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Theme park fans should not quit on Six Flags now

Written by
Published: March 12, 2009 at 9:04 PM

I supposed it's human nature, when a relationship is going bad, to want to be the one who breaks it off. No one wants to be dumped. ("No, you can't break up with me. I'm breaking up WITH YOU!")

So might it be now between amusement park fans and Six Flags. The chain appears to be going bankrupt, and fans do not want to be left in the lurch.

But theme park fans aren't helped themselves by pre-emptively "dumping" Six Flags and choosing to stay at home while the corporation fights for its financial life. If Six Flags' parks are to have any future after bankruptcy, potential buyers and investors need to see signs of life. Right now.

The more people who go to Six Flags parks this spring and summer, and the more those visitors spend there, the more likely that a financially healthy investor will want to take a chance and buy into these parks, keeping them alive for years to come. If fans stay home now, that apathy will ensure the company's failure, and the permanent closure of many of its parks.

I have no interest in saving Daniel Snyder's investment. He's a rich guy, who will remain a rich guy whether Six Flags dies or not. He doesn't need our help. But many of us don't want to lose our local amusement park. And many of us don't want to see thousands of good, hard-working managers and employees, who've done much in the past two years to turn this chain around, lose their jobs in this industry.

A business doesn't always close when it goes bankrupt. There are two main types of corporate bankruptcy in the United States. "Chapter 11" bankruptcy, while Six Flags is talking about filing, allows a company to stay open while a court oversees the company's assets and efforts to negotiate a deal with the folks to which it owes money. If the company can't make a deal, then it goes to the other type of bankruptcy - liquidation. At that point, the company does close forever, and its remaining assets are sold. That's what happened earlier this year to Hard Rock Park.

I've argued that Six Flags ought to be liquidated. Rather than slowly bleed the company to save money to pay off creditors, customers would be better served by selling the parks right away, while they still have loyal fans and value. We've been covering Six FLags' financial troubles for a long time, long before Dan Snyder and his crew came upon the scene. (In fact, we broke the story of the company's financial troubles, way back in 2002.) Debt from the former Premier Parks' spending spree has been crippling Six Flags for years. The company simply cannot survive under that burden any longer.

But many of its theme parks remain profitable, and are cleaner, more friendly and more enjoyable than they have been in years. What a shame it would be to lose that momentum, after what Six Flags' fans have had to endure over the past decade.

So... let's not lose it. Don't quit yet. If you like the direction your local Six Flags park is heading, keep going. Heck, make an extra visit and buy an extra churro or two.

If you are among those who don't like your local park's direction, by all means, stay away. Break it off. Don't throw your good money after Dan Snyder's bad. But if you haven't been in the past two years, give it another try.

Six Flags' corporate fate need not be the fate of all its parks. But fans will help determine those parks' fate by how they respond during the next few months.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on March 13, 2009 at 4:53 AM
Great Robert!

I will still be going to SFGA and reporting on all the new things going on there! They actually read our stuff on here!

From Joshua Counsil on March 13, 2009 at 6:58 AM
Robert -

Maybe some Six Flags ads on the sidebars would help draw attention ... is there a way to control that?

I would support my local Six Flags if it was local. The closest one is in Montreal, and unless you're spending a few days in the city it's really not worth a visit.

From 74.5.101.126 on March 13, 2009 at 8:04 AM
I already have my season pass for my closest park, Six Flags Over Texas. I love the park. I make the four hour drive 10 to 15 times a year (since Astroworld closed) and will continue to do so. The two remaining Texas parks really have shown improvement over the last 2 years. They are cleaner and most of the ride ops and other employees have been much more professional in carrying out their jobs. If you live anywhere near a Six Flags park, visit it a time or two this season. I'm also going to be trying out Kentucky Kingdom, Great America, and Great Adventure this year, which I am very excited about.
From Scottland Jacobson on March 13, 2009 at 11:03 AM
I'll be visiting Six Flags America this year and should be making frequent trips to Six Flags Great America throughout the summer and Fall. I'll be sure to buy extra souveniers and extra food!!
From 72.150.253.216 on March 13, 2009 at 1:17 PM
I have a 2009 season pass to Six Flags Over Texas. As soon as possible, I will go there, take children, and spend money.
From Derek Potter on March 13, 2009 at 1:23 PM
This isn't something exclusive to Six Flags. If you like your local park, this is the year to support it, regardless of who owns it. There are plenty of little guys out there who could use the business as well. A lot of those guys can ill afford a bad year.

Six Flags is at 0.19 per share. I could buy a lot of shares right now for next to nothing. I'm not totally wild about their product right now and their financial situation is horrible, but that's pretty cheap, and not a big loss if they do go down. If they hang in there and make things happen, money stands to be made. I'm telling you...unless they throw up the white flag, it's not over for them.

From Eli Katzman on March 13, 2009 at 1:47 PM
I have a season pass to SFA (my home park for the 100th time), so in a way, going 10 times again, will hurt the company... especially with the coupons for food, games, and friends...

Oh, and Scottland, if you need help in anyway about SFA, just ask, and I can plan your day if you like and if you tell me your group and/or likings. Ok? I have your back! eheheeh.... anyway, please also write a trip report when you get back!!!

