The BLOGFlume—Don’t Panic!

Snyder staying, Universal's new partner, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Written by Russell Meyer
Published: April 27, 2005 at 8:09 PM

Snyder Still in the Mix
Washington Post 4/26/05

Contrary to what has been reported over the past few months, Daniel Snyder is not selling off his stake in Six Flags. The incredibly unpopular owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins has instead been reconsidering his initial decision, and is considering making a move on the poorly performing theme park company. Snyder currently owns an 8.8% stake in the company, and looks to be positioning himself to take a more aggressive stance. He reportedly is assembling a group of shareholders that may also include Microsoft founder Bill Gates to create a new board of directors that would lead the company in a new direction. This new direction would probably include selling off assets and consolidating resources. You had to figure that Snyder would not go off quietly into the night. He has demonstrated in his other business moves that he does not accept failure- just look how much money he has pumped into the Redskins, a team that has not finished a season with a winning record under Snyder’s ownership. Many people were surprised when Snyder announced his selling of the shares, but most accepted it as a way for Snyder to cut his losses when the current board of directors refused to listen to his suggestions to improve the company. If Snyder and Gates actually become involved in the day-to-day operation of Six Flags, can they really make a difference? The one major move that they would make, selling assets, could be the easiest way to get the company out of its tailspin. It’s nice that just about everyone in the country is within a 3 hour drive of a Six Flags park, but what good does it do if the Six Flags park is poorly run and maintained? Six Flags could potentially be a much better park operator if it trimmed some of its fat, and eliminated its lower performing parks (Kentucky Kingdom, Darian Lake, New Orleans, America, and St. Louis). If they could keep their focus on five or six of their best parks, they could more easily bring them in line with Paramount and Cedar Fair, and perhaps become more competitive. Whether Snyder can actually succeed in this “coup” is the big question, but if he can, expect some swift and major changes, because Snyder cannot stand losing (just ask Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, and Steve Spurrier). Hopefully Vinnie Cerrato is not in charge of scouting and signing ride manufacturers.

Universal’s New Partner
LA Times 4/27/05

If Universal Studios Hollywood does not give you enough of an inside look into the glitz and glam of the movies right now, a new partnership has been forged that will hopefully give guests the ultimate look into the life of a movie star. Universal Studios Hollywood and the incredibly popular Star Tours have joined forces to provide visitors with a combination ticket that will include admission to the theme park and a two-hour tour of the stars’ homes for $85. While there’s really not much of a discount by purchasing the two popular Hollywood experiences together, the partnership gives guests the convenience of purchasing the tickets at the much friendlier Universal Studios ticket booths. Previously, Star Tours tickets were only available at the ticket booth near Mann’s Chinese Theater, a gathering place for weirdoes, panhandlers, and aggressive salespeople who cannot understand why you don’t want to purchase their paraphernalia. Both experiences should benefit from this partnership, particularly USH, who will be able to draw more guests without having to pay for advertising.

Hitchin’ a Ride
Financial Times 4/27/05

One of the most popular books of the past 20 years has been made into a movie by Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will be released nation-wide on Friday, April 29, 2005, and it should give Disney another box office winner. While the movie does not have a lot of Hollywood star power, its strong ensemble cast and original concept should get this movie over the $100 million mark before Star Wars hits in mid May. Hardcore readers will ultimately be disappointed by all of the stuff left out of this movie, but never fear, Disney is planning sequels. It had been a long time since I had read the book, but when I watched the movie last night it really did not bother me that things had been left out. The movie has been in the works for a number of years, and Douglas Adams has been given an executive producer credit for assisting in writing an incredibly strange additional scene starring the incredibly strange John Malkovich. The casting could not have been more perfect with Mos Def as Ford Prefect, Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast, Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox, and the oh so perfect Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin, the depressed robot. Not only is the film great, but Disney has placed an incredibly clever trailer for Chicken Little right before the movie starts that nearly had the audience rolling in the aisles.

After I watched the film, my mind was aflutter with theme park ride ideas, especially since Disney now owns the rights. From the travels through hyperspace to the experience on Vogosphere to “Earth Mark 2,” the possibilities are nearly as endless as the universe itself. There are animations during the film that show a number of the important facts laid out in the Hitchhiker’s Guide that would be perfect for showing on monitors in the queue. If this film turns out to be a success, Disney would be sitting on a goldmine of material that could keep Imagineers busy for years. This movie should have no problem pulling in at least $42 million this weekend if it is able to find its audience, something another recent “cult” movie, Sin City, has not been able to do. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could keep Disney busy for quite a while, and Don’t Panic all you hardcore fans, the movie is mostly faithful to the original work.

