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Attendance, spending, revenue down at Cedar Fair and Six Flags theme parks*

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Published: November 3, 2009 at 10:50 AM

Cedar Fair, the company that owns Cedar Point, Kings Island and Knott's Berry Farm, among other theme parks, is going into cash conservation mode next year, as guest attendance and spending continues to decline across the chain.

Cedar Fair announced that it will not pay cash distributions to its limited partner units next year, as it seeks to conserve cash to pay down its debt. (Cedar Fair paid $1.2 billion to buy Paramount Parks in 2006.)

Cash distributions to limited partner units are roughly the equivalent of a corporation paying dividends to its stockholders. Cedar Fair is a limited partnership (hence, "Cedar Fair, L.P."), and the holders of its limited partnership units are typically paid a proportionate share of the business's income each quarter.

That amount worked out to $1.10 per unit for the first nine months of 2009, compared with $1.12 per unit for the same period in 2008.

According to the company's press release (here is the version from the SEC, complete with spreadsheet for you number-crunchers), attendance at the company's parks was down from 20 million in the first nine months of 2008 to 18.8 million during the same period this year. (That's not counting the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas, which the company closed late last year.) In-park guest spending was down from $40.28 to $39.73.

"The decrease in attendance was the result of a sharp decline in group sales business, which continues to be negatively affected by the poor economy and spending cuts at many businesses, schools and organizations," Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel said in the statement. "Our attendance figures were also negatively impacted by a decrease in season pass visits resulting from a decline in total pass sales, and by poor weather, particularly cooler than normal temperatures throughout much of the season at our northern and southern region parks."

* Update: And here are the results for Six Flags:

  • Attendance down 1 million, from 22.2 in the first nine months of 2008, to 21.2 million over the same period in 2009.
  • Per guest in-park spending was down from $38.58 in 2008 to $36.72 in 2009.
  • A $74.8 million loss for the first nine months of 2009, compared with a $147.3 million profit in the same period in 2008.

Six Flags also blamed the drop in attendance to lower group sales and fewer free tickets, but did say that sales of single-day and individual season pass tickets were up from 2008. That's a good sign for the company, at least.

Readers' Opinions

From Randy Clover on November 3, 2009 at 11:26 AM
I would pay a special attendance fee to see Mean Streak torn down... but I just don't like that ride. I'm not an expert on Kings Island and Cedar Point attendance, but it seemed quite busy this year. The only other park I visited this year, owned by Cedar Fair, was Worlds of Fun which was not that busy at all. Although it sometimes there would be a 30 min wait since they seemed to run only one train on most coasters. My real problem is there parks are losing character, or at least WOF has. I grew up visiting WOF at least three times a year. I would stay all day, and although it may have been hot, I enjoyed it. There we little displays set up throughout the park for you to look at. There was the fountain, near the main gate, with all the shops around where everyone would meet their party at the end of the day. The main entrance has been replaced by go-carts and the new entrance has no character. The same fountain, which had shops to sell that last min fudge brick to you, is hardly even visited by anyone.
I guess what I am saying boils down to, give your park some character instead of destroying it for a quick buck. I know that over time I have spent less and less time in the park each year. Why, I lose interest in being there, and there is nothing to do, but pay money for extra attractions or leave. I choose to leave and in doing so, I spend no money in the park. I'm not excited to tell my friends I went to the park, and I do not try and talk them into going. CHARACTER!!!
From 166.204.135.194 on November 3, 2009 at 4:31 PM
I personally found the Cedar Fair season pass less attractive because of the amount of money it costs to get a pass that allows you to visit more than one specific park in the chain with the same pass. A Silver pass which only lets you get into Carowinds and which is somewhat of a no frills pass since it does not include any benefits hardly (no free parking, etc.) is $59.99. However, the Platinum pass which is the pass I would have to get to be able to use it at both Carowinds and Kings Dominion (or whatever other Cedar Fair Park) costs $140. It does come with free parking and some other benefits, but going from basically $60 to $140 ($80 more) just so I can also get into another park in the same chain with the season pass made it less appealing to me. If I were going to go to Kings Dominion several times (which is somewhere around 6 and half hours away from where I live), maybe I'd think it were more appealing.... but I'd probably only use the pass once or twice during the season for a park other than Carowinds (which is only approximately an hour and a half away from where I live)..... so it makes you think, is it worth paying $80 more to get that pass? Then you start thinking well I don't really want to go to Carowinds over and over and then I decided to just get the 2 day pass (which is not what I would consider a severe amount less than the silver season pass) and not allow myself to go anymore after that. If I had bought a pass though, maybe I would have gone more (although this has been a tough year so maybe I would not have gone more from being broke).
I also was not thrilled that they took out the log flume ride this year. It seemed like more of a family thrill ride and Carowinds is starting to seem like a park divided by rides for eithor kids or those seeking an adreneline rush. And then there is the waterpark.... which is slowly seeming to become half the park. They need to start thinking about rides that appeal to a wider audience... not that eithor target only kids by themselves (kiddie land), or people who want to go the highest, fastest, and tallest by themeselves. I'd say the Carolina Goldrusher is a great example of a family thrill ride.... and I want to say that I heard at one time it was the most popular ride in the park (I don't that for sure though). I think they just need to work at making the park more well rounded in what it offers.
From SC Todbear on November 3, 2009 at 8:25 PM
Ok, so here is a thought...

