Theme Park Insider

SeaWorld expands its Sesame Street license, promising new park and land

May 18, 2017, 9:37 AM · SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment today announced an expansion of its licensing deal with Sesame Workshop, the producer of Sesame Street and other children's shows.

Sesame Street characters have appeared at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks for decades, with SeaWorld also owning and operating a Sesame Street-themed park, Sesame Place, north of Philadelphia. The new deal calls for SeaWorld to build a second Sesame Place theme park somewhere in the United States, as well as to add a Sesame Street land to SeaWorld's largest park — SeaWorld Orlando, the one park in the chain that has lacked any Sesame Street presence up until now.

Sesame Street provides SeaWorld with its most powerful outside IP — something the chain has lacked in competition with IP-rich Disney and Universal. Once Universal's equal, or superior, in annual attendance, the SeaWorld parks have slipped toward the attendance levels of the Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks the chain's leaders once considered a step below them, ever since SeaWorld left the protection of the Anheuser-Busch corporate umbrella (and lost the free beer) and rival Universal dropped Harry Potter on the industry.

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have been struggling to find a marketing hook that will allow them to appeal to theme park fans who seem to love the wizards, princesses, and superheroes available to them at competing parks. Even among the preschool and early elementary set that Sesame Street targets, SeaWorld has been losing ground to Legoland, which has undercut SeaWorld's family business in San Diego and now started to do so in Central Florida, too.

Will another Sesame Place park be able to compete with Legoland's ongoing expansion? Compared with Legoland, or any other theme park, the Sesame Place in Pennsylvania in tiny. Located on 14 acres tucked between shopping malls, the park offers a lightly decorated collection of standard kiddie rides: spinners, waveswingers, play areas, and water slides. It's a bulked-up version of the Sesame Street lands you would find at SeaWorld San Diego or Busch Gardens in Tampa or Williamsburg. Compare that with Legoland California and Florida — which offer robust collections of multiple themed lands, offering dozens of attractions with a wider range of ride and show experiences, including interactive dark rides, tours, robocoasters, and hands-on Lego building opportunities — and it's easy to understand why a kid rather would go to Legoland instead.

Ultimately, having a license to an intellectual property isn't as important for a theme park as what the park does with that IP. Sesame Street built its brand on educating preschool children as it entertained them on TV. It took the time to develop its human and Muppet characters, allowing young viewers to feel a relationship with them. While the Sesame Street IP fits perfectly with SeaWorld's stated corporate goal of inspiring and educating its guests, none of SeaWorld's Sesame Street attractions manages to recreate that intimate, educational experience that defines the Sesame Street TV show.

If all SeaWorld does with this expanded license is to dupe another Sesame Place in a suburban mall parking lot somewhere and rebrand Shamu's Happy Harbor in Orlando to Sesame Street Bay of Play, I would expect the market to yawn with indifference. For SeaWorld to get the jumpstart it's seeking with the public, the company needs to throw out its existing Sesame Street designs and work on creating a new experience that more closely reflects what made Sesame Street so powerful among generations of American children.

Whether it is with a ride, show, character meet, or some hybrid of all three, SeaWorld needs an experience that puts young visitors and their families in connection with the beloved Sesame Street characters — breaking the fourth wall of the television screen — so that they can discover and learn something together. And SeaWorld needs to deliver that experience within a themed environment that physically recreates the urban, Greenwich Village-look of the actual Sesame Street from the show. If you're not going to visit the "real" Sesame Street at a SeaWorld park, then what's the point of having the IP?

SeaWorld has bought itself an opportunity it sorely needs by doubling down with Sesame Street. Whether SeaWorld takes advantage of that opportunity remains to be seen.

Replies (18)

May 18, 2017 at 11:08 AM · They do need something with attendence so bad. Linking it with these characters seems a smart move and if they can be smart enough to get them with the property (think Bert and Ernie or Elmo talking of aquatic life) and a recreation of the places fans want to see, this can be the boost this park needs.
May 18, 2017 at 11:10 AM · Sesame Street isn't going to do much for SeaWorld. It is worse that Sesame Street is available to both SeaWorld and Busch Gardens so the IP is split and diluted.

SeaWorld should license more popular IP. I suggest the Aquaman IP from DC Comics as an SeaWorld exclusive. Of course, the other DC Comics featured at Six Flags like Batman, Superman, and the Joker should not be available to SeaWorld so there will be a split on what shows up. LEGOLAND still wins because they get all popular IP as Lego incarnations like Star Wars and Batman.

May 18, 2017 at 11:18 AM · I am as big of a fan of Sea World/Busch Gardens as anyone, but I think doubling down on the Sesame Street IP is a mistake. I think it does work well as a kiddie land, but I think as many theme park designers and operators are finding is that you have to keep families together. Creating a Sesame Street Land in Sea World Orlando would further split families that are already seeing teenagers and thrill seeking parents run for the park's signature roller coasters. It's a tactic that tends to work fine with regional "amusement" parks, but when you're in Orlando and competing with the likes of Disney, Universal, and now Legoland, you have to keep families together or they simply won't bother coming at all.

