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Magic Mountain to become Six Flags' first full year-round park

August 23, 2017, 10:19 AM · Six Flags Magic Mountain announced today that it will switch to a full year-round schedule in 2018. The Valencia, Calif. park now operates throughout the year but only on weekends for much of the school year.

All other Six Flags parks around the country operate on a seasonal basis, closing after Halloween or Christmas, then reopening in spring. But in Southern California, the Disneyland parks and Universal Studios Hollywood open every day of the year, and Knott's Berry Farm opens every day but Christmas, putting Six Flags Magic Mountain at a disadvantage against other Los Angeles and Orange County theme parks. The operational switch should provide Six Flags Magic Mountain with an attendance boost, as fans no longer have to check to see if the park is open on any given day. They can just go.

"With the best collection of thrills in the world and the Six Flags brand expanding globally, this is the perfect time for one of our flagship properties to make the business transition to a 365-day operating schedule in order to maximize travel industry opportunities," Jim Reid-Anderson, Chairman, President and CEO of Six Flags Entertainment Corporation, said in a statement. "We can also now further leverage our thrill brand to the population base of 24-million Southern Californians and take advantage of new shoulder season business growth."

Now, even though a park is scheduled to be open every day of the year, weather can change those plans. The Disney and Universal parks typically stay open in what we soft Southern Californians consider "inclement weather," but that's because they have many more indoor and covered attractions that can run in the rain. Knott's and Six Flags Magic Mountain, with their heavier emphasis on coasters and outdoor rides, closed several days due to rain over the past winter. So let's put it this way: With its new year-round schedule, Six Flags Magic Mountain now will be open every day of the year that anyone actually will want to go. (What can I say? We're wimps about going out in the rain around here.)

Sunny winter weekdays actually might turn out to become the best days to visit the park, as fans can escape the typically scorching Santa Clarita valley heat from the rest of the year. The questions for fans then become... how many of the parks' coasters will be operating on any given day during the winter, and at what capacity?

"Off season" months typically bring much shorter lines... but at the cost of not being able to get on certain attractions due to refurbishments. That's been an issue on winter weekends at Six Flags Magic Mountain but should become more of an issue in 2018 as running coasters more often throughout the year presumably would necessitate accelerating their refurbishment schedules. Six Flags could minimize that need by keeping more coasters closed during the winter months and reducing capacity on those that do run, but that then runs the risk of generating frustration among fans who do show at the park during the extra operating days.

So there's a whole slew of operational questions involved when expanding a park's calendar. But if operating more days leads to higher attendance, which makes a park more money, then there's an incentive to keep the cycle spinning forward by offering even more to those new fans. That's the business model that Disney and Universal have followed to great success, so we will see if Six Flags tries heading down that route, as well.

Of course, world-class IP helps, too. Time for a "Winter with Wonder Woman" festival at Magic Mountain?

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Replies (25)

August 23, 2017 at 10:29 AM · Ah the benefits of California. Although in Illinois, we enjoy the videos of them doing construction of big roller coasters at Great America with snow about.
August 23, 2017 at 11:00 AM · I'm so curious to know what the employee make up is at this park. Most seasonal parks are operated by High School and College aged employees which is perfect. When school opens, the parks close and staff goes back to school.
One of the reasons I think DollyWood is the leader in regional parks for Guest Service is that you see so many employees who are more mature service providers.
I'm also curious to know what kind of attendance they are budgeting against for, say a Wednesday in the middle of January. It's a huge dis-pleaser as a paying guest to walk past closed F&B and Merch. locations in search of a place to get a meal.
I think it's great that Magic Mountain is going for this, I just hope they offer a fully functional park for the price of admission.
August 23, 2017 at 11:01 AM · So, so, so excited about this. But my "Winter with Wonder Woman" suggestion was not in jest. The park will need to do a lot to reverse the market conditioning that it is closed on weekdays during the school year. It needs some fun events - and people posting about crazy short waits for coasters - in order to draw the crowds to make this the money-winner for the company that it could become.
August 23, 2017 at 11:17 AM · Does this mean they'll have the revenue to make the park not feel like a complete dump? Seriously, would it kill them to paint a coaster every once in a while or theme an area? Sheesh.
August 23, 2017 at 11:23 AM · Now that it'll be open 365 days a year it makes sense to build an onsite hotel and maybe even a Citywalk type shopping/dining district.
August 23, 2017 at 11:37 AM · What they should probably do is a rotation of rides throughout the winter season. Instead of running everything at reduced capacity, pick sections of the park to keep closed a week or two at a time, rotating those closures throughout the park during the winter months. As long as they post the schedule on their website and at the front gate, they shouldn't have any problems. There's absolutely no reason for SFMM to have everything open on a Wednesday in February, and their balance sheet would probably suggest that they probably shouldn't pay to staff a full park on projected low attendance days. Through a rotation, not only do they reduce costs and establish expectations, but they would encourage repeat visits from season passholders that want to experience the entire park without the oppressive weekend and summertime crowds. Six Flags has been really getting their act together in terms of trying to improve their reputation and customer service, but if they don't do this right, it could severely backfire. Here's hoping they make this work, because I'd be the first in line to ride X2 on a Tuesday in January.
August 23, 2017 at 11:48 AM · Per Rob's point about food, having enough open and enough choice is key.