Why not discount your food and beverage prices thus allowing guests to spend to eat while in the park. When they can leave the park and get fast food for much less then return to the park or go on home they usualy will. Also, merchandise prices are another point where the guests just aren't willing to fork out a bundle for items they don't need but might would like to have.

Maybe even try giving season pass holder discounts straight across the board for all Food and Merchandise purchases that would make a difference. Years ago Carowinds gave coupons to use in the park when you bought a season pass and now you get you admission and parking (LOVE the parking being included).

Oh and another thing, I am so glad I didn't renew my season pass yet. I will wait and see what other cuts they plan to make before I sink that kind of money into it. Carowinds customer service standards have improved greatly over the past 2 years, but does this mean now it will go down hill???

From James Rao on November 4, 2009 at 11:30 AM
So much for the vaunted Staycation.
From 75.187.42.246 on November 3, 2009 at 10:25 PM
I have to say that I was at King's Island over the summer and did not wait more than 20 minutes in line for any of the rides. I remember going 7 years ago around the same time and the waits were all over 1 hour for the big rides.
From Larry Zimmerman on November 6, 2009 at 12:59 PM
Both KI and Cedar Point seemed crowded to me...

Note to Dick -- if you want to improve season pass sales, give the holders some benefits to engender loyalty. For a hint, take a look at the Busch Entertainment platinum pass.

It's good for 2 years, includes all the parks, parking, food and merchandise discounts, and some special events. When I had mine, I felt like I had something special, instead of just a cheap form of admission. I know I helped their bottom line, 'cause I always ate lunch in the parks and purchased more drinks owing to the passholder discount.

Also, standardize the passes and benefits across the enterprise. Different rules between KI and CP (two parks in the same state!) are confusing, unnecessary, and discouraging.

Consider how Holiday World can throw in free parking and free soft drinks all day long and still make money...?

From webster patton on November 6, 2009 at 2:20 PM
Something that caught my eye in the Cedar Fair report was the acknowledgment of the companies annual passholders as having a negative impact by not returning for as many repeat visits as in previous years. As a premium annual passholder for ALL of the Southern California parks (Disneyland Resort is my fave.), I am constantly seeing posts on blogs that annual passholders are a burdon to the parks...especially Disneyland. I am told that we do not spend as much and we tend to just hang out rather than contributing to the existence of the park. It was nice to see something "official" that pays a little attention to those of us that enjoy the luxury of having a park close enough to actually be able to purchase a pass that will cover anticipated future visits. It was nice to see a theme park company actually voice the fact that when annual passholders fail to make as many return visits as in previous years (they already have our money from the pass purchase)it hurts the bottom line rather than burdons it. I feel vindicated that as an AP holder I am a valued guest and not just a "freeloader", (I was called that on another blog).

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