Is it too late for Harry Potter to become a profitable franchise for Universal Orlando?
Published: January 6, 2010 at 6:57 AM
The addition of the Potter themed land, based around Hogwarts and the surrounding area, represents Universal’s first major expansion of their Islands of Adventure theme park which opened in 1999. Whilst the attractions are all set to be of the same high standard set around the rest of the park many industry experts have questioned just how long guests will remain spellbound by a series of movies nearing its end.
Of course, these concerns are all valid, just ask Mattel, the company who own the rights to produce the Harry Potter based toys. After the release of the first movie in the series, Harry Potter and the
Philosophers (that was the UK book title) Sorcerer's Stone, Mattel couldn’t get the Potter toys on the shelves fast enough, selling around $160m worth in 2001 alone. However, the year following the release of the second instalment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the value of sales was estimated to be around $130m according to The Economist, a fall of $30m.
Similar trends were seen in the release of the Harry Potter video games, all of which have been developed by Electronic Arts. Since the release of the original game all sales of the Potter-based games have declined. Seemingly even the most budding magicians, witches and of course wizards can get too much Harry Potter magic.
It has to be said that it isn’t all downward spirals for the billion Dollar franchise, book sales, for example, have increased over time, with J.K Rowling’s seventh instalment of the series ‘The Deathly Hallows’ being the best selling of them all. The same can also be said of the movies, more and more people seem to become fans of this tale of courage, integrity and friendship as Warner Brothers premiere’s each new movie. This has to be primarily attributed to the promotion of the books and movies as for all ages. No longer are these best-selling novels regarded as simple children’s stories, they’re aimed not only at the young but the young at heart.
Theme parks are a whole different ball game as we know. If you ask many kids these days if they’ve ever seen an episode of classic Sci-Fi series ‘The Twilight Zone’ they’ll most likely give you a confusing stare, not knowing exactly what you’re talking about. Despite this ‘The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is arguably Walt Disney World’s most popular and most loved attraction. At the same time when ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ appeared at the same park it was at the height of its popularity, yet visitors didn’t take to the attraction and the interactive quiz lost popularity along with the show it takes its name from.
There are of course other movie franchises in theme parks. As much as I hate to use the same park as an example over and over I have to go back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The movie park as hosted the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular since opening and Star Tours for over a decade. Both attractions have passed the test of time and are still favourites today. Yes, both are in need of some changes but the main thing is the theme based around two huge movie franchises still holds strong, even though the last Star Wars movie was released several years ago.
So, franchises can last for a considerable number of years in a theme park. As long as the theme is backed up by quality attractions then I’d bet that any half decent movie series could last over a decade in the park. Having a big name movie franchise at one of your theme parks is great for drawing crowds but what will keep them coming back are great rides and shows, regardless of the theme. If something is good people will ride it over and over again, even if the movie it’s based around is a little passed its sell-by-date.
Universal are taking precautionary and notably smart steps when it comes to ensuring the Potter theme stands the test of time. Rather than going down normal routes to revenue Universal are adopting a more unique approach. The Wizarding World will offer more than just rides and shows, unique products such as Butterbeer taken from the books will be sold in outlets around the land. This product and many more will be unique to the Potter themed land and it’s likely to be much more profitable than the traditional Potter products sold outside of the theme parks gates.
If I was asked to say now if The Wizarding World would be a success I’d say yes. The plans look simply amazing and if the rides and shows are kept up to scratch then Universal will have no problem selling millions of tickets for years to come just to people who want to experience some magic outside of Walt Disney World. However, if Universal is expecting to make a ton from merchandise as they do at many other themed areas, most notably Marvel Superhero Island, they may be in for a shock. Mattel’s figures don’t lie, there’s seemingly only so much Potter stuff one would-be wizard can have and that’s something Universal will have to deal with in years to come.