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The BLOGFlume—Happy Groundhog Day

Phil couldn't resist seeing his shadow, and I couldn't resist commenting on the latest theme park news.

Written by Russell Meyer
Published: February 2, 2005 at 10:04 PM

Disney Beats Estimates
LA Times 2/1/05

The Walt Disney Company announced that its 1st quarter profit beat estimates, and is on track for double-digit growth for the year. The company announced growth of a bulky 35 cents per share, a return stockholders rarely see from blue chippers, and up 3 cents from the previous year, a year that included one of the all time best returns from the movie sector. Not only did Disney perform well in the movie sector in the end of 2004 with releases including National Treasure and The Incredibles, but they also saw increased revenue from theme parks and the overachieving fall season of ABC. Disney shares are approaching the $30.00 mark, ending this afternoon at $28.83 per share, and showing no signs of slowing. With stability on the way for the Board of Directors and head offices, Disney could return to the point it was in the mid-1990’s. One can only hope that this new prosperity for the Walt Disney Company will breathe new life into the creative machine that has lost a lot of its originality over the past 10 years.

Official What?
Yahoo Finance 1/31/05

Everyone’s seen the corporate tie-ins that have infected just about every theme park in the world with sponsors for everything from attractions to trash cans to manholes. Six Flags has just taken the corporate tie-in to a new level by announcing that all of their Texas parks will have an “Official Energy Company.” Under the agreement, Direct Energy will supply over 47 gigawatt hours of power to the parks annually. Six Flags will be given preferential energy rates and tools that will allow the parks to better manage their energy usage. While the deal makes sense for both parties, I’m really growing tired of all of the corporate advertisements in theme parks. Nothing ruins atmosphere than an ad slapped on the side of a station queue. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to make advertisements subtle, because if they are, no one will notice. However, there must be some way that parks can make money off of corporate sponsorships and still maintain an atmosphere that is within the park’s theme.

B to the E?
Washington Post 1/31/05

No, it’s not a remix of a Jay Z song. And no, it’s not a new Sesame Street skit. It is Anheuser-Busch’s new product that promises to not only give you a buzz, but also give you energy. B+E is the answer to all of the hipsters who are spiking Red Bull with top shelf vodkas. Officially the new beverage is a beer (a cereal based malted beverage fermented by yeast to produce alcohol for all you Beer School nerds out there), but contains ginseng, guarana, and about as much caffeine as you will find in a half a cup of coffee. The product could very well storm the market giving young drinkers the fun of alcohol, and the energy to keep drinking it. Anheuser-Busch has been very proactive about promoting responsible drinking, but one has to wonder if such a product, being sold in conveniently small 10 oz cans, may become too popular for its own good. I’m sure AB is hoping college kids will down this beverage like Kool Aid, and if it's as good as advertised, their hopes may quickly be realized. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see this new product included soon in the Beer School tasting portion if it hasn’t already been added.

Readers' Opinions

From Derek Potter on February 2, 2005 at 10:42 PM
Sounds like the new college drink of choice to me. Beer with caffeine doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but whatever pays the bills I guess. I can see the slogan now... B to the E....it not only gets you drunk, but sobers you up at the same time. I'll have the occasional Red Bull and Ketel One, not because of Red Bull's caffeine, but because it has a good taste. It's hard to imagine what AB's new potion will taste like.

Russell I also have to strongly agree with you on the issue of corporate sponsorships as well. There is nothing wrong with corporate sponsorship....until they plaster the sponsors name up all over the park. Please keep your sponsors in the park maps. It ruins the atmosphere and the illusion of another world. A theme park is (or should be) one of the ultimate forms of escapism, and nothing brings me back to the real world quite like a billboard with a Chevy truck on it, or a McDonalds in the middle of funland.

From Robert OGrosky on February 3, 2005 at 11:38 AM
I also agree about the sponsorship in the parks. It takes away from the theming of rides that go the theming route and overall is just a pain in the *ss.
And this also goes for disney and Universal adding tie-ins to there awful tv shows that they plug in the parks. Keep NBC/ABC out of the theme parks!!!!
From Tim Hillman on February 3, 2005 at 12:29 PM
For my part, I would like to see fewer ads in the parks, but not if it is going to result in higher prices at the entrance.