The idea of another Sesame Place in either Southern California or Orlando doesn't work either. What Sea World fails to note with the Sesame Street IP is that it has an extremely narrow audience base (kids from 0-5, maybe 6). Once kids get over 5 or 6 they tend to shun Sesame Street as "too kiddie", meaning Sea World Parks and Entertainment get one crack at each family in America. Once a family has kids over 6, Sesame Street characters quickly lose their appeal (even to families with a younger sibling in the target range), and some older children may even be embarrassed to spend time in a park themed around such "childish" characters. That's where Legoland would bury Sesame Place, because the Lego IP appeals to demographics from 3 all the way up to the early teens, meaning families with multiple kids (even if some are in the 0-5 target range) will instantly choose Legoland over Sesame Place because of the wider appeal. If I'm a parent of a tween, an 8 year old and a 3 year old, there's no way I'm subjecting the older kids to Sesame Place for the sake of their youngest sibling.

For Legoland, a bigger net means more fish, but even so, the Florida park is not lighting the world on fire, mostly due to its out of the way location in Winter Garden (nearly an hour from WDW and UO). Even with a location closer to the other theme parks, a hypothetical Sesame Place Florida would be fishing with the equivalent of a slotted spoon and directly against the worldwide leader in attracting ages 0-5 (Magic Kingdom).

Sesame Place north of Philly works because it is really small and does a great job catering to their very narrow target audience near an extremely dense population center (NYC Metro). They also have some of the most friendly policies in the industry to guests with disabilities.
There's also little competition for that demographic with Dorney Park, Hershepark, and Six Flags Great Adventure catering more towards older kids and teens. If a similar park were to open in Orlando, it would face a similar challenge to target to this narrow demographic without the luxury of a large population center to support it against the stiffest competition in the world (Southern California may work). Tourists don't travel to Sesame Place in PA, and I doubt tourists are going to seek out Sesame Place in Orlando or Southern California.

May 18, 2017 at 11:39 AM · Does anyone else agree that SeaWorld has been floundering badly since they lost the corporate ownership and good leadership of Anheuser-Busch?

Although AB makes lousy beer, they were very good owners of the SeaWorld brand, continuously pouring resources into all the SeaWorld parks to open fresh exhibits, upgrade existing shows and open new rides that made them very rewarding experiences every bit as compelling as the Disney parks. The current managers haven't figured out what made SeaWorld work under AB's deft leadership and haven't made the changes necessary in senior management to pursue a different path forward.

It's too bad, because SeaWorld has a very compelling theme that's being grossly underutilized in the theme park world. With a return to good leadership, I strongly believe it can become a world-class brand once again.

- Brian from Florida

May 18, 2017 at 11:59 AM · I love 'The Count', always counting no matter what happens. He's my favourite. Along with Supergrover.
May 18, 2017 at 12:14 PM · Anton, I doubt Aquaman would be available as Six Flags does use it, although not as extensively as Batman & Superman obviously. With an Aquaman film coming out, I doubt Six Flags would be willing to part with those IP rights unless they get compensated handsomely.
This is the second new land that they're planning in addition the rainforest land to be developed around their new river ride. Throw in the recently opened Antarctica land, and continued development with coasters and VR, and it's clear that SeaWorld Orlando is looking to move forward. Factor in all the the alterations to live animals shows and we may have a park 5 years from now that is 90% different than what it was 5 years ago.
Unfortunately for them, it still might not be enough to stay competitive in the Orlando market.
May 18, 2017 at 12:21 PM · I think Sea World should take a risk with Sesame Street. I agree that the lands that already exist need to be redesigned, however if Sea World really wants to whip out the big guns, then it needs to think in terms of Fantasyland at Disney, meaning it needs the family style dark rides, whether it be standard track rides like Winnie The Pooh or water track rides like It's A Small World or Pirates of the Caribbean, but it should add family rides like that. Perhaps keeping 1 or 2 of the kiddie rides, but definitely investing heavily in immersing the guests into the concept of the theme of the area, meaning they don't have to necessarily recreate the urban city look, which wouldn't work at Sea World or Busch Gardens, but being that the theme concept of either Bay of Play or Safari of Fun creates images of the outdoors, the target level of theming should be similar to the level of detail Disney puts into its Animal Kingdom park, namely the new Pandora: World of Avatar which from pictures looks stunning. So attract them in with an incredible look, then keep them in with immersive family dark rides or family carnival rides like the Tea Cups or a well themed family coaster like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It can be done, again Sea World should take the risk and invest heavily.
May 18, 2017 at 3:31 PM · They should license the Fox's Blue Sky Studios characters, the characters from Rio would be a nice addition to Buschgardens and they could retheme the Antarctica to Ice Age. Or maybe try a deal with Warner Bros to get Cartoon Network and Hannah-Barbera characters.
May 18, 2017 at 3:48 PM · People pay to visit zoos all the time and few people complain about the predicament of the animals (in fact, in our Oregon Zoo, it's often applauded for its habitats). I know that SeaWorld has made mistakes in the past, but they're obviously doing all that they can to give back to the oceans that gave them their namesake. I can't understand how people can be okay with zoos but hate SeaWorld. If you're going to be mad at them, then I guess we should also be mad at Disney for putting on their Flight of Wonder show or for using horses on Main Street. SeaWorld contributes millions of dollars to research and conservation, and because of the Blackfish documentary, they are vilified. They seem to be making serious steps in the right direction, and as with any institution that employs thousands of people, I wish them the best. This valuable IP could, if used well, help them inject some life into their parks.
May 18, 2017 at 3:55 PM · I agree with the above poster regarding detailed theming and immersion in the lands, but I'm going to have half disagree about the rides you suggest. If they had any track record of getting it right then sure, but their family style dark rides are terrible. Trying to beat Disney at their own game may be a lost cause for SeaWorld.
Themed family coaster and carnival style rides, go for it.
But I just don't trust them to put together story-driven or highly-detailed dark rides like Pooh or Pirates, especially after riding their Antarctica disaster.
May 18, 2017 at 4:41 PM · I don't have a problem with a Sesame Street presence at a Sea World park. My fear is that they will do a *half-fast* job, and it'll be underwhelming.