I visited Six Flags Over Texas the Friday prior to Memorial Day 2016. I left hungry as there were very few food locations open, maybe 1/3. Perhaps a rainy morning that kept away the crowds kept locations closed (lucky for me, as the afternoon was beautiful).

Aside from a single BBQ location, most stands were selling the same dozen food items: chicken fingers, hot dogs, frozen lemonades. I looked for an iced coffee or an ice cream—no luck. They lost out on revenue by operating too efficiently.

August 23, 2017 at 1:30 PM · Good points, Russell. I mean, yes, an attraction but not Disney sized who pull in families during the week. After all, Magic Mountain caters more to young adult, high school-college and hard to see too many of them taking a day off from school to do this. Rotations can help and do hope it means more upgrading as Six Flags is so used to a seasonal schedule, moving to year-round is going to be as off-balance for them as the customers.
August 23, 2017 at 3:03 PM · Ha ha if theme parks in the U.K. Closed when it was raining they'd hardly ever be open
August 23, 2017 at 3:39 PM · @Rob McCullough

Although when they opened, park staff were very much the high school/college summer break type, over time they've come to resemble the rest of the California service industry makeup. In short, they're largely Hispanic, overwhelmingly adult, and most working multiple jobs.

This could actually be a good thing for staff retention and development, since many more employees should be able to get enough hours to be full-time (assuming Six Flags doesn't intentionally limit people's hours to avoid paying benefits, which we all know they will).

August 23, 2017 at 3:47 PM · Thanks Malltus I worked at SFOG for almost 10 years through the 80s and 90s. At the time we were almost exclusively all College and High School aged. I was shocked to discover recently that due to changes to school schedules in Georgia, that park now goes from daily back to weekend only operation after the first week of August! I have to assume because there would be nobody available to work in the park, much less visit as a guest. Hard to believe they are only open daily for barely two months. I really hope this goes well for Magic Mountain.
August 23, 2017 at 4:01 PM · An interesting decision, weren't they ridiculously close to selling off this park a few years back?
August 23, 2017 at 9:25 PM · I wonder now if the idea of a Six Flags park in Florida would be of more interest if the year round operation of SFMM proves beneficial to the company. Either Orlando or Tampa are prime "real estate" areas when it comes to theme park properties. Perhaps building a Six Flags park somewhere near Lakeland, FL which is basically the halfway point along I-4 between Orlando and Tampa which would provide some competition to nearby Legoland Florida as well as Busch Gardens Tampa and the Orlando theme parks. Given Florida's climate, the park would be able to operate year round as well. Six Flags could also incorporate a year round Hurricane Harbor water park with the theme park and turn it into a resort complex.
August 23, 2017 at 9:27 PM · Almost but they survived
August 23, 2017 at 10:31 PM · This is really exciting news, but I hope it is a successful move for the park. I don't know what the actual numbers are, but on current off-season weekdays that the park is open, it feels like there can't be more than a couple thousand guests at the park. Given the location of the park and the audience it attracts, I find it difficult to imagine they'll actually be making a profit by opening more. Perhaps the numbers are better than I realize, but it is definitely an unexpected move.

As for closing coasters in the off season, I don't think that is likely. However, closing non-coaster rides (pretty much anything except Lex Luthor and Justice League would probably be fair game) and running one train on all but the most popular coasters is probably a realistic picture.

August 24, 2017 at 6:08 AM · I don't know why they would stretch to operate all of the coasters on a slow day AJ. Think about it, a coaster operating in single train mode still requires at least a skeleton crew, honestly it actually requires more crew to make sure the train can be dispatched more quickly since load time more dramatically affects throughput in single train operation (but we all know in the SF world that single train means skeleton crew). I've been at SFMM when everything is in single train operation, and it's terrible. Lines are artificially long, and it takes FOREVER to ride just a handful of coasters, even when the park is virtually empty. I would much rather go knowing I can actually get on 10 coasters that are running in multi-train mode (maybe a few re-rides too), with the rest of them closed completely, over going on a day where all 19 coasters are open but running in single train mode, meaning I'll struggle to get on 6-8 of them over the course of the day. Not only is it better for the guests, because everyone will actually be able to ride everything that's open with lines that actually move, but it's better for the park because they don't need to staff up with crew to operate every single coaster every single day. It also allows SFMM to create a predictable, rotating schedule of maintenance, which will be needed anyway since the park will no longer have any downtime aside from overnight periods. Additionally, by predictably rotating operations around the park in the off-season, they can encourage pass holders to come to the park every few weeks to ride the coasters that are running at the time, hoping to get those guests to spend some money in the park every few weeks instead of just one nice warm Saturday over the winter.
August 24, 2017 at 7:40 AM · Obviously, the financial picture dictates how this will operate. But, saying "Hey, we're open 365 days/year!" then closing rides would be a PR nightmare. I would feel completely ripped off.

