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TV report fuels rumors of Hard Rock Park demise

Written by
Published: August 7, 2008 at 1:11 PM

Rumors Circulate About Hard Rock Park Future, from WPDE-TV. My transcript:

Rumors about the Grand Strand's first rock and roll theme park are spread-ing all over town. Many have heard that Hard Rock Park is going broke, or that it will become part of a casino project. The theme park's CEO, Steve Goodwin, has gone on record in the past saying it has been a really tough summer for the attraction. However, beyond that admission, not much else has been confirmed. But, the rumors are flying, and, right now, the skeptics are in charge.

Local business leaders and industry insiders want Hard Rock Park to succeed, but theme park consultant Dennis Speigel says the park's developers picked a bad summer to open because of high gas prices and a slow economy. Speigel also said the park's high ticket prices and very aggressive projection of three million visitors their first year did not help the matter.

"Very few parks, with the exception of Disney World, and possibly Universal, have ever achieved that number," he said. The park's days and hours of operation have been cut back, and their web site has no concerts scheduled af-ter August 30th. According to the rumor mills, that could mean the park will close this fall. But, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean said while foot traffic at the park is disappointing, no one on the outside knows the true story.

Dean said that the skeptics who did not believe Myrtle Beach was ready for a big theme park are having their day. But that it's way too early to talk about Hard Rock Park's demise.

"Obviously, they may not hit the projections they were hoping for this summer, but I think the longer term story has yet to be written," he said. Hard Rock Park has not released attendance numbers, citing competitive reasons.

Readers' Opinions

From J Whetzel on August 7, 2008 at 1:39 PM
It's a very sad thing to hear. I've been to the park and I loved it. It was very clean and entertaining. They have everything from a funny signs to coasters to kiddie rides to some of the best shows I have ever seen.

While usually small crowds and shorts lines are a great thing, I would rather see the park have much larger crowds and longer lines. Part of the lack of visitors is probably due to the advertising. During the time I was there, I mainly saw advertisements through billboards and coupon books (but no coupons in there). However, I did not see any ads on TV (probably because on vacation I don't sit in the room to watch TV) nor did I hear anyone talking about it. Which leads to my assumption that not too many people know that it is there yet.

The ticket prices seemed about average from my experiences. They sure beat the $75 a ticket at Orlando. There were discounts for NC and SC residents, families of 4, and military that I saw, however; I do not know if the NC and SC discount is still available.

Maybe all of us can help spread the word that there is a brand new park. I personally, as I'm sure a lot of you all too, would hate to see such a great park fail.

From Anthony Murphy on August 7, 2008 at 2:37 PM
I find this very hard to believe
From Robert Niles on August 7, 2008 at 2:48 PM
We long ago mocked Hard Rock Park's attendance estimates. And if a bunch of folks on a theme park website could figure out those PR numbers were pie-in-the-sky, no analyst worth employing should have bought into them, either.

Clearly, a new theme park needs to be capitalized such that it can operate in the red for the first year or two on income, not counting depreciation on the capital assets. (In English, you've got to have enough money before you start to make the payments for the first year on the loans you took out to build the thing, plus pay for your first season's supplies and employees.)

Then you use the first year's income to pay for the second year's debt payments. The second year's income, ideally, pays that year's expenses, with whatever extra either paying down the debt or going into the bank to guard against a down year in the third. (Or, best case scenario, toward a little of both.)

If you are not making enough cash in the first year to cover the next year's debt payments, then you need to work like heck to change your marketing, pricing and promotions to improve your odds that income will grow in year two.

Ideally, when forecasting that first year's income, you've got to bet on a slow economy and mediocre word of mouth. Put the pressure on your own efforts to build audience and market share. If you're expecting a booming economy and enthusiastic visitors to sell the park for you, well, fate don't like to be tempted like that. ;-)

I don't know what HRP's situation is. But those are the rules for opening a theme park. If HRP's followed them, it'll do fine.

From James Rao on August 7, 2008 at 3:00 PM
They could not have picked a worse economic year in which to open a new theme park. Only Disney and Universal seem to be making money right now (Cedar Fair just announced $30 million in losses over the first half of the year, and Six Flags has never made money), and most of the Orlando money is coming from foreign travelers taking advantage of the weak dollar.

