What would you do? How to save the Six Flags amusement parks
Six Flags, as a theme park chain, is in trouble.
The Six Flags brand simply doesn't resonate in a positive way with theme park fans, as it once did. Attendance at Six Flags parks is flat or declining, with no Six Flags parks is the North American top 10 for attendance. Six Flags' most popular park, Great Adventure, is mired in 19th place.
By the way, these six American flags are
not the "Six Flags" that inspired the amusement park chain.
Last month, news emerged that the park's new management team is terminating several of its licensing deals, which will mean the elimination of theming from many attractions in its parks. Six Flags is dropping the Tony Hawk name from its Big Spin coasters. Thomas Town will become Whistle Stop Depot. Evel Knievel is becoming American Thunder. Wiggles World will be going away, too. So might the Terminator theme from Magic Mountain's newest roller coaster.
All this prompts me to ask: What would you do to help Six Flags?
When Angus Wynne developed the original Six Flags park, in Arlington, Texas, its themed lands were tributes to the six national flags that had flown over Texas during its history: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy and the United States. (You now know the answer to the trivia question: "What are the Six Flags in the Six Flags amusement park chain?") Six Flags built only two other parks in its history: Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags Over Mid-America (now Six Flags St. Louis). Both continued with regionally-themed lands.
The chain then acquired dozens of other parks over the years, keeping some and eventually selling others. The Chicago Great America park, bought from Mariott, fit Six Flags' regional-based theming well. But Magic Mountain, designed by the same crew that created SeaWorld, didn't. (With its meandering paths and giant observation tower in the middle, Magic Mountain has a very similar footprint to SeaWorld San Diego, just with roller coasters in the place of the aquariums.) Even in the original three parks, changes and additions over the years have undercut the original theming.
Without the clear identity branding that Disney created with its Magic Kingdom theme parks, Universal created with its studios and SeaWorld and Busch Gardens created with their parks, Six Flags no longer stands for any unique thematic experience in visitors' minds, the way that those other chains do.
Granted, Disney and Universal have extended those brands with different types of parks, including Epcot and Islands of Adventure. But Six Flags never clearly established with the public that original template from which to expand into new ones, as Disney and Universal first did. Remember, Disney offered nothing but Magic Kingdom theme parks for 27 years before it opened Epcot.
When I think of a Six Flags park now, I think instead of the jumble of outside brands that these parks throw at me when I visit: Starburst, Papa John's, Johnny Rockets, Coca-Cola. In restaurants, on pathways and even in queues, time in a Six Flags park means a non-stop visual and audio immersion in brand marketing. But those brands aren't "Six Flags."
A visit to a Disney or SeaWorld theme park is a non-stop immersion in brand marketing, too. But in those parks, I'm being sold the Disney and SeaWorld brands, first.
What is Six Flags' brand now? I don't know.
So that's my challenge to you. How can Six Flags create a brand identity that would resonate with you? What would you have the company do to entice you to visit its theme parks? Is it to double down on its remaining DC Comics licenses (Batman, Superman, etc.)? Is it to return to the original Angus Wynne-era concept of regional tributes? Is it to strip even more licensed brands from its parks, and trying to become something more like Cedar Point?
If you're proposing changes that require big capital investments, how will Six Flags raise the cash? If it is to sell parks, which ones? And if capital isn't available, what can Six Flags do to improve?
Under Mark Shapiro's leadership, Six Flags parks improved their customer service, becoming cleaner, friendlier parks with attractions that operated at close to full capacity - quite a difference from previous years when many rides closed frequently to save on maintenance costs and many park employees treated their jobs with indifference, at best. But service and pricing issues remain. Parking charges are stiff and food remains ridiculously overpriced.
If something doesn't happen to draw more folks to these parks, Six Flags will soon slide from the list of America's top 20 theme parks entirely. Six Flags is running out of lives. So, what would you do to save it?