Now, if Sea World Orlando wanted to go all out and make an immersive land, that takes the Sesame Street people know and/or remember, and enhance it for a live audience and park guests, I'd be all for it. I just don't think they have the capital or foresight to do something that big.

As for Aquaman, it could work if they go with the orange and green costumed, clean-shaven blonde guy. But if they go with the bearded and tattooed Jason Mamoa, dark and gritty DC Universe version, it would be an epic fail on so many levels.

I think DC would sell Sea World the rights to the character in a limited capacity, as there are no Six Flags parks anywhere near Orlando, and Six Flags IS a park that would work with the upcoming movie version. It's almost like it's not the same character.

But I digress. I'd love to see Sea World create a colorful, fun, and immersive miniland based on Sesame Street. I just don't see it happening to the level that they'd need, in order to compete with the big boys up/down the road.

May 18, 2017 at 6:44 PM · Low cost and low risk (especially since most everything is already there), and could draw more attention to the Sesame Street character dining they already have. This is pretty much a no-lose addition.

However I think we can all agree it won't change anything regarding their fortunes.

May 19, 2017 at 3:22 AM · Just look at Busch Gardens Tampa. They re-skinned the kid's area with Sesame Street and added a new coaster and a really nice water play area. The anemically small kid's water play area in Shamu's Happy Harbor at SeaWorld Orlando definitely needs some help. So many kids jammed on a tiny little pad vying to cool off.

Probably didn't cost Busch Gardens a ton of money to convert the land to Sesame Street but it is definitely a big hit with the kids. Kids of all ages by the way. There are as many kids in the 6-12 range playing there as there are under 6. So the notion that Sesame Street will only appeal to a very narrow audience of ages 1-5 or 6 doesn't ring true in my experience.

SeaWorld has publically stated that they plan to take a "more with less" approach in terms of attractions. So I would NOT expect a complete replacement of the current Shamu's Happy Harbor. It seems this will also coincide time-wise with the replacement of One Ocean (AKA the Shamu Show.) This also serves to decouple the connection between animals and entertainment within SeaWorld, something they have stated will be a big part of their strategy moving forward.

May 19, 2017 at 9:36 AM · >>>Sesame Street land to SeaWorld's largest park — SeaWorld Orlando, the one park in the chain that has lacked any Sesame Street presence up until now

Sea World should really double down on this, until at least they can come up with some new showstopper like Shamu. The Sesame License does have a big problem admittedly - its only going to appeal to familes with an under 5, and you need something else for the other kids to do. But for those with an under 5 it is an international must-do.

This should be the keystone in their post-shamu transition plan.

May 19, 2017 at 7:02 PM · So here's how you bring Sesame Street into SeaWorld in an immersive, educational way that aligns with SeaWorld's educational and environmental goals:

Oscar's World of Trash. Ride vehicle takes you down into Oscar's trash can and shows how what you throw away impacts the oceans, and what you, as a 5-year-old, can bug your parents to do about it.

May 20, 2017 at 3:51 AM · The past few weekends, Busch Gardens hosted their annual Sesame Street Weekends event. It drew very large crowds (as it does every year) ... so the interest in the Sesame Street IP is there. It just needs to be layered in to the park properly.

Oscar's World of Trash ... give that man a contract!

May 20, 2017 at 3:54 PM · I've said it before. Disney should have made a play for SeaWorld purely for Sesame Street IP, then added that to the muppets to have a dedicated Henson based park to fix DHS. And then fifth gated a star wars/marvel adventure park. I'd go to actual a copy of Sesame Street amd it would have fit with the streets of New York!
May 20, 2017 at 9:13 PM · Wouldn't Sesame Street draw a very "small" crowd?

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