disney and Universal) have been very up-front about the fact that they are still paying their team-members and keeping health benefits active through the closure dates that have been announced so far.
You can see a copy of the letter SeaWorld Parks is sending to their staff in the Tweet below, where it also clearly says that this is not a guarantee of future employment, so no one’s position is guaranteed once the parks do reopen, though many will be called back into work.
One more side note for anyone interested. While one might assume that the 10% of the work force staying on the books would likely be made up mostly of upper management and animal care staff, apparently this is not entirely accurate. Screamscape has been informed that the staff staying is mostly made up of those with salaried positions, and even full-time hourly animal care and zookeeper staff are being furloughed. To pick up the slack needed to care for the park’s animal populations, it seems many salaried staff members with office jobs may be quickly turned into apprentice animal caretakers for the next few weeks.
(2/14/20) According to this report SeaWorld has agreed to a $65 million settlement over a lawsuit from investors claiming that the theme park chain misled them about the serious impact that the release of the “Blackfish” film had on their business.
(2/9/20) More changes are being made to SeaWorld animal shows going forward. According to a report here a SeaWorld rep mentioned in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the dolphin trainers will no longer perform a “surf” style ride on the dolphins during the shows, and will also begin the phase out the practice of trainers riding on or being pushed by the dolphin’s rostrums (what may be more commonly referred to as their beak or nose).
Apparently this move was brought about by PETA, who has invested in SeaWorld stock and issued a shareholder proposal to abolish “circus-style” acts from the shows. PETA has celebrated the change in policy as a win.
In other news, and perhaps as a sign that the theme park chain has begin to pivot away from animal shows and attractions, the chain has put out a survey online called the 2021 Roller Coaster Survey where they ask a lot of pointed questions to find out what kind of roller coaster style rides you want to see at your favorite park.
(1/18/20) The SeaWorld parks are at it again with potential lay-offs… well… kinda. According to the Orlando Sentinel the company has announced that starting Jan. 27th the operation of all “carnival games” at SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa, SeaWorld San Antonio and SeaWorld San Diego will begin to be outsourced to a UK-based company called HB Leisure.
According to a company memo, most of the current staff impacted by this move can apply to be hired by HB Leisure or apply to find a new position within SeaWorld Entertainment. Barring either, those who find themselves laid off without a new position will be eligible for a severance package. The transition will begin at the Florida parks on Jan. 27th and then move on to the Texas and California parks a short time later.
(1/10/20) Yet another former SeaWorld park president has resurfaced… kinda. According to a new lawsuit filed by SeaWorld Entertainment, they are targeting former SeaWorld San Antonio park president, Carl Lum, along with his new employeer, Herschend Family Entertainment. They suit claims Lum breached a noncompete clause by leaving SeaWorld for Herschend, along with claims of “tortious interference” which is described as interference or damage to someone else’s contractual business relationships with third parties.
Given the mass exodus of execs from SeaWorld Entertainment, including a brand new CEO, that took place over the past year with many citing that there was too much interference and micromanagement from the board of directors as the reason for their departure, this lawsuit may be a bit much for the SeaWorld corporate office to be taking on. Plus it only serves to poison their reputation even further, and give anyone looking into a possible new career opportunity there good reason to think twice if they think the company could file legal against against them if they felt the need to quit.
(12/29/19) OrlandoWeekly has posted a great recap of what’s has been going on with the revolving door of leadership at SeaWorld Entertainment over the past couple years. This includes much of what I’ve been talking about myself here on Screamscape, where it seems clear now that the board of directors, and not the CEOs they hire, are the ones trying to call all the shots and control the company’s future. The current board of directors is led by Scott Ross, who also owns SeaWorld’s majority investor, Hill Path Capital, and the article even details how it looked as if Ross may have been working with an associate on the board of Parque Reunidos to assemble a future deal between the two. Any such deal is now off the board as Parque Reunidos was brought up entirely and taken private by their new owners, Piolin BidCo. Of course with SeaWorld’s former interim CEO, John Reilly just hired as COO by Parque’s US branch, Palace Entertainment, it does give Piolin BidCo a very interesting insight into the inner workings of SeaWorld Entertainment, who would certainly benefit greatly from a new owner being able to take the company private once again and out of reach from the online protestors who try to sway investors and stock market prices.
(11/12/19) After making headlines earlier this year for stepping down as the park President of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, it has now been confirmed that Kevin Lembke has decided to return to his old post at the park after all. The timing is interesting however as Kembke was one of many top presidents to jump ship following the appointment of Gus Antorcha as the new corporate CEO. But with Gus having announced he too was leaving the company less than a month ago, the timing of Kembke’s return is quite interesting.
And now shortly after this news broke, it seems SeaWorld Entertainment has already found a new replacement for the CEO spot in Sergio Rivera, a former President of the ILG timeshare business, with experience working with both Mariott and Starwood previously.