Readers' Opinions

From Derek Potter on April 27, 2005 at 9:42 PM
If Snyder can't stand losing, than he must be nuts by now. The Redskins may be a profitable operation, but they are the biggest underachievers in the NFL. Big time payroll, small time winning record. Many people in the sports world think that the Redskins performance on the field is attributed to Snyder's inability to keep his hands out of the football decision making process. He has people in his organization that have forgotten more about football than he will ever know, yet he can't just sit back and let them do their thing.

If that is the case (and it is) in his Redskins organization, than what makes anybody believe that he could turn around Six Flags. Believe me when I say this. There is nothing more dangerous than an hands-on owner that knows nothing about his product. Snyder doesn't seem to know much about football, and I bet that he knows even less about the theme/amusement park industry. Closing down parks to raise cattle may be a quick band-aid to the debt problem, but that still doesn't address the management and service related issues that plague the company. I hope that this is just him blowing hot air to save face, because his track record is spotty at best, and I doubt that Six Flags would get any better under his watch.

From Pete Brecht on April 28, 2005 at 7:23 AM
Derek, the thing you're forgetting about Snyder and the Redskins is that while the team has underwhelmed on the field, they've gone gangbusters financially. That's what concerns me about his involvement with Six Flags; he may very well be able to help fix their financial problems, but he's not necessarily going to wind up with a lot of happy park guests.
From Russell Meyer on April 28, 2005 at 7:41 AM
The season ticket waiting list has swelled to over 100,000 since he hired Joe Gibbs last year. While many of Snyder's decisions may not have been the best, he will do whatever he thinks is necessary to win. If you think that he's happy with the team's record under his ownership, then you're mistaken. A Super Bowl winning team is much more valuable than a celler dweller. He may not have made the greatest football decisions since he's purchased the team, but he has possibly made the most money in the past 5 years of any owner is football, and the Redskins are worth even more now than at the time that he bought them for a mere $700 million. He has put a new spin on NFL ownership that has netted him more profits than anyone else in the league. Like him or not, he's a pretty smart businessman.

I think Snyder could do a lot to help the park franchise by getting involved and shaking things up. At least there would be someone near the top who would not accept failure.


From Robert Niles on April 28, 2005 at 2:00 PM
Theme parks are much, much easier than building a winning NFL team, IMHO. In the NFL, you've got 16 chances to get it right and a miniscule universe of talented players who can help you. You can have the right vision and the right game plan, but if you do not have the right players, in the right combination, you won't win.

With theme parks, the right vision and the budget to support it brings success a far higher percentage of the time. You need not be the *single* champion of theme parks to be an unquestioned success in this industry.

From Robert OGrosky on April 28, 2005 at 3:39 PM
Robertg, you very well maybe right, but snyder has shown no ability to create a winning football team nor does his have a track record od creating profitable enjoyable theme parks.
Now if he propsosed hiring a specific person with a proven history of being able to run a theme park that is both creative and profitable and get rid of the current management, that would be a postive sign. But just snyder getting invovled gives me no sign of hope and more likely he will screw the parks to increase stock price before he dumps the stock with a profit but the parks in worse shape.
From Derek Potter on April 28, 2005 at 6:42 PM
I don't think that having a winning NFL team is harder than turning around Six Flags. Yeah you only get 16 chances, but they have one of the highest payrolls in the league, and if he would let Joe Gibbs the football genius make the football decisions, than he would probably have a winner. The problem is that he refuses to keep his hands off.

When Gibbs was rehired, ticket sales swelled because fans thought that they had a surefire winner. Gibbs is worshipped by fans because of what he has delivered in the past, and even I the big NFL follower, thought that they would turn it around this past year because of him. Guess what happened, they were still terrible, and I find it hard to believe that Gibbs totally lost his touch. I deem this year's draft a disaster for them as well. What they were thinking, I don't know.

There is no denying that the Redskins operation is profitable, but they don't win on the field. If they don't win on the field, than it's not a successful operation because that's what an NFL team is supposed to do. Yes it's there to make money, but profit is not what NFL teams are measured by.

If you operate a theme park chain with the single goal of turning a profit and making money, the brand's quality and originality will suffer. Yeah the leader must have business sense, but they also must be an entertainer and someone who genuinely cares about quality and it's fans. I just don't think that Snyder has those qualities. the quality of his team on the field speaks for itself.