I'm wondering if this is a move toward an emphasis on SF annual passes. Selling another 10,000 of those would certainly make this a worthwhile move. The rest of the Southern California market thrives on that model, so it makes sense for SF to do the same.

August 24, 2017 at 8:07 AM · "But, saying "Hey, we're open 365 days/year!" then closing rides would be a PR nightmare. I would feel completely ripped off."

I don't think so, as long as they're up front about which rides are closed at any given time. At some point rides will have to be taken down for maintenance, or break because they're being run 365 days a year. The park is going to naturally be less crowded on winter weekdays, so why push to have every ride open for a few thousand people? Rotate closures around the park in the low season, but just make sure that guests know up front what's open and what's closed.

Disney and Universal do the same thing. Splash Mountain is going down during my visit to WDW in October, and while it's upsetting that it's not running while I'm there (I went 3 straight visits to IOA when Dudley Do Right was down), I don't feel "ripped off", because there's plenty of stuff to do in the MK to fill a day. I've known for months about the closure and could have changed the dates of my visit if a ride on Splash Mountain was essential to my WDW vacation.

If SFMM closed just 3-4 of their coasters on any given day, there's still plenty to do. SFMM arguably has 6 world class, unique, destination coasters: X2, Tatsu, Full Throttle, Goliath (arguable since it's almost an exact copy of Titan), Twisted Colossus, and Riddler's Revenge. As long as 4 or 5 of those are running along with a half dozen of the other coasters, almost every guest should go home happy. Certainly if I planned a trip a year or more in advance and found out that my planned trip fell on a day that X2 and Tatsu would be down, I'd be upset, but I wouldn't feel ripped off. After all, coasters/attraction could go down at any time even if they're scheduled to be operating, so a walk through any theme park gates could lead to frustration from closed rides and the feeling of being ripped off. At least SF could let people know ahead of time, while still making sure all of the coasters receive their needed annual maintenance. If SF is really doing this as a way to lure more people into buying season passes, locals can much more easily plan around announced closures, reducing the likelihood of guests feeling ripped off.

August 24, 2017 at 11:28 AM · Russell, I can't say for sure what SFMM will be like, but I've done plenty of midweek visits to Knott's on midweek off-season days. There, it is not uncommon for all coasters to run one train, and even under those conditions there are usually barely enough riders to fill each train. Unless something needs to be closed for maintenance, the park keeps all major attractions open on a daily basis while closing some smaller attractions (flat rides) on low attendance days. My best guess is that SFMM will do something similar, and probably have similar crowds. One train operation is awful when the park is busy, but it makes no sense to use two if half the seats would be going empty on most cycles.

I do see an argument for a rotating maintenance cycle, and I do think it would be reasonable to take one or two coasters down at a time. However, most non-enthusiast passholders that I know simply will not visit if their favorite ride is closed, so minimizing closed coasters is probably necessary to keep attendance acceptable. Also, if the park intends to attract more tourist traffic (which I'm guessing is part of the reason behind this), they need to keep everything open as much as they can. Closing major rides simply to save on staffing would be shooting themselves in the foot on that front.

August 24, 2017 at 12:09 PM · I see your point AJ, but SFMM is far more sprawling than Knott's, and they have enough headliners that 2 or 3 can be down on any given day and most guests won't even notice. Based on my limited off-season experiences at SFMM (4 visits on early spring Sundays where they were single-training everything except X/X2 and Tatsu), I'd much rather see them commit to running 75% of their rides at a reasonable capacity (while doing needed maintenance on the other 25%) instead of single training everything.

They can still operate the whole park on weekends and holidays, but I don't see any reason for them to try to run every coaster just for a handful of coaster fanboys. It will be interesting to see what they do, and if they're able to sustain 365-day operations beyond 2018.

August 24, 2017 at 12:30 PM · While this will be great for customers in the sense of not having to plan which day you're going to go based around the days they are open, and also great for staff that are looking for hours, let's be serious it's Six Flags we all know on the really slow weekdays in the middle of winter the park is going to lose money and a lot of attractions will be closed.
August 24, 2017 at 3:19 PM · Pretty sure 6 Flags Discovery Kingdom is open at least weekends all year. They debuted New Revolution Galactic Attack on Kong in February of this year.
August 25, 2017 at 5:41 AM · @Marc - The news here is not that SFMM is opening year round (they too were open on weekends throughout the winter months), it's that they will be open weekdays, so essentially will be adopting a 365-day annual calendar, consistent with Disney and Universal. That's pretty big news for seeing as though it will increase their number of operating days by probably 50%.
August 25, 2017 at 5:52 AM · I'm just correcting the statement (2nd paragraph) that Magic Mountain was the only 6 Flags park that isn't seasonal. It was one of two parks open all year, even if weekends only in the off season, the other being Discovery Kingdom. I've also experienced Knotts on a school day, so 365 day operation at Magic Mountain is a welcome development indeed
August 25, 2017 at 9:40 AM · Gotcha Marc. I believe SFFT and SFoT also run an almost year-round schedule with weekend operations during the winter months, so SFDK is not alone in that regard.

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