There also may be a bit of overreaction here. In the parks based on movie studios, ads for TV shows and upcoming movies are a natural part of the environment. In other parks, they may be a bit tacky if they’re overdone, but who gets to decide at what point things become overdone? Should we get Joan and Melissa Rivers down to the parks and get their opinion on the situation? (Trivia Question of the Week: Who has had more plastic surgeries, Joan Rivers or Michael Jackson?)

Corporate ads are a pervasive part of our society. How many of us have worn a Nike or Adidas shirt to a theme park? Isn’t that advertising? Right now how many of you reading this post are wearing apparel with the logo or colors of your favorite sports team? Anybody got on a John Deere or Cat hat? Anybody wearing a freebie t-shirt or writing with a giveaway pen? Welcome to consumerism, and there’s a lot of folks competing to get a chunk of your wallet.

From Joe Lane on February 3, 2005 at 6:10 PM
I call bullsh!t on Disney's numbers regarding theme park profits. Wouldn't income and guest count have been hurt by the Hurricane Season? Unless there was some surge in numbers near the end of the fiscal quarter, I don't recall them claiming to break any records last December.
From Russell Meyer on February 3, 2005 at 8:09 PM
Disney did say in their report that part of the increase was due to higher admission prices, as well as increased park attendance.
From J. Dana on February 3, 2005 at 11:00 PM
Folks, lay off the sponsorship whining. It pays the bills. Unless you want even more outragious spikes in admissions, welcome the corporate sponsors. The Worlds Fair and Expositions were nothing more than human engineering (corporations) on Display. The Eifel Tower is the result of a sponsorship. So are many fine masterworks of art.

Many of Walt Disney's best attractions were first premiered as part of a sponsoring company's exhibitions, at World's Fairs and otherwise. Sponsorships make large, costly attractions possible. Who gives a rat's behind if there's a McDonald's in the middle of the theme park...it's better on the wallet. And for those of you saying to just put it on the guidemap or just keep it small.....get your head out of the clouds and try reading the business pages every once in a while! Sponsors don't pay huge sums of money to be discreet. They want the recognition. Exxon's World of Energy isn't just for entertainment...it's a big, long commercial for crying out loud. GM's Test Track? Hershey Park?

And for those of you grousing about the movie and TV tie-ins...in parks owned by movie and entertainment companies, those tie-ins are natural and expected...I like them. For Universal to remove NBC promotions from their parks would be.....well, just plain dumb. IT'S A PARK ABOUT MOVIES AND ENTERTAINMENT....what do you want, carny rides with no entertainment tie-in? Go to the fair. Disney is a theme park company built on movies, cartoons, and entertainment properties....I expect to be reminded (and entertained) by this at every turn. Paramount should not hold back, but rather INCREASE it's movie and TV tie-ins.

From David Klawe on February 4, 2005 at 3:55 AM
A couple of comments, first the WDC parks division was mainly helped by WDW (Mid Single Digit attendance increase), while DLR attendance remained "flat" per Tom Staggs on Monday.

And I had B to the E at SeaWorld SD a few months ago as a free sample... and that is what it is worth...

Berry Flavored beer, a 10 ounce can (6% alcohol versus 5% for regular Bud) for about $1.50 to $2 a can... NO THANKS!!!

Give me a Michelob Amber Bock any day!!!!

From Robert OGrosky on February 4, 2005 at 12:42 PM
I found wdw to be busier this Dec. then any other time in have been to wdw in the past 10 yrs of visiting at that time.
As for tie-ins, i dont mind a dumb little sign that i can ignore at the end of the ride, but thats as far as i want to go and would be willing to pay more to not be bombarded by the BS.
As for movie-tie's some do make sense, but i have found no tv tie-ins that made any sense and since little to nothing on tv is entertaining in the least, it has no place in a theme park., so keep the abc/nbc crap out of the parks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
From Chuck Campbell on February 4, 2005 at 4:47 PM
Actually, corporate sponsorship has been a part of Disneyland since the beginning. Walt Disney gave ABC a TV series in exchange for the network footing part of the bill for the park. Monsanto once sponsored the "House of the Future." There was even some exhibit showcasing the "wonders" of aluminum in Tomorrowland during the 1950s (I forget the sponsoring company).

