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Robert Niles
Editor

Bad news for Six Flags?

Published: January 16, 2008 at 5:27 PM

Hey, maybe we should make this a "theme week" here on TPI.

Six Flags CEO Dan Snyder announced today that the amusement park chain will cut $60 million in spending this year to combat disappointing attendance over the past two years.

Six Flags will cut advertising by $30 million, running fewer radio and TV ads, though it will increase its spending on the Internet (yay, Internet!). The parks will also cut in-park staff positions and shut down some rides.

Six Flags has had capital problems for years, thanks to its former owners overpaying for too many parks in the 1990s, which led to Snyder's takeover of the firm. Snyder's tried to make the parks more family-friendly, but turning thrill parks into family parks takes money for new attractions, something that's hard to come by when attendance isn't growing and the company's already up to its eyeballs in debt. Cutting non-essential expenses is the next step. And here it is.

Replies (12)

TH Creative
Writer

Published: January 16, 2008 at 6:22 PM

Six Flags is nose-diving and we are expected to believe Cypress Gardens is goinna survive with a new owner?

Please!

Stories like this one demonstrate why the Disney parks are miracles!

Mike K

Published: January 16, 2008 at 7:29 PM

Cypress Gardens is an exception. Unlike Six Flags, Cypress Gardens is not doing well because of hurricane damage, not bad management. It is sad to see Six Flags continue to suffer. I personally believe the Busch and Universal parks are at the top in terms of quality right now. Cedar Fair is doing well considered the debt they are in, otherwise they would be at the top as well. Disney parks are doing alright but they are seeming to lose focus and are just getting too big to be run properly.
Themepark Guy

Published: January 16, 2008 at 8:22 PM

Cypress Gardens is a whole different animal... the bargain basement bankruptcy debt load offers a lot of room for improvement. Better use of entertainment funds and pricing strategies will also help out.

SF is another story. Can't really see a good way out these days without having to sell off a BIG park or two. It doesn't seem to me the best way to improve the place is to reduce ride availability, cut back on experienced management, and put in a few new super coasters, but what do I know?

Didn't the "new guys" say a few years ago that we would 'never see another big roller coaster' (or something like that?).

steve lee

Published: January 16, 2008 at 8:40 PM

The "no new big coasters" comment was made in 2006 after the openings of Goliath (SFOG), El Toro, and Tatsu. Those words have held true, as the only new coasters announced have been a string of wild mice (Tony Hawk or Dark Knight, depending on the park), and the relatively inexpensive Evel Kneievel coaster.

I've no real opinion on the main topic here, since my nearest Six Flags is one of the good ones.

Joseph Boone

Published: January 17, 2008 at 2:57 AM

I grew up enjoying Six Flags Magic Mountain, but I can't stand to even go there any more. It's just sad how the place has been allowed to literally rot and decay.

Snyder's solution will, of course, lock the company into a downward spiral. Cutting advertising will lower attendance. Cutting staff and ride availability ensures that the people who do visit have a worse experience and less desire to return, again reducing attendance. Presumably when attendance drops again, SF will cut advertising, staff, and capital investment still more driving things even further into the dirt.

It's easy to cut expenses, but at some point management has to realize they have a revenue problem, not an expense problem. They need a plan to grow these theme parks to ensure long-term profitability.

Reid Loveland

Published: January 17, 2008 at 5:58 AM

I guess this puts to rest those nasty rumors that have circled for years about SF opening a Park here in Florida.

But I don't see them becoming profitable any time soon. More likely they will file for bankruptcy in the coming years and the parks get sold off.

Justin Spisto

Published: January 17, 2008 at 6:41 AM

Yes this is very sad to see this happen to Six Flags. I say this because some of there parks are pretty good in the coaster department. My home park is SFGadv and I have not been dissapointed with it over these past couple of seasons because of the edition of Kingda Ka and El Toro. I wrote the "Sux Flags" Thread and Six Flags need improve drastically in some of there other parks.
Douglas Shachnow