(9/17/19) While we were shocked to see Carl Lum, the President of SeaWorld San Antonio, announced that he was stepping down earlier this month, I wasn’t ready for this latest bombshell, as SeaWorld Entertainment’s brand new CEO, Gus Antorcha, has now announced that he too, is stepping down and leaving the company. Gus Antorcha has only been with the company for seven months, and while on the financial side of things the company has been performing well under Gus, but much of that was set up by the actions by the previous interim CEO, John Reilly, who also left the company shortly after Gus took office.
Gus Antorcha has never been one to seek the public eye and was known for turning down interview requests by the media since taking the CEO reins, but he did give his reasons for leaving. In a SEC filing regarding his departure, it is stated that, “his resignation was due to disagreements over the Board’s involvement in the decision making at the company.”
With the previous departures of Reilly along with three park presidents from the company over the past 7 months, there was some initial speculations that perhaps there could have been disagreements between them and Gus Antorcha, but with Gus’ departure along with a finger pointing clearly as the company’s Board of Directors, it does seem more clear that the Board may be trying to micro-manage the company themselves rather than let their more experienced executives do the jobs they’ve been selected to do. You really just don’t see that level of talent depart a company in such numbers without there being some kind of inner turmoil going on behind the scenes to frustrate them to the point of quitting.
Effective immediately, Marc Swanson (the company’s CFO) has been appointed to take over as the new interim CEO.
In other related news, it was also revealed that despite the fact that SeaWorld Entertainment’s corporate financial reports are showing success once again, they went ahead and initiated yet another employee layoff. This latest group of layoffs saw nearly 100 employees who work in a SeaWorld call center in Orlando let go, with staffers reporting that their jobs are now being outsourced to a third party company with call centers in Jamaica and Guatemala.
Just to get on a soapbox for a brief moment, but I don’t see how SeaWorld thinks they can compete at a quality level when their top execs are quitting, meanwhile they are continuing to lay-off staff members from every division of the company over the past several years, no matter if the quarterly reports are good or bad. In a market like Orlando, quality employees are definitely in demand, and SeaWorld has to battle giants like Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World to staff their parks. This same job market has also become very aware that “job security” is not something you can count on from this company and are likely to seek preferred employment opportunities at the local competition, and with Universal already starting construction on another major new theme park, you can be sure the struggle to fill any future positions at the SeaWorld parks will be harder than ever once it opens. At some point, the bleeding just has to stop and deeper reflection and changes simply need to be made to turn things around, inside and out.
(7/28/19) This is a new one on me, but the information posted in this article is very interesting, claiming that a possible merger between SeaWorld Entertainment and Parque Reunidos, that could also put the combined theme park giant together as an entirely privately owned entity, free from the wild ride of the public stock markets.
Last I heard about Parque Reunidos is that the company itself was looking over options to be bought out by their own investors. Give it a read and see what you think, because they claim it could all happen before the end of the year.
(7/20/19) Interesting power shifts taking place at the SeaWorld Entertainment board room. The Chairman of the Board, Yoshikazu Maruyama, is stepping down as Chairman, but he will stay on as a SeaWorld Director. Stepping up to replace him as Chairman will be Director Scott Ross who is the Founder and Managing Partner of Hill Path Capital LP, and prior to that was a partner at Apollo Global Management.
In addition to this, the Board of Directors has also added one more member (going from 7 to 8) named Charles Koppelman who’s comes as the Chairman and CEO of CAK Entertainment, with previous experience with Martha Stewart Living, EMI Records, and had served on the boards for the Las Vegas Sands and Six Flags, amongst others.
The movement of Maruyama isn’t surprising, as his attachment to the board came with the addition of Zhonghong Holdings to the company. With the termination of that deal, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Maruyama phased out of the board entirely at the end of his term.
Meanwhile the rise of Scott Ross to Chairman isn’t surprising either, as his Hill Path Capital investment company is now currently SEAS largest shareholder, owning a reported 16.62% of the company’s shares as of this week. By comparison, the second largest shareholder (Vanguard Group) only holds 7.47%. He is also no stranger to the amusement sector, as he worked for Apollo prior to starting Hill Path, which has had their hands in a number of entertainment / leisure company deals over the years.
This includes an attempted purchase of Cedar Fair in 2009/2010 that fell apart.
30% Ownership of Caesar’s Entertainment Corp (the casino company, not the pizza)
Purchase of Great Wolf Lodge in 2012 (later sold off in 2015)
Purchase of Chuck E. Cheese Entertainment in 2014
Apollo was also bidding to purchase Blackstone’s full ownship of SeaWorld Entertainment as well, back during the time period when SeaWorld’s ownership was private and had not yet gone “Public” with their stock IPO. Blackstone later made the choice to go public rather than sell the company privately, and walked head-first into the Blackfish PR disaster, from which they are still trying to recover. I’d bet Scott Ross was involved on the Apollo side of things back in 2013, and I find it interesting that he still had his sights set on SeaWorld years later after splitting to form his own investment company (Hill Path Capital). Perhaps a personal quest to finally get the big one that got away.
Given the changes we’ve seen taking place since former CEO Joel Manby left the company in early 2018 that have given rise to a more aggressive build out slate of thrill rides chain wide in 2019 and 2020, I do wonder if any new changes are in store going forward.
