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Robert Niles

Are the Olympics affecting theme park attendance?

Published: August 14, 2008 at 11:03 AM

NBC's broadcast of the Olympic Games is drawing huge ratings, as millions of Americans stay home to watch the games on TV. Does that mean fewer people are visiting theme parks during the games? I talked with representatives of several theme parks to find out.

At Busch theme parks, including SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, attendance is actually up over expectations, parks reps report. "We are doing very well since the Olympics started," Joe Couceiro, Vice President for Marketing at the Busch Entertainment Corp., told me yesterday. Coucerio said that NBC's prime-time TV schedule is not keeping people from making daytime visits to his company's parks. "Maybe they go back and watch in a hotel lounge or in their hotel rooms, but I don't think the games are affecting people visiting the parks."

Other parks reported similar results. "We're above budget on a daily basis," wrote Julie Estrada of Legoland California. Spokespersons for Disney and Universal declined to comment on their daily attendance, citing corporate policies, though a spokesperson for Universal Studios Hollywood did write that "we're doing fine." (No rep for Six Flags has responded yet.)

Can parks use Olympic tie-ins to boost attendance? Hong Kong Disneyland is hosting nightly sports-themed parades, including in-park airing of video highlights from the day's Olympic events. Hong Kong, which is now controlled by Olympic host China, is site of the equestrian events at this year's games.

Busch's Couceiro said that tie-ins can help bring attention to the park, if they are held before or during the games. He pointed out that SeaWorld has hosted send-off events for U.S. Olympians in the past, though it did not this year. "Once the Olympics is over," he said, "the excitement really dissipates."

Couceiro said that most popular televised events, such as the Olympics and Super Bowl, have little effect on park attendance. There is one potential exception, though, especially for parks that draw a large number of Europeans visitors.

"The World Cup may have an impact, especially from International visitors," Couceiro said. "The passion that fans have for following their country's team certainly can impact their travel plans" toward Cup matches and away from theme parks, he said.

What are you seeing? Tell us, in the comments, how the attendance appears at the parks you've visited during the games. And if you are staying home to watch instead of visiting a theme park, let us know that, too.

Replies (8)

Anthony Murphy

Published: August 14, 2008 at 12:42 PM

Could never be higher at Six Flags Great America. Tons of people!
Deidre Dennis

Published: August 14, 2008 at 12:47 PM

I'm planning to see what attendance is like this week as I try to hit all the big parks in Southern Cal this week. I've always heard Summer is a bad time to go to Disneyland, even though we've always went in June, so I'm anxious to see what the crowds are like. My guess is that the rising costs of living (food, gas, etc.) would have more of an effect if attendance is low.
Robert Niles

Published: August 14, 2008 at 1:45 PM

The summer blockout dates for many of Disneyland's annual passes lift on Monday, so I expect that next week will be busier than this one at Disneyland.
Eli Katzman

Published: August 14, 2008 at 2:59 PM

Umm, I haven't been to Six Flags America since Friday... that was the first day of the Olympics, and it was a tiny bit less corwded for a Friday, but still pretty invested. I'll try to go sometime later this 7 days.
Derek Potter

Published: August 14, 2008 at 5:31 PM

no...I think that theme park attendance is more affected by economy. The Orlando/California parks are the international tourist attractions, and as evidenced by the empty stands in China, they sure didn't go to the olympics. Americans are tuning in during primetime, so plenty of time during the day for that visit if they want to go. As for going to a park, if I had planned a visit around this time, the olympics would have had zero impact on my decision.

My feelings on the events this year are a little mixed. I'm happy at some of the stories coming out of the olympics, but if one scratches the surface beneath China's quest for putting on the "perfect" olympics, I fear they probably won't like some of the things they find.

Robert Niles

Published: August 14, 2008 at 6:28 PM

I did hear that the Olympics *have* encouraged thousands of U.S. college students to apply for summer jobs in China... since the Chinese are so good at faking IDs.

*rimshot* thankyouverymuch!

Robert OGrosky

Published: August 15, 2008 at 11:13 AM

I have been too my local SF park(SFGAM)once during the olympics and also spent 2 days at Cedar Point.
And both parks were very busy, so I see no evidence at all that the Olympics affected attendance.
And I also havent seen much interest in the olympcis at all maong the people I know or who I have dealt with in a social/professional manner.
Joshua Counsil

Published: August 18, 2008 at 3:58 PM

Ha. Nice one, Robert.

Damn you, Michael Phelps - how are you so good?

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