Published: January 17, 2008 at 8:41 AM

Obviously bad management that requires this step.
I hope these cut-backs are not the coup de grace that finishes off the whole outfit. If the crowds are thinning now, I doubt whether cutting back is likely to build them up again. Putting a lot of promotion on the internet doesn't impress me. Everyone knows how cheap that is to do; people aren't stupid -- they'll know in a second that 6F is turning itself into a bargain-basement-style management concern.
There's an interesting observation here: it's not too much different from the airline business. Some airlines think they can build their net profits by saving money by cutting back, often taking things away that people want. It may be good for the some low-cost carriers -- indeed Southwest, EasyJet, and Ryanair are doing well -- but when a legacy carrier like United or Delta tries to do it, it just drives away customers. Those once fine airlines have really gone to seed in recent years, and it's a tragedy to see their service levels deteriorate to such a degree.
To build market, you have to put money INTO an asset, invest in it, introduce or put back things that people WANT. That's how you attract customers and BUILD market. You don't do it by subtracting from your product.
What 6F is doing by cutting expenses is, what would be called in the commercial real estate industry, "milking the property", taking money in but not putting enough back in to take care of a rent-income generating property, and just letting it go into disrepair. People start looking for other places to locate their businesses, other existing tenants complain about loss of services and may start rent strikes, and before you know it, the property is ruined.
I hope 6Fs new measures do not take it down this road, but the signs are ominous.
claudia maffei

Published: January 17, 2008 at 8:49 AM

I'm surprised to hear they are not doing well. I think they focused too much on the huge coasters which made it not as good for families. That is why families go to Disney or Universal. There is something for everyone and even the kids things are interesting for teens and adults. We last went to Six Flaggs Magic Mtn in 2001. We thought about going before but our kids were too small. Now that they are big enough we still haven't had interest because for the price we would rather take a vacation to Disney. Disney has the magic and their employees are extra nice ( almost always some can have a bad day of course). I also notice how clean Disney is and feel safe on their rides despite the problems at times. However, I do feel bad for six flaggs and hope they don't disappear. Especially Valencia. My brother helped build the Colassus back when ane that park has been in many movies ( It was Walley World after all in Lampoon's Vacation).
Mike West

Published: January 17, 2008 at 10:03 AM

For those who haven't been to Magic Mountain for several years because of it declining. You are part of the problem. What difference does it make it its cleaner, & run better, & the employees are nicer, if you still refuse to go based on what it was. (We've noticed significant improvements over the last few years throughout the park). Folks are still starstruck by Disney & Universal, but those parks have their sincere problems too. Six Flags is the one entity dedicated especially to thrills, & there's definately a need for that.Economize with season passes to the parks with many holdings, & you can find ways to strech that budget. Turn other visits(such as business trips & trips to see relatives) into side trips to the parks. Personally I hope Six Flags never goes away. Its where we in my family meet some of our growth challenges along the way. The Matterhorn doesn't really do that past the age of 6.
E Edwards

Published: January 17, 2008 at 10:44 AM

Hmm . . . our Six Flagging pals, seeing that their six-packing days are done (this describing the too-many years they courted their pre-21 audience and the reason that "those meddlesome teenagers" always seemed to need to wear bulky coats even on the warmest days) hit upon the singularly unique notion of -- yipes! -- selling their product to a brand new audience: families! With kids! And parents! And not a buncha Gawddamned teeny-boppers with annual passes and lack supervision. Not only, but also: they want to be family friendly, but . . . IT'S NOT EASY! JEEPERS! IT'S GONNA COST US . . . REAL MONEY!

OK, so all y'all who know me know that I’d rather do the punch-drunk boogie with an unveiled Leah than get all biblical on you, but a little Matthew (24:6 - 8, for those of you following along at home) seems appropriate right about now:

" . . . See that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet.
"For nation shall rise against nation, and (magic) kingdom against kingdom . . .
"But all these things are the beginning of travail."

Aw, but this isn't simply Biblical travail (global floods, plagues of toads, and all of the eschatological frivolities that Universal does so well). No this is much worse: stockholders might get antsy! Dang!

So, here it is, as it is always: you (meaning, probably NOT you, but the bean trust as S. Flags, Inc.) want to rebrand yourself after years of slow decline. You (more than likely) didn't listen to those annoying little people on your payroll (the people who design, build, and run your parks) who tell you that yes, this plan is (here in the new age of the 21st-or-so century) a good (probably the only) way to keep the lights on and the retail locations busy, but that this plan will take time, money, and the courage to see it through. You (again, hopefully not you) pay lip service to this tribunal of factors and OK it . . . and then, to engineer a classic example of "creating irony through half measures," don't have the courage to spend the money over time to give it all a satisfying trail.

The irony part: you cheap-out (and wimp-out) causing you to NOT do the things you know in your bean-counting heart-of-icy-hearts do, but do the opposite: less dough, fewer family-friendly attractions, and fewer in-park personnel to actually, you know, make the parks actually worth visiting by families. Or even the Six-packers, for that matter.

Well, heck, why bother? Valencia NEEDS more space for condominiums, anyway, as do Vallejo, St. Louis, Atlanta . . . dunno about Gurney. Theme parks are so much less profitable than cutting and running.

Larry Zimmerman

Published: January 17, 2008 at 2:28 PM

Two words - death spiral.

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