(5/8/19) According to news reports SeaWorld Entertainment’s largest shareholder, Sun Wise Co., an affiliate of China’s Zhonghong Zhuoye Group Co., has defaulted on their loans and was forced to return their shares in the company to securities agents. SeaWorld has now canceled the theme park design/development deal they had with Zhonghong.
(3/20/19) In an unexpected bit of news, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has announced that John Reilly, their former interim CEO who has led the company out of the shadow of Blackfish, will be leaving the company entirely, effective March 31st. It is no secret that Reilly was passed over for the official CEO spot when the Board of Directors chose to hire outsider, Gus Antorcha from Carnival Cruise Lines as the new CEO, returning Reilly to the COO possition he previously held.
No reason was given for the departure, other than a statement made that Reilly chose to leave on his own after 34 years at the company one month after Antorcha took the reins. After proving himself as the one person able to actually turn the company around following the dark post-Blackfish years, I've got a feeling he proved his worth in the business world and could have been scouted by headhunters for another company. We'll just have to wait and see where he resurfaces.
Six Flags - (8/7/20) While the 2020 season has been mostly a big bust as far as theme parks go, rumor is that Six Flags is still pushing forward towards another chain-wide announcement day for the company’s 2021 additions. If the rumors are true, this will take place in late August as usually, and is tentatively set for Thursday, August 27th.
I can hear the grumbles now however, as the general line of thought is that Six Flags will end up just announcing all the 2020 rides that failed to open as “New for 2021” attractions. I thought the same thing, but there are some interesting new rumors starting to surface here and there. According to these early rumors Six Flags may actually be planning on plussing these announcements with some all new surprises.
What gets added, if anything, will depend on the individual park and what took place in 2020, as well as what new attraction was already in development and intended for each specific park in 2021 anyway. Keep in mind that everything can change at the drop of a hat, but so far Screamscape has heard rumors ranging from small Zamperla style family flat rides to a turbo-charged version of the S&S Screamin Swing, along with up to three possible new roller coasters. Given the typical development time needed for coasters, these were likely in the works for 2021 before the Pandemic struck. While they could be delayed as well, one is said to be from RMC (likely the rumored extended Jersey Devil layout planned for Six Flags Magic Mountain), another one said to be from S&S that was rumored to be a follow-up to last summer’s Maxx Force at Six Flags Great America, and another mystery coaster project from Premier Rides.
Stay tuned, all could be made clear in just three weeks.
(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.
(6/20/20) Six Flags has announced “the biggest planned rollout of Mobile Food Ordering in the regional theme park space” this week. We know some Six Flags parks had introduced this option last year but as the various Six Flags parks open for 2020 we will see latest mobile ordering system rolled out to 75% of the chain’s dining locations to begin with, and more to be added. Guests just need to download the Six Flags app and can use the Mobile Ordering option from there by selecting the restaurant, pick and customize your food options, pay electronically. Your order will be confirmed by the app which will then send you instructions on when to pick up your order. If you have a Season Pass Dining Pass you can also use it on the mobile app, and which will also automatically calculate in your Membership discounts as well when you checkout.
This is excellent and well timed news, as nobody likes waiting in a long line just to order food and this will remove the problem of standing in lines, since you can order from anywhere in the park.
(5/28/20) Six Flags has posted a great video breakdown of all the changes that will be in effect when each of their parks reopen for the 2020 season which you can see below. It is quite detailed, but the bottom line is that reservations will be required to visit, temperature screening will be in effect for term members and guests and face masks will also be required for all team members and guests.
I do have one comment about the reservation system. Currently I believe the only park taking reservations is for the drive-through Safari experience at Six Flags Great Adventure. Unfortunately the launch of the reservation system has been problematic for those trying to use it (lots of crashing), but also the basic procedure in which Six Flags has implemented it is flawed at the core. They are requiring guests to buy tickets for the Safari FIRST, and then once they have your money, then you can try to get a reservation. Unfortunately this means you have to buy a ticket without even knowing if the date you can visit is even available at all, and if not, you are left with tickets you may possibly never be able to use.
My best example of why this is flawed compared to the normal way things are done would be to compare this procedure to how you make a reservation for a hotel room. You don’t pay for your hotel room first and then try to see if the night you want to stay at the hotel is available later. The first thing you do is see if there is availability on your dates and THEN pay for your room, locking in your reservation and room at the same time. The same goes for purchasing an airline ticket.
While the current system online seems absurd, I can possibly see why it happened that way if Six Flags was just trying to keep their existing online ticket purchasing system intact and untouched and then adding on the reservation system as a separate system, but the truth is, the current system is just too problematic. Let's hope that the current system is just a temporary solution until a completely revised system that will combine reservations and ticket purchases is ready for launch.
(5/17/20) According to a Six Flags internal memo sent to Screamscape anonymously, it confirms that right now they feel that Frontier City will be the first of the Six Flags parks to open, along with the new drive-through Safari experience coming in “the next few weeks” at the Six Flags Great Adventure property.
After those two attractions open, the message states that they feel the Six Flags parks in Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Maryland and Missouri should be the next to open.