First of all I would make the parks FAMILY friendly, A SAFE PLACE, gangs have taken over several Six Flags parks, several I WILL NOT go to anymore. The parks need an ENFORCED Dress and Conduct Code, and need a variety of attractions for all ages to enjoy, not just wild rides then make the children's area inviting, safe and clean for today's youths. Then put together family discount passes that encourage the family to come together. The theme park was designed for families to come together and have fun, notice that the parks that kept that vision, Disney, Universal, Busch, etc. are doing much better then Paramont, 6 flags and others that have lost that focus.
Regional themes! Like we discussed in a thread awhile ago, bring in local foodstuffs to sell at the restaurants. Create attractions based on local legends. Decorate your park with the regional plant life. Train the employees to discuss their stories of growing up in the region.
Can we just put to rest the viral "gangs have taken over Six Flags theme parks" meme? Six Flags parks are as safe as any other parks out there. This meme developed in response to a few incidents that happened in a couple of parks back in the 1990s - three management teams ago. Give it a rest, people.
The only outside brand I see when going to a theme park is usually either Coke or Pepsi, nothing else. So, I'm pretty lucky, huh?
Would it be better to do away with the DC comics and instead go for the regional theme? Some of their most popular rides are themed after Superman, Batman, etc.
I think that they have their best chance yet to survive and even prosper if Al Weber continues to stay on with the company as their COO and can make some badly needed strategic changes. Having worked for many years at Paramount, I know he is someone with the knowledage and leadership to make these changes.
First, I think that six flags should lower it's prices on everything and one price for both water park and theme park should increase attendance. Next, bring back some of the original theming including some of the classic rides and shows. I cant speak as to the state of other sixflags parks but my local park, Great Adventure has almost no flats, not even bumper cars! Bring in entertainers such as clowns or magicians to work the crowds and stop relying so much on the loony tunes cast, get with the times... Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig ain't what they used to be!
Six Flags should just drop trying to carry brand names that they will have to pay for. They just don't go all out enough for the themeing to really be that impactful in thier parks. Except that they are more of a thrill park and then focus on the rides. It is basically a really nice fair. People will come to have something to do, and who want certain types of rides and thrills. Kids enjoy kiddie rides regardless if the picture on the front of the train is of Thomas the train or a smiley face. Just save that money and focus on what they can do well at. Focus on what rides will bring the public in and just realize theming will never be there strong point, they can't compete with Disney and Universal with that, so keep a low cost of operating and charge less.
Maybe if they embrace that they are basically really nice permanantly located state fair type amusement parks, they can just bring in more flats and possible do things like have buildings for special showings of arts and such like they do at fairs. Stop trying to make an attempt to be like Universal or Disney, and keep costs down and just be Six Flags.
Ah...FINALLY!!! Thank you Mr. Niles for putting the "Gangs Overrunning Six Flags Parks" meme to rest!! I've been to the Valencia Six Flags SEVERAL times this year (Which, according to many people I've talked to about the subject, is actually the original location where this belief originated from) and have found it to be very safe! Ok, grant it there were a few incidents that made it on the local news back in the 90's....but honestly I have to attribute the issue to just a lot of bad press. I think part of the reason why Six Flags is doing so bad is BECAUSE of the negative press it got back in the 90's (Oh, and P.S....those gang violence incidents didn't even occur IN the park, it was actually a common occurence in the parking lots), people just can't seem to get over that! I mean, most of the time I read comments on the forums here pertainning to Six Flags someone always has to throw that comment in there "I don't go there anymore cause gangs overrun the place!"
I would take the lead of SFGA and make them American themed. It seems to have the best potental and pretty broad theme.
Sorry for double posting, but I see some constant that Six Flags has to do: lower prices. My question is: how?
I live in New Jersey and I have been to Great Adventure many times. That being said, I don't have any interest in going back again. It never seemed very clean to me. Maybe they have improved in that area, who knows. When I would walk through the gates the place would never impress me. I would have some fun, but not beyond that. One thing that they could do differently is not put so much emphasis on roller coasters and thrill rides. It seems like every time they get a new ride, it is a roller coaster. There are alot of other types of rides out there. This past summer my family and I went to Hershey Park for the first time in quite awile. When we were walking around, it actually impressed me. It was alot cleaner then I remembered and there were some other things that I can't remember right now. I think at least Great Adventure should see what is going on a Hershry park, because it is better there.