I hope HRP can make it as it looks like a sweet theme park, but almost no one is making money on theme parks these days!

From Derek Potter on August 7, 2008 at 3:53 PM
It really turned out to be a horrible year for Hard Rock to open. The economy hasn't been the greatest for many businesses this year, let alone the tourism industry. I'm still convinced that a good theme park can fly high in Myrtle Beach, however there are a few things that Hard Rock should keep in mind.


1) Myrtle Beach is still the place for the family traveling on a budget
2) Money is likely a little tighter for those families traveling due to high gas prices, increase in food, etc...
3) The hotels may not be as full as they usually are this year.
4) Hard Rock isn't cheap.

The economy hasn't been any park's friend this year, and a new park that hasn't found it's place yet is going to have the same problems. Myrtle Beach brings in millions of tourists a year, so the potential is there for some huge numbers. I think that the price point was too high when the park opened, and I've also heard tell that food/gifts are spendy too. While MB has been working hard to bring more affluent tourists to the area, the fact remains that most of the families traveling there are still blue collar, lower to middle class families with a limited budget. Not that any of those monikers are bad, but when tickets are 50 bucks a piece, a family of 5 can make for an expensive day.

I come from such a background, and I can say this. These families come to Myrtle Beach to go to the beach and go out to eat. Sometimes they go out to shop and play putt-putt, but for some reason, going out to eat is some kind of unconscious, ingrained vacation activity. Hard Rock isn't in competition with other parks, it's in competition with hundreds of low cost family activities that are scattered around the town. I know that the park is new and they've spent a lot of money building it, but people are looking for a bargain right now, and unfortunately, it doesn't seem that a bargain can be found at Hard Rock at this time. I know that they have shifted pricing a little bit, but it looks like there are still some things to be worked out. Getting aggressive with hotel room/condo packages, heavily marketing special holiday events, coupons for goods inside the park, attracting company events, and getting that "spending per guest" number up is key. I also think that a well planned concert series with the right bands would go a long way. If you ask me, I think the customer base is not a family with lots of young kids, it's the family with teenagers, adults age 20 to 45, couples, and older folks that are young at heart. Becoming a real nightlife hub may be a good thing...kind of like the Universal Citywalk or Downtown Disney in Orlando.

The Hard Rock Park experience is probably a good one, but it's one that people either don't know about, or are willing to cut from their to do list because of the cost at this time. Attract the right customers, and give the customers a bargain, or at least an implied one, and they will come.


I will say this, expectations turned out to be high, partially because of missteps by the park, and partially because of the economy. The park isn't done though, and it would be a big mistake to quit now.

From Peter Stephens on August 9, 2008 at 4:51 AM
We're headed out on our family vacation in 7 days and we'll be at a beach south of Cape Fear. We are planning on spending a day at HRP. I guess I should be looking forward to a small crowd, but I hate to see the park in trouble and cutting-back in services and hours, already. I think the previous comments are very accurate. The Myrtle Beach crowd is, in fact, of a general lower income than most other beach areas. Perhaps HRP could market the day-trip idea to folks (like us) who vacation within 100 miles (Wilmington Beaches, Charleston Beaches, even down toward HHI). SC is not a rich or highly populated state and (as HRP obviously knows) the park must count almost entirely on vacationers. Beyond gas prices and ticket prices, I would submit that many (including my family) considered waiting a couple of years until they add another high-end coaster. (I think they really only have a couple, at this point.) But, maybe coaster enthusiasts better get on down there and take a ride on Led Zepplin before it hits the auction block! Anyway, there will be five tickets sold in about ten days and I'll check back with a "review".
From J Whetzel on August 9, 2008 at 2:13 PM
Peter,

I hope you enjoy your trip. Just keep in mind (so you won't go into the park expecting too much) that it's small. Also, it's not really a 'ride' park. They have rides, but it's not all rides like cedar point or kings dominion. If you get the time, make sure to check out all the shows. They are some of the best among theme parks from my experience.

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