(5/13/20) Six Flags has posted a list of FAQ questions about their new online reservation system that everyone will be required to use to get into a Six Flags Theme Park. For the most part it seems self-explanatory, but there are some interesting items of note such as:
The system will go online shortly before each park is ready to open for the season. When it does go online, you will be able to make reservations for any dates for the entire 2020 season. The park does note that not all of the spots will be released at once, with some saved in reserve as the dates get closer to keep people from grabbing them all at once.
Once all the spots for a date are taken, you can join a “wait list” to take advantage of cancellations or if new spots are made available.
Season Pass Holders and Members will be given priority access to the new spots as they become available before everyone else.
In one possible problem… they note that Passholders and Members can “have as many simultaneous reservations as they want or need”. The good news is to prevent passholders from loading up all the dates, you can only use the website to make one reservation at a time. Extra reservations will need to be done by contacting guest relations.
In addition to having a reservation for the date, it appears that the system will also assign you an arrival time to keep the park entrance area from being swamped by huge crowds all at once. If you arrive before your arrival time, you may be asked to wait in your car until it is your time to enter the park. If you are late for your arrival time, you can still get in, but there may be an extra wait until you are called up.
While there is no charge for the system, guests who make reservations and opt not to use them are asked to officially CANCEL their reservations to open up the spots for others on the waiting list. If you make reservations and don’t use them, you will be subject to “penalties” that will reduce your priority level in the future, or possibly even subject you to blackout periods where you won't be allowed to make new reservations.
It is also worth mentioning that paying for parking is REQUIRED in advance, before you arrive at the park. For those with parking included in your pass or membership, you are fine, but everyone else will have to do this ahead of time, as they wont accept payment at the parking plaza in the fashion that has been done for years.
(5/5/20) According to a tweet posted by Coaster and Brews, it appears that a new reservation system is in the works for guests wanting to visit a Six Flags park in the near future. According to the tweet, “All visitors (include pass holders and members) must make advance reservations to visit the park.” You will have to pre-schedule your visit using an online reservation system which will become active at some point in the future.
(5/4/20) According to this article, Six Flags CEO Mike Spanos singled out six of the company’s parks that would be most likely the ones to reopen first. The six parks mentioned were:
Six Flags over Texas, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Six Flags over Georgia, Six Flags St. Louis, Frontier City and Six Flags Mexico. This is based on how things are tracking related to the virus in these locations, along with how the various states seem to be moving forward with individual plans to reopen businesses within each region.
(4/30/20) According to the posted Q1 2020 earnings report from Six Flags, the company is monitoring the COVID-19 situation that forced all operations to be shut down on March 13, 2020. As such, they do expect to “resume operations on a park-by-park basis as soon local conditions allow.”
According to CEO, Mike Spanos, “We remain focused on enhancing the strength of our North American business and are positioning ourselves to emerge stronger on the other side of the pandemic. We have taken steps to prepare for the extreme-downside scenario of a prolonged minimal revenue business, including actions to maximize our liquidity and reduce cash outflows. Our strong operating results in the quarter prior to the pandemic-driven suspension of operations demonstrate the health of our brand and the success of our targeted single-day pricing strategy and productivity initiatives. We stand ready to execute our plans to safely and profitably reopen our parks in accordance with CDC and local health guidelines.”
Revenue for Q1 2020 was $103 million, with 1.6 million guests. Revenue decreased by about 20% from the same quarter in 2019, with 584,000 less guests, but this was due to the COVID-19 related shutdown of the parks on March 13th. Six Flags did report that prior to the shutdown on March 13th,attendance had actually increased about 19% compared to attendance levels prior to March 13th, 2019.
Prior to the shutdown, guest spending PerCaps were also up 17% compared to Q1 2019. The company did see a drop of about 10% to their number of Membership and Season Pass holders by the end of Q1 2020, which is also thought to be caused by the pandemic.
(4/23/20) Six Flags Qiddiya is alive with an active construction site, with tons of heavy machinery on site performing the needed grading work in Saudi Arabia to prepare the site to be transformed into a future resort.
(4/18/20) Six Flags will announce and discuss the company’s Q1 2020 earnings in an online conference call on April 30, 2020 starting at 8am. Follow this link to see how you can listen in.
(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.
(3/30/20 - UPDATED) As expected, Six Flags did update the status of the Coronavirus closure of their parks today. According to the messages posted by each of the park’s and on their website pages, Six Flags has “temporarily suspended operations and will open in mid-May, or as soon as possible thereafter. While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at the properties, the safety of our guests and team members is always our highest priority. We will continue to closely monitor this evolving situation, and follow the most current guidance from federal, state, and local officials.”
(3/30/20) Screamscape sources tell us that we can likely expect Six Flags to make an announcement of their own regarding extending the length of the Coronavirus closure sometime on Monday. While we don’t know the exact date, we’ve been led to believe that they will likely state that they will not try to reopen until sometime in May. As I said before, my gut feeling is that re-openings may take place based on the health conditions of each individual market rather than a one-date for all parks approach.
(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.