Let me first note that most of my recent Six Flags experience pertains to the park in Saint Louis which is (regrettably) not the best in the chain, to be sure.
All of the answers are here. Everyone knows you have coasters. The coaster fans are coming. 6F has lost everyone else. Regional theming pays no royalties and makes each part individual. Make it a step back in time, to the feel of State Fair. Family food, family rides, family events; family, family, family. Food is critical. Get rid of the chains and hire the chef as suggested. Create food offerings that people crave to return to each year, not gripe about on the way out. Step beyond the trill rides, add step back in time children's rides. Add local history of some sort, something fun and educational as well. Family, family family. With the money you save kicking out Batman and Superman (come up with cool, regional names for the coasters... how hard can that be?), in a addition to the chef, improve dining areas for families and park wide, invest in being the CLEANEST park in the country... not the grungiest. Cleanest park, regional theming, new food and family attractions. All in all could be a HUGE change, and little of these suggestions cost much money at all, which is nice. Once the food and improved dining areas are in place, offer a family dining pass. A reduced rate for families to come in from, say 5 pm, to closing for dinner and fun. If you have complete control of all of you concessions, you can even include dinner in the price of the family fun dinner pass.
I agree with James Rao and others that have stated that regional theme parks should be themed to the region. Makes sense no?
Ultimately, if Six Flags is going to have any future in the themed entertainment business, it must do as Shapiro declined to do, and start a Six Flags Creative division, with a corporate creative director who oversees all new attraction development as well as the design of all capital changes or additions within the parks.
I will tell you what they shouldn't be doing as far as my family goes in relation to target demographics - cut ties with Thomas the Train. I was extremely excited when I heard the Thomas Town in Baltimore opening this past summer was their best yet - to the point I was willing to road trip 6-7 hours to go check it out next summer (my family loves theme parks, and I have two boys ages 2 and 4, perfect match). To hear they are stripping down to some cheap generic train town instead? Sorry Six Flags, you lost my money, I'll just go put my kids on the train and carosel at my local zoo instead. They had a unique experience that had enough value to earn my family's vacation dollar, and decided to abandon it, so I will in turn be abandoning them. I wish they would understand what can set them apart from generic parks and summer fairs - theme and atmosphere. Unfortunately for cost cutting purposes this is what they seem to be dropping.
Six Flags needs to sell some of its underperforming parks. When Snyder ran the company (into the ground) he overexpanded crazily; the only way to fix that mess is to sell off parks and use the proceeds to improve the remaining ones.
All Robert has to do is mention Six Flags and it is like lighting a fuse! LOL Clearly the Six Flags chain is still near and dear to the hearts of many and has a very colorful and storied history. Images of America (a book series) even produced a book on the history of Six Flags Over Georgia, recollecting the way the park used to be, prior to Disney's Florida arrival in the early 1970's. More than anything I wish I could 'visit' the SFOG park as it existed in its early years. Theming is everything, hence the name theme park....
I don't really agree with the "regional theme" concept. I live near Six Flags Discovery Kingdom but i don't want to go to a theme park and see the region i live around. I want fantasy.
Maybe just take the gang rumor and run with it. How about a gang themed area!! hehe j/k
I'm liking Joe's idea, even though he was J/K (yeah, suuurrre you were, Joe!)
I agree with most of the other comments above (at least the ones that are actually constructive). Just a few of my thoughts.
I agree wholeheartedly that season passes as well as discounted admissions are too cheap. Virtually everytime I have attended Six Flags the park has been crowded and lines long (but not outrageous) but looking at the lines coming in the park most are coming in on a discount or pass. If the park were less crowded and lines quicker (without a flashpass), I am more inclined to pay more because my experience would be much more enjoyable. Attendance is not everything. If the park is busy with season pass holders on their tenth visit yet you are not making money, your business model needs to change. I enjoy the parks and will continue to visit and will be glad to pay more for a better visit.
