What will Harry Potter mean for Universal Studios Hollywood?
Published: December 9, 2011 at 3:17 PM
Ticket prices are going up
Remember that fabulous $99-for-seven-days steal of a ticket deal at the Universal Orlando theme parks? Yeah, that went away when Harry Potter arrived. So I'm guessing that we should get ready to say goodbye to Universal Studios Hollywood's annual buy-a-day, get-the-year-free annual pass deal within the next couple of years, too.
No one else in my family has an annual pass to a local theme park. But that's going to change when Butterbeer is available 15 minutes down the road. And I expect that thousands of other Southern Californians will make the same decision. With all those new customers looking to buy annual passes, Universal Studios Hollywood won't have to (essentially) give them away any longer. Universal learned in Florida that Harry Potter allows it to raise ticket prices and still see attendance jump. Expect the same in Los Angeles.
Parking is going to get tough, unless…
Universal Studios Hollywood is the only major theme park I know of that does not offer unlimited free parking to its annual passholders. (Free parking is available only if you enter the garage before 5pm.) That's because the popularity of its original CityWalk as a night-time entertainment destination helps fills Universal's parking lots in the evenings, with plenty of people paying $10-15 a car to park.
Add in thousands of new annual passholders, and things are going to get tight. If Universal further restricts parking for annual passholders, that will hold down the number of people who buy passes, cutting into Universal's Butterbeer and merchandise sales, and hurting the return on their Harry Potter investment. If anything, Universal needs to start offering unlimited free parking with its APs, to encourage even more people to buy more expensive annual passes.
But the only way to do that is to either increase the size of the parking garages (incredibly expensive), or get rid of something that's hogging a lot of the parking spaces in the evening.
Score one more reason to get rid of the Gibson Amphitheater.
That's right - What Will Disney Do?
Harry Potter has been Universal's first real hit on Disney in Orlando since the resort opened in 1990. Will Potter have the same impact on Disneyland?
Disneyland's rarely faced any significant challenges in the Southern California theme park market. Magic Mountain, with its emphasis on thrill rides, appeals to a different segment of the market. Knott's is moving more and more toward Magic Mountain's thrill seekers, and so far as it still appeals to families, hits a different price point than Disneyland, appealing most to families who can't afford Disney.
SeaWorld's too far away to be significant competition. I think Legoland's the only park that's ever hit Disney in its core market, but it's only really peeled off families with elementary-aged children in San Diego County - that's not a huge percentage of Disneyland's market. And those families come back to Disneyland when their kids hit puberty, anyway.
Universal's been a one-day diversion for visitors from outside the LA area. It's never had the repeat-visit appeal to locals that Disneyland has had. Harry Potter changes that, though. Especially following the introduction of Transformers, which is coming in April. The addition of Transformers and Harry Potter can make Universal an appealing alternative for hundreds of thousands of Disney passholders who live in Los Angeles County. (Disneyland is located south of LA, in Orange County.) I can't believe that Disneyland would let that happen without a response.
Leading us to…
This is just step one
And as we've learned from Orlando, when Disney responds to Universal (New Fantasyland, Avatar), Harry Potter has given Universal the resources to respond right back (Harry Potter expansion). Frankly, as a theme park fan in SoCal, I get giddy thinking about all the wonderful new attractions as Disney/Universal theme park war might deliver.
Bring it on.