(2/13/20) According to a news bite at Bloomberg Law, it appears that some investors are filing a potential lawsuit against Six Flags because they felt ‘misled’ about the prospects of the Six Flags parks going to China, and claim that Six Flags did not reveal the true extent of “financial distress” that Riverside (the Chinese partner company) was in. This is following Riverside having their company’s trading frozen on the Chinese stock market in December along with a reported layoff of 90% of Riverside’s staff.
Of course, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is another fine example of why theme park chains (like Six Flags, Cedar Fair and SeaWorld) who are not part of a larger and more diversified corporate empire (like Disney and Comcast) would really are better off if they take their company private to avoid the constant pressure and problems from investors.
(2/9/20) Six Flags has announced that that each of the 26 parks and attractions in the chain will earn the “Certified Autism Center” designation from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). This initiative will mark the first-ever family of parks to earn the designation at all locations.
“We are proud to partner with IBCCES to ensure that guests on the autism spectrum have the best possible experience when visiting our parks,” said Six Flags Vice President of Safety Jason Freeman. “The certification process will equip our team members with the tools and training needed to better serve guests with special needs. We want them to know Six Flags stands ready to welcome them with open arms.”
As Certified Autism Center attractions the park will provide trained front-line team members able to better accommodate guests with cognitive disorders, provide a “sensory guide” for each attraction so guests can make informed decisions about the ride experience, add special in-park sensory spaces to relax in, expanded culinary options to meet special dietary needs, and an updated Accessibility Guide to be made available online at the SixFlags.com website as well as in the parks at Guest Relations and Ride Information Centers.
(2/7/20) Curious to know more about the plans for Six Flags Qiddiya in Saudi Arabia? BlooLoop has posted a new article all about the newly planned theme park resort, along with interviews with two of the executives behind this new park and other connected experiences. According to the report the new theme park will be the most heavily themed Six Flags park ever built and along with the Six Flags parks the first phase of the resort project will also include a themed water park with shows, attractions, sporting elements and an integrated resort hotel.
(1/11/20) I mentioned in mid-week that Six Flags’ China park plans were in jeopardy as their Chinese partner was in deep financial trouble and unable to make any payments to keep the construction crews still working in order to open the park in 2020. This came out to the stock market on Friday, along with news from Six Flags that their membership/season pass numbers were way down from their projections, and the stock market did not respond very kindly, creating a sudden 20% plunge in the “SIX” stock price that would make a B&M Dive Machine proud.
I hate to say it, as I am no stock market expert, but given the somewhat lackluster 2020 offerings being added to the chain this year, I suspect they might have a tough time climbing out of that hole for awhile. While one way out would be to increase attendance, they may have to do this through deep discounting, but at the same time they will want to increase guest percap spending, which means raising prices on the already expensive items in the park. Or maybe they just need to simplify the game a bit, as their switch-over to drive up “memberships” rather than season passholders is a bit confusing given all the tiers and different benefits, which I do wonder if that could be behind the dropping numbers.
Just some ideas to think about, but it’s still January, so plenty of time for Six Flags to come up with a plan and make a potential recovery. Still thou, this is looking like it could be “strike 2” in Six Flags current efforts to expand into the international sector, with the Dubai park project put on indefinite hold about a year ago, followed by these new struggles in China. If the China parks fail to open, that would leave the new proposed Six Flags Qiddiya park in Saudi Arabia as the last international project for the company.
(1/8/20) Six Flags Zhejiang appears to be stuck at the moment, as construction on the semi-built park is said to have ground to a halt over the past several months as the local Chinese partner, Riverside Group, became overwhelmed with legal battles. Currently they say that all trading ov Riverside Group holdings has been halted as the company is currently unable to pay their debts. This puts the future of the park in jeopardy, as the half-built park could end up being abandoned.
(11/11/19) While the opening of Six Flags Qiddiya is still several years away that hasn’t stopped the group from appointing their new park President for the venture. For this duty they have tapped Brian Machamer to oversee this latest Six Flags venture who comes to the table with over 25 years of experience in the industry, both domestic and international, starting out at Universal Studios Florida in 1990.
(10/27/19) Six Flags has appointed Mike Spanos to take over as the new President and CEO from departing Jim Reid-Anderson on Nov. 18th. Spanos comes to Six Flags from PepsiCo where he was the CEO of that company’s Asia, Middle East and North African division. As long as he leaves Coke in place as the beverage of Six Flags we won’t hold that against him.
(10/24/19) The market was not happy with what Six Flags had to say in their Q3 2019 report apparently and saw their stock take a dramatic dip. While revenue was up $1 million over the same quarter last year due to a 3% attendance increase, there was also a 1% drop in guest spending per-caps, along with an expected 26% drop in funds from “sponsorship, international agreements and accommodations”. Overall net income for the quarter dropped 2% ($5 million) from Q3 2018.
What may have sent some of the market running to sell however was when Six Flags CEO Jim Reid-Anderson confirmed that they are not involved in any discussions with anyone regarding any big merger or purchase deals following the reports that they made an offer to buy Cedar Fair several weeks ago.