A little sign--yeah, big deal. Disney, though, did turn away McDonald's from sponsoring Splash Mountain because Ronald wanted the Mouse to sport the "golden arches" prominently at the ride's entrance, which would've ruined the atmosphere.

From Derek Potter on February 4, 2005 at 6:32 PM
I could care less if they have corporate sponsors. These companies pay the bills and keep prices down, and that's great. The problem I have is when the billboards and signs inside the park get out of hand and in the way of the atmosphere. Theme parks and attractions are all about creating an environment...as written in Robert's recent editorial

"Great attractions take an audience someplace that they cannot otherwise go."

If this is true (which it is), than shameless advertising has no place in a theme park because it's something that we are involuntarily bombarded with everyday. Every company in the world is out for a little slice of our financial pie. It would be nice to get away from that every once in a while.

From Robert Niles on February 4, 2005 at 8:36 PM
Thanks, Derek.

I don't mind a message from the outside world when I'm in the (small "f") fantasy land of a theme park. But I *do* mind the outside world overwhelming that fantasy.

That's why I hate to see outlets from fast food chains in theme parks. Or name-brand merchandise stores. Nor do I like to see attractions where the sponsorship message becomes a commercial. (The FedEx stuff at Space Mountain and the Kodak commercial in front of Epcot's Magic Eye Theater were two of the worst, IMHO.)

But I'll demonstrate fierce loyalty to a company that underwrites an attraction I like, without overwhelming it. One of the reasons I bought a Toyota was because it sponsored IoA's Spider-Man, as well as the Champ Car Series. (Granted, since then Toyota's stabbed Champ Car in the back, but I didn't know it'd do that then....)

From J. Dana on February 7, 2005 at 12:43 PM
I, too, am tired of the saturation of sponsorships everywhere. I mean, for crying out loud, how sad is it that the Citrus Bowl is now the Capital One Bowl? Or what about the American Mortgage Halftime Show. Or worst yet, I lose my mind when I hear about Dale Earnhardt Jr (Little E) Driving the Budweiser No. 8 Chevrolet in the Nextel Cup Series the same week as the Rolex 24 or Jeff Burton driving his Cingular Wirelss Chevrolet in the Busch Series. Here in LA we have the Staples Center. In Orlando it's the T.D. WaterHouse Center. In Greenville, SC, it's the BiLo Center (named for the grocery store chain). The Academy Awards are preseted in the Kodac theater. Nascar is almost a parody of itself in this sense...it's so out of control that it's almost comical.

And I, too, would rather eat my Pirate's chicken leg and not a Big Mac when I'm immersed in the theme park world. Epcot doesn't bother me because it's set up like a World's Fair. The Fed Ex commercial at Space Mountain is a bit distracting, to say the least. What about the humorous McDonald's prehistoric signs in DinoLand at Animal Kingdom? Those actually add some levity and wit to the area.

I think that if handled in the spirit of the theming, the sponsorship names are okay. But I don't think we'll ever get rid of them. I think they will only increase. As long as we don't go the Nascar route, I don't think I'll mind. If, however, the new Animal Kingdom coaster is named the Visa Mt. Everest Experience (as Robert N. suggested http://www.themeparkinsider.com/news/response.cfm?ID=997), then I think I may just cut up my Visa card.

From Jason Moore on February 8, 2005 at 11:37 AM
Yeah, J. Dana brings up some good points. I too have no problem with sponsorships if they fit, but things are definitely out of control all over the place. I absolutley hate how most sporting and concert venues are now named after a corporate sponsor. For example, here in the Tampa area, two of our largest venues used to have names that I felt were keeping with a theme. Like when we had the Storm(arena football) & Lightning (hockey) sharing the "Thunder Dome". Then when we finally got baseball in there it became Tropicana Feild. Then the Lightning's second home went from the Ice Palace to the St. Pete Times Forum. Why not just keep a great, common name for a place that will work no matter who the sponsor is? The sponsor can still have free reign to plater their name all over the place.
From Robert Niles on February 8, 2005 at 1:00 PM
But the fact that the St. Pete Times Forum is in Tampa, not St. Pete, send us too far down the rabbit hole, IMHO.

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