From Jessie Phillips on March 13, 2009 at 1:49 PM
well if 6 flags would not have done the crappy things that they have done the last 2 years, then there may not have been a problem. trying to boost profit by over-charging is not the way to go. That will be a sure fire way to stop people from coming. I have had season passes for sfot for 10 years now and have noticed that the last 2, sfot has really gone to hell.. not because of the park but because of upper managements decisions, everywhere from moving their corperate hq from Oklahoma to ny, to overcharging on everything ($15 for a sports bottle? $12 for a hamburger?) and to stupid policies that they have enacted such as the parking and, no smoking but allow drinking, policy.
From Scot Harkins on March 13, 2009 at 2:35 PM
Since working at SFOT in the early 80's I have been continually puzzled by the high in-park prices behind the "captive consumer" idea. "It's expensive to run a good amusement park so we need to generate revenue at every opportunity." Well, it's expensive to live, too, and we continue to choose where we spend our precious dollars. If we don't feel some fair sense of value then we vote with our feet, and the remaining guests will not make up for that loss.

Businesses are run by people, and most often by folks who are not particularly smart and are too lazy to really think about their business and how to make it fly. As I've gotten older I've come to respect the truly good companies the hire smart from top down and keep their heart in the game, and I've come to sneer even more at those who pursue greed first and only think about what they can get from our pockets and little about how they deliver value.

It is sad, but failure is what happens at the end of a long chain of stupid business behavior more befitting the upper echelons of the now-bereft Wall Street investment banks than places that deliver fun and deliver us from our lives for day or two. This means a LOT of business will die in the next couple of years, big and small, many because of their former greed and most as victims of their failing brethren.

I hope Six Flags will survive...it will not look the same...but if they find their heart again and work on providing a great experience that delivers real value then folks will return and the coffers will fill once more. I also hope the investors...all of us and other as owners of equity by shares or through mutual funds and whatnot...will tell the managers "grow the business and make it sustainable over the long term, and stop trying to make me happy with gobs of cash today with the threat of empty pockets tomorrow."

One good place to start is by treating guests like guests and not captive pockets of money. The next thing is to make sure the employees are proud to work in your park...it's a fun and unique place to be and that should contribute to the fun the guests have each and every day...and that it's about the magic and not the money.

Finally, I am tired of lazy-thinking executives. To them I say: sometimes you need to read something even if it takes you more than 30 seconds, and you really need to think your way through problems instead of throwing stupid, cheap answers at the real challenges you face. Businesses can be a challenge to run well, and that's part of the fun of business. You should not expect a park to be a cash cow that will boost your bonus, but a welcoming and fun place that will naturally attract people from around the world.

Bugger...another long diatribe...stopping now.

From Larry Zimmerman on March 14, 2009 at 3:05 PM
Too late - I gave up on SF in 2006. My experience at the Atlanta park cemented the impressions I got at Geauga Lake in 2001 -- nice rides, but terrible packaging.

Let's hope someone with deep pockets can save the grand-daddy park in Arlington, but if not -- oh, well.

From 64.183.209.146 on March 14, 2009 at 5:46 PM
I would really hate to lose our local Six Flags. Astroworld was a pretty good park and was sad to see that go. SF Over Texas has really improved in the last 5 years. We will be buying our season passes this year, and will also plan a visit to SF Fiesta in San Antonio. SF Fiesta is probably the best Six Flags park, as I feel that I'm getting a better deal because they include the water park in the package.

If we lose our SF parks, we will also lose the great thrill roller coasters that Disney does not offer. We have our Disney trips planned also for summer. But they just don't offer the really good roller coasters that SF offers.

From 69.76.111.26 on March 15, 2009 at 4:02 PM
I will visit my locak SF park (SFGAM) often this year with my season pass. But I wont be spending alot of money at the park. As long as they have lousy policies like lockers/flashpass/overpriced crappy food I wonmt be spending much money in the park.
I will enjoy my favorite rides but wont give them more money till they change policies I dont like.
From 65.32.106.84 on March 15, 2009 at 4:30 PM
I live in florida in new port richy. I have been told that Six Flages has bought the old mininng grounds on Highway 19 north of Homasessa and Crystal River. I know there are some real big chain hotels thar are almost built on highway 19souith port richy area. There are know theme parks on our side of Florida, so that tells me the hotels know the park is being built and lots of people are going to be coming in to see it.We sure do need an Six Flags to come to our area. My son lives in New Jersey, Jackson and I go to Six Flags all of the time when I an up there.My son is a State Trooper and he drives 532 the road the park is on.

Respectfully
JoAnn Kinaln

From 66.170.218.221 on March 17, 2009 at 8:53 PM
I can't understand why they would put in a new coaster at SFMM when they're in such financial difficulties. Yes I think it's GREAT to have a new coaster to ride but, to me, it's foolish IMO to spend money which they really can't afford to spend & digging their hole even deeper rather than trying to build a ladder to get themselves out. They really need to lower their prices. Lowering prices WILL sell more, it's been proven but telling THEM that & making them actually understand that is a whole 'nother story. I pray that they will be helped & that the chain won't close any of the parks again. Bad enough they closed my fave Astroworld but I'd really hate to see anymore parks go bellyup & close for good! It's bad enough they sold what was it, six parks? This is just terrible!

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