(10/4/19) Everyone can calm down now... as Seeking Alpha has reported that Cedar Fair has officially turned down a proposed $4 Billion cash-and-stock offer from Six Flags that is said to have been worth about $70 a share. This price was considered to be “inadequate” and Six Flags is not expected to offer a new higher offer.
(10/3/19) A crazy story came across Reuters on Wednesday afternoon, claiming that Six Flags has made a cash / stock combination offer to buy Cedar Fair. It gets weirder… because it also said that Cedar Fair was considering it, but that was pretty much all there was to the story on Reuters.
In the aftermath however, things went crazy. Almost immediately the stock price of Cedar Fair blasted off like a rocket and rose almost 6% in minutes before the market halted all trading on their stock due to volatility concerns. On the internet there was panic to be sure, as the idea of these two giants merging seemed a little off-putting. In several markets they compete against each other already on top of having a very different way of business. Add in a general fear of putting the majority of the theme parks across the nation all under one corporate roof and it is understandable why the idea created such a strong reaction from staff as well as park fans.
A Wells Fargo analyst was also quick to chime in on the rumored deal to also say that such a deal did not make sense, especially in light that Six Flags will soon be without a CEO to guide the company with Jim Reid-Anderson departs in February 2020, and the cost to stomach such a purchase would simply be a hard pill for Six Flags to swallow right now while making an offer that would make Cedar Fair’s investors happy.
The funny thing is that I had been hearing rumors that Six Flags was poking around and considering buying more smaller parks, most likely water parks, to add to the chain’s portfolio, but certainly nothing this large. The thought does make me wonder if perhaps Six Flags simply made an offer to buy one or two parks from Cedar Fair, instead of the whole chain, and the rumor just got out of control and exploded. It certainly wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for Six Flags to make an offer to buy a park from Cedar Fair… or perhaps even enter into some kind of trade negotiations where they could swap one park for another. For example, it is no secret that Michigan’s Adventure has become the black sheep of the Cedar Fair theme park chain, and I don’t doubt that they would be willing to sell it if the right offer were made.
This is all a “What If…” scenario however… though I have seen a huge increase in new rumors involving possible park sales involving virtually every company out there ever since Clememton Park closed up and Premier Parks was rumored to be looking to sell out, but the new park sale rumors go far beyond that small chain of parks as it looks like everyone could be going over their financials and re-checking their market strength to see where in the country they could grow… and what properties they could afford to sell.
My gut take is this… Six Flags is not going to buy Cedar Fair, or at least not all of it. But at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear news that Cedar Fair may be looking to buy another park or two as well before the year is done. We’ll just have to stay tuned to see what happens… if anything.
(9/25/19) A new survey from Six Flags that mostly talks about Coke Can discount options, does mention the idea of indoor Six Flags branded attraction concepts near the end that could offer climbing walls, indoor go-karts, trampolines, zip-lines and even e-gaming options. Ten different name ideas are pitched for the concept as well, which you can see in the screen capture. Any one of these really strike you as the best or something that would catch your interest?
(8/28/19) I told everyone to expect this big announcement to happen several weeks ago and now it is official… Six Flags Qiddiya, a new theme park in Saudi Arabia was announced the other day, along with a very big claim. While there will be lots of new thrill rides in the theme park, the landscape of the park will be defined by the Falcon’s Flight coaster, which promises to break about every coaster record set for being the biggest and fastest. No official figures were thrown out about just what Falcon’s Flight will do, but they did put out a piece of animation that makes this coaster simply look as big as a mountain. It would be fair to say that the animation isn’t the most realistic looking, but rather looks like it was made for a VR style experience rather than to be an accurate representation of the true coaster to come, though that dive off a cliff wall into an underground tunnel sure is something I hope they can pull off.
The park will be divided into several different themed lands… six different realms of adventure to be exact to represent the Six Flags brand. Once you enter the park you’ll work towards the hub of the park called the Citadel where a giant compass will point the way to the different themed lands: City of Thrills, Steam Town, Discovery Springs, Valley of Fortune, Twilight Gardens and Grand Exposition.
City of Thrills is home to the Falcon’s Flight coaster, the Sirocco Tower drop ride,the Wind Rider flat ride and a family suspended coaster called the Adreline Coaster.
Steam Town will be home to various smaller rides as well as The Iron Rattler Mine Train, a massive steampunk inspired looking “Tilt Coaster” style creation that will give riders a vertical plunge down into the mine shaft waiting below. Other rides include the Steam Town Falls Water Coaster, the Steel Stampede and Treehouse Trek.
Discovery Springs will feature a number of water themed rides, including coasters, an interactive dark ride, and a family flume ride and something called the Sea Stallion where riders can control the speed of their vehicle.
Valley of Fortune will offer Spitfire, a triple launched coaster experience, or ride into the skies inside an enclosed building structure on Skywatch, along with other rides like Treasure Trail, Aeromax and more.
Twilight Gardens will be home to animals and family rides, but after dark it becomes a glowing family wonderland. Included will be the Twilight Express Coaster, the Critter Chase interactive dark ride and Kaleidoscope hot air balloons.