Perhaps issues with "actual" (e.g., Crips, Bloods) isnt an issue. However, the Six Flags in my area is overrun with "gangs" - masses of unsupervised tweens and teens dumped there by their parents and using that cheap season pass. So even if all these kids arent in actual gangs, the mob mentality tends to take over. The are loud, noisy, and disruptive. they are rude and have no regard for any type of authority, rules, or even basic manners. They are, at the very least, verbally abusive. And this is kids of ALL races - and genders. No family, particularly with young kids, want to put up with that. And while they arent necessarily pulling out Glocks and shooting up the place, it doesnt mean large numbers aren't menacing. Just try to call one out for line jumping and see what happens.
How about this one:
Six Flags America (near Washington, DC) isn't a bad place... but the people (guests) are rude. Most of them have annual passes (as I had for many years), and they use the park in place of day care for the children. Many adults drop the kids off in the morning and pick them up after work. Where else can you get a whole summer's worth of day care for about $50 per kid? Even the adults are rude. If Six Flags wants to get me back there, they would have to increase the annual pass cost. Maybe that would change the type of people going there. And the cost of food is higher than Disney World, and the quality isn't worth mentioning.
6 Flags Great America is the Theme Park closest to me,but I don't go there.They need to change two things only to get me back.More discount for senior tickets and more and better shows.As it is we have season passes to Cedar Point despite the 400 mile drive.6 Flags is only 170 miles.Cedar point gives big discounts to seniors for passes as well as regular day tickets.6 Flags could learn from them.
I haven't been to 6 Flags magic Mountain in a long time, probably early 90's. At the time I ADORED IT. Mostly because they seemed to have more wicked rides, and I am a DC fan as well as a Looney Tunes fan. But I did notice when I was there that the "kid" factor was low. I was worn out walking up & down the hills & winding around the paths sometimes lost trying to find the que.
Ultimately, I am of the opinion that the rides are the attraction. Growing up I never heard people say, "I want to go to Six Flags because I like Looney Toons or comic characters. As teenages most of us couldn't even remember the names of the rides we went on. What we remembered was the experience and we would describe the rides and the experience to our friends and say how fun it was. Now that my kids are teens and tweens, they too can't recall the names. They mix up the names of Knotts Berry Farm's rides with those at Magic Mountain and elsewhere. But what we both remembered from each generation was Magic Mountain was the place to go when you wanted to ride a variety of roller coasters. Its the best coaster park. Plain and simple.
I would suggest on going back to the regional theme. Even have a lagoon in the middle like Epcot. A few of the theme parks could even have a show like Epcot does in the lagoon, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, but with a different name, and if they did have a nighttime show like Epcot does with IllumiNations, each park's version of the show would be a little different. They could get new theming for their whole park. All of this would make an impact. Also, their "Fright Fest" Halloween event could REALLY use an upgrade. I think that it should be WAY scarier, BIGGER, and BETTER. If they actually came up with an overall theme of the event, it would be more immersive. They should use the whole park too. It should be a PG-13 event like Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Florida and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, Florida. I'm sure that there is WAY MORE STUFF that they need to change but, this would be a start.
I'm interpretting a some comments to be that the Six Flags company (that may hardly be making money) should spend tons on making thier parks and attractions more theme oriented.