The Grand Exposition will be themed like the World Expo’s of year’s past, offering many incredible dining opportunities, the Arabian Carousel, Automania bumper cars, the Gyrospin Pendulum ride and what seems to be an RMC style custom coaster creation to be called The Colossus that will be 800 meters long.
All said and done the park will offer 28 rides when it opens, 25 restaurants and much more when it opens in 2023.
(8/8/19) Screamscape has been informed that an official press release regarding the new Six Flags Qiddiya theme park project going into Saudi Arabia will take place on August 26th. Stay tuned!
(8/1/19) According to this report new details about the Six Flags Qiddiya (Saudi Arabia) theme park development are supposed to be announced sometime in August.
(7/29/19) Good news released in Six Flags Q2 report for 2019. The company announced revenue for Q2 was up $32 million (+7%) compared to the same quarter in 2018, coming in at $477 million. The growth is primarily attributed to an 8% increase in attendance (10.5 million guests) and a 14% increase in funds from sponsorship, international agreements and accommodations. This later grouping also included that previously mentioned $7.5 million settlement payout from the Dubai park project being cancelled at the last second.
On the downside, while attendance was on the rise, guest spending PerCap dropped slightly by 1% compared to the same time period last year. You can read up on all the rest of the details in the press release by following this link.
(7/16/19) Six Flags has sent out another very interesting survey this week. This one seems to suggest that the theme park company is eyeballing the possibility of expanding into smaller markets through building their own Six Flags branded Family Entertainment Centers. They survey asks readers for their opinion on the modern batch of indoor attraction concepts like Trampoline Parks and Climbing Facilities, and mixing them with other more traditional FEC style attractions.
The list they are looking for opinions on includes: Climbing Walls, Indoor Zip Lines, a “Wipeout or Meltdown Bar”, Battle Beam (joust beam), Inflatables, Laser Maze, birthday party rooms and even the inclusion of an eGaming center. (Can we drop the Laser Maze already? In my opinion these attractions are so tiresome after you’ve tried it once.) Oh, and they also want to put in some unique stuff of their own like “VR experiences”, roller coaster simulators and more.
They also have a list of possible names for these centers that all start with ‘Six Flags”. SF Indoor Thrill Zone, SF Fly Zone, SF Amusement Center, SF Family Fun Center, SF Trampoline Park, SF Adventure Park, SF Indoor Thrill Park, SF Air, SF ThrilL Zone, SF Adventure Zone, etc…
So what do you think? Would this be a good move for Six Flags or do you think their corporate focus is stretched too thin these days to even bother with this kind of thing?
(7/4/19) In a settlement with Six Flags over putting the Six Flags Dubai theme park project on indefinate hold, DXB Entertainments will pay Six Flags $7.5 million. In exchange SF Dubai LLC will retain the “right of first refusal to use the IP rights in the UAE over the next five years” and that there will be no further claims between the two under the settlement.
Best Translation… the Dubai company “has first dibs” on the rights to build the first Six Flags park anywhere in the UAE, not just Dubai, but it has to act on it within the next five years or lose those exclusive rights to anyone else willing to build one.
(6/25/19) According to readers who have taken the latest guest surveys from Six Flags, it looks like the company may be looking into the possibility of adding their own Six Flags hotels near some of their properties. Six Flags usually fires these questions off to guests from several parks just to get a wider reaction, as well as to disguise which market is the one intended, but so far they seem to be asking mostly about the Six Flags over Texas area, but have also asked guests about adding a hotel near the Hurricane Harbor Splashtown in the Houston, TX area, the Six Flags over Georgia area, Six Flags America area near Washington, DC, Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey as well as Six Flags Magic Mountain in California.
The weird thing is in the artwork for the front of the hotel they show an elephant and two giraffes behind the Six Flags logo, which would be strange for most of the parks discussed so far, with the exception of Six Flags Great Adventure.
(2/27/19) BlooLoop reports that the Six Flags Zhejiang theme park is currently set to open in June 2020 and they begin the final stages of construction on the theme park and a water park to be built alongside it.
(12/29/18) A reader sent some interesting screen captures my way, taken from a new guest survey from Six Flags about possible new attractions. The interesting thing is that of the nine options sent to me only one was for a ride (a family drop tower) and one was for a splash playground for the kids. The other seven options were all about gauging guest reactions to new animal exhibits and attractions, which I find especially interesting as Six Flags really only has animals at two of their parks: Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
The exhibits in question were for a: Sloth Encounter, a Lion Exhibit Tour, Grizzly Bear Exhibit, Pig Encounter, Cheetah Exhibit, a Dolphin Demonstration and a Sea Lion Presentation. The later two are especially intriguing since we are still living in a post-Blackfish era where the concept of marine animals in capacity can become a toxic subject matter very quickly.
Now before I say anything more, keep in mind this is just one of many guest surveys Six Flags sends out over the course of the year and the point of these is to gauge guest reactions to a variety of different possible concepts, so for Six Flags this may simply be a way of dipping their toe in the water to see how markets react just to the “idea” of Six Flags parks having animal exhibits in areas where they currently don’t, and doesn’t mean that there is anything planned to happen. That said… what I found interesting was the inclusion of the two marine animal species concepts, especially in light of the rumor that leaks not long ago that Six Flags may have been considering buying part or all of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.
(12/20/18) A more detailed discussion of Six Flags’ plan to expand within North America was posted to BlooLoop this week. Falling in line with the standard Six Flags growth plan over used over the decades, they are focused on buying up new smaller parks and waterparks that they can add to their chain, rather than build anything new from scratch. Follow the link to see how this works out for them and get an idea of what kind of other parks they could be looking to obtain in the future.
(11/30/18) According to a few sources, Six Flags has been sending a new ride concept survey around, one that seems quite focused on two possible ride concepts. The first is the Mack Power Splash ride concept. After removing a number of water rides over the past decade, it is nice to see a new water ride, even one that is really more of a coaster than a water ride, getting some potential love as the Pulsar version built at Waibi Belgium looks like a hell of a fun ride that could fit in at virtually any park. (For the record however, the Power Splash ride was shown in a survey for Six Flags over Georgia.)
That said, we have also heard reports of another survey going around, this one trying to get guest opinions on Dive Machine style coasters, even going so far as to show off a picture of Griffon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg as their example. (According to the reports, we've heard of the Dive Machine showing up in surveys about SFFT, SFOT, SFGAm, SFMM and SFSL).
(5/30/18) According to BlooLoop, Six Flags has announced that a 4th park will be part of the Nanjing complex to be called Six Flags Kids World. The Kids World section will open in the first phase of the project, expected to open in 2021 and is expected to feature attractions developed for "younger thrill-seekers" along with scaled down versions of some of the chain's bigger rides. There will also be some education based entertainment involving math and science as well as physical fitness.
The other three Six Flags parks in Nanjing will be a regular Six Flags theme park, a Six Flags branded waterpark and something new called "Six Flags Adventure Park". As previously mentioned, this new concept will feature attractions like rock climbing and ziplines along with whitewater rafting and motocross bike races.
(4/25/18) Six Flags and their partner in China, Riverside Investment Group, announced plans to build an additional three Six Flags branded parks in China to be located in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province. The project will include a Six Flags theme park, a Six Flags branded waterpark as well as an "adventure park". Look for the first phase to open in 2021.
This will be the second "Six Flags Adventure Park", as the first will be built in Chongqing and feature a whole new concept for Six Flags, with attractions that include motocross bike racers, whitewater rafting, zip lines and rock climbing.
Triple Five - (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 - (4/28/20) According to the Wall Street Journal, Universal’s test of premiering the new Trolls World Tour film direct to audiences as a video-on-demand rental has paid off. According to the tweet, the Trolls sequel earned Universal more revenue in three weeks of digital release that the original Trolls movie saw in five months of theatrical release. Warner Bros seems set to follow in Universal’s footsteps by releasing their new animated Scooby Doo movie “Scoob!” on May 15th.
Meanwhile feeling threatened by the new trend, AMC Theaters has announced that they will not play any Universal films in their theater chain from now on, and went on to threaten any other studio (glare at Warner Bros.) who follows suit that they will do the same to them as well. Of course, as I’ve predicted myself, in a post COVID-19 quarantine world, I don’t see movie theaters doing too well for a while. In fact, I see people ready to upgrade their own home theater experiences to further enjoy their home viewing experience rather than return to theaters.
In fact, it is entirely possible that in the aftermath of COVID-19, we might see movie theaters begin to vanish.
(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.
(4/2/20) For fans of the Minions and Despicable Me films, Universal Studios has announced that they will delay the launch of the “Minions: Rise of Gru” movie until 2021 in order to get it clear of the current Coronavirus pandemic. The new release date will be July 2, 2021.
(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”.
(3/18/20) While more and more people find themselves staying home to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, Universal Studios will begin an interesting new experiment in home entertainment. Universal Studios will soon begin to release some of their newest films that are in theaters direct to viewers at home to rent for $20 on various digital platforms. The list includes The Invisible Man, The Hunt, Emma and the upcoming Trolls World Tour will hit digital rental on the same day that it hits theaters on April 10th.
(10/14/19) Jurassic World fans will be happy to know that Universal has teamed up with Feld Entertainment to create a new live-action traveling arena show called the “Jurassic World Live Tour”. The first stop just took place in Ohio, but the tour has already established stops in 26 other North America cities from now through 2020. The show features live actors, animatronic dinosaurs, projection mapping and tons of special effects as the audience is taken back to the days of Isla Nublar just before the escape of the Indominus Rex and all the chaos that follows.
Visit the official website to find out more and when it is coming to a city near you.
(9/22/19) For all your Jurassic World fans, if you haven’t seen it yet, a new short film was released by Universal Studios online, actually written and directed by Colin Trevorrow himself, made to show us what the world is like following the events at the end of the second Jurassic World film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. This also serves as a nice set-up as to what we can expect to see more of in the new Jurassic World 3 film when it hits theaters in Summer 2021. The short film is called Battle at Big Rock and you can catch it below if you haven’t seen it yet.