I have a long-time fondness for a couple of Six Flags' parks, especially Magic Mountain and Discovery Kingdom (formerly Marine World) here in California, although my first visits to those parks came well before the Six Flags takeover, when they were independently owned (yes, that long ago). I'd hate to see either disappear, to put it mildly. I know it's a tricky situation to be daring and try completely new paths, but, frankly, my attendance waned when the parking jumped up to $10-$15 a day, and I felt like I had to really cut back on food consumption while there because I just didn't enjoy paying absurd prices (same goes for concerts and sporting events and movie theaters, by the way--I spend way less than I used to at each). So my first thought is lowering prices, and bringing in truly quality food that can make a park a destination in itself. Can you imagine going to a Six Flags because you couldn't wait to buy and eat the food? It's been a long time since that's been true. Same with the live shows--why not make them so good (live reviews that feature excellent singers and dancers, of which there are MANY within close proximity to both parks) that people come just to see the shows? This used to be true at the former Marriott's Great America back in the 70's and 80's--live review shows used to be reviewed by major daily newspapers' critics because they were so good and thousands of visitors were flocking to see them! (They were often "sold out!") Hard to believe now, but it was true back then. I'd love to feel excited about the complete package of visiting an amusement park again--the food, shows, rides, and friendly employees having fun at their jobs, making the places irresistible again. That really was how it was back then, and we couldn't wait to go, averaging far more trips per season than we do now. It's not just nostalgia--parks, shows, and food were genuinely better back then, and at least somewhat reasonably-priced to boot. Finally, many parks just aren't open at night late anymore--at least in California that's nuts, as daytimes can be hot and debilitating, nights and cooler temps and the bright neon lights giving you a second wind to enjoy the parks. I think that's why we end up choosing the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk so often in summer rather than other California parks--it's heaven there at night, and they stay open until 10 or 11pm (or even later if crowded) so that you can enjoy the nights and neon lights for at least 3 or 4 hours a night. It's magic compared to being booted out of a park by 8 or 9 pm right in the middle of summer. There's my two cents worth on the subject, highlighting the things that would make me a more avid parkgoer again.
Wow here we go again. How does one undo all the years of Six Flags damage to the parks they bought. Giving the boot to the vendor foods is a good start.But not enough. How many of there parks have lost there live entertainment? aka "The Great Arena" show. The water show. The musical reviews? Most if not all their parks have stopped them. Can the "Glow in the Dark Parade". Make each park have its own merits. Why travel form New Jersey to California and visit all the Six Flags Park when they are all the same. When they purchased the larger parks in example Magic Mountain and Great Adventure both parks had things that made them each diffrent and worth the visit. But now hay been to one been to the other. To change it and save their parks it will be needed to sell some less profitable parks. And focus on the bigger ones. And dare I say pull a Disney get back to basics. let each property stand on what makes it work instead of cookie cutter parks. Stop competting with Cedar Fair. Let them do what they do best and you do what you do best. Go back to the core essence of what each one was before. Restore what you can inprove on whats there. And work with the past to move into the future. Look back on the hay day and see what made it a sure fire hit. Let each property be true to itself.Hire those who were there in the beginning. And they will lead you to a sure fire hit. Nothing worse the a attraction being a blazingstar. A two year hit and then everyone is on to the next best thing. Clean up your act and present a new you. Smarter run more themed. Some times less is more. Theres a old millitary stament K.I.S.S.
The Six Flags chain is very capable of theming their parks without the help of an IP license. If one looks back at the chain's history, especially SFoT and SFoG, these parks were innovative and very immersive - without an IP in sight. In the early 70's, the chain (only three parks at the time) brought in the Sid & Marty Crofft team and all those memorable characters (remember H.R. Puffnstuff?), but that was pretty much it until the 1980's.
First, six flags started ruining itself when it came to profit before customer, I know that businesses are in the business to make a profit, but things like moving its corperate office to New York? How much is that costing them? also beer has turned off alot of people, the smoking policy has driven alot away, the 3 different parking areas are a joke, and I have seen them raise food prices 3 times in one season, the same ammount or less food for a higher price? When they have a themed season, why not have it? the last 3 frightfests were a joke, they have gotten away from the Texas Heritage Festival at SFOT also, why not go back to the normal music that is played throughout the park instead "six flags radio" and last quit trying to turn six flags into Disney or Universal
I'm looking forward to Great Adventure's new "regionally-themed" areas: Swampland, Toxic Waste Dump, Smoke Land (aka The New Jersey Turnpike), Jimmy Hoffa's Grave, and everyone's favorite... The Jersey Shore.
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