Robert Niles

Published: March 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Shapiro also said that the company has no plans to close any U.S. parks, and is expanding by looking at new parks outside the U.S. (He noted Dubai and South Korea.)

I pressed him on U.S. expansion, and he said that the company had no plans for a new U.S. park. As for the persistent rumor about a Six Flags Florida, he said that the Florida market was always something for Six Flags to consider, but that he had no plans for it.

Todd Houts

Published: March 23, 2009 at 12:19 PM

I'm curious, Robert. Did you ask about St. Louis specifically or did Shapiro bring it up? If it was Mark, then it is encouraging that he knows the park has problems. It actually has a nice selection of rides, an improved kiddie section (although oddly placed along pre-existing walkways) and recent additions like Tony Hawk's Big Spin and Evel Kneivel.

But in terms of customer service, I'm not sure which is worse: SFStL or SF America. (The place I've noticed the biggest change is SF Kentucky Kingdom. In fact that manager watches the coaster forums and responds to suggestions. I, among others, have showered him with praise for a well run park.) Here's an idea Mark: move him to SFStL and let him fix that!

James Rao

Published: March 23, 2009 at 1:17 PM

When Robert asked for questions to give Mr. Shapiro, I was pretty vocal about the condition of the STL park (which I visited late last year). And, I appreciate Mr. Shaprio's honesty about not being able to get to everything in two years, however, that means to me that SFSTL is not high on the priority list (BTW, no one surveyed me about the park when I was there!). Still, I like what I hear from Shapiro, and I like the way he thinks. I wish him the best and while I personally don't have plans to go to a Six Flags park this year, I still want the company to have success reinventing itself.

One more comment: I really liked Shaprio's down-to-earth communication. Saying the Texas Giant needed "some love", now that is definitely not something a big time exec is usually going to say! I think he really wants to improve the brand and make Six Flags a better, more family friendly experience. I am willing to give the man some time, and appreciate his honesty and candor.

Nice job, Robert!

Derek Potter

Published: March 23, 2009 at 2:16 PM

"We're not in competition with Disney," Shapiro replied. "Disney requires a plane trip, an extended hotel stay, and," he added with a laugh, "an extensive outlay in merchandise purchases."

That's the Six Flags advantage that they can exploit heavily this year. Orlando trips are expensive, people are staying close to home this year, and are on a budget. Market the crap out of those three facts in one form or another along with a positive spin on Six Flags. There is huge potential for them to get some market share this year.

Anthony Murphy

Published: March 23, 2009 at 2:31 PM

"We are not a competitior" was something I always thought and wondered why they were having troubles with money. Six Flags is the local park and the Season Pass is proabably the best deal at Six Flags. The only thing Disney has over them is parking. Why so expensive

Now I am only speaking about SFGA, but I am curious if it is at the other parks as well. SFGA honestly seemed to do very well last season. In fact, they have a new attraction being built on a sizable footprint and unveiled a new roller coaster last year (no matter how bad it was). It was also $35 to enter through the gate without a discount from Coke Cans or Jewel (which makes it cheaper). I paid 70 last year for my Season Pass, 60 this year (got it early!)What about you out there?

Robert Niles

Published: March 23, 2009 at 2:31 PM

I brought up StL as a specific example of a park that TPI users (notably James) had complained wasn't improving like some of the others in the chain.

Look, Shapiro's a CEO. His job is to be upbeat about every aspect of the organization. I wish I'd better audio quality with my recording so I could have posted the complete interview for everyone to hear. There's interesting stuff if you note the details between proclamations.

He said that improving the parks was an at least three year project. This is the start of year three. Will every park in the chain see improvements by the end of this year? You'll be able to tell us.

He didn't rule out formal bankruptcy, and if creditors don't deal, Six Flags won't have a choice. He really ripped on Premier Parks for destroying value in the company before Dan Snyder's team arrived. They truly do understand how badly the Six Flags value has been trashed.

I found interesting the statement that Six Flags doesn't compete with Disney. Of course it does. It's not a direct competition, a la Universal Orlando vs. Walt Disney World, but all out-of-home, all-day entertainment competes with each other, whether it be theme parks, a day skiiing or going to a NASCAR race. What Six Flags is trying to do is to position itself as a different type of family get-away than Disney offers.

In essence, Six Flags is trying to turn back the clock to the days before Disney redefined a theme park visit as a week-long vacation. Given Disney's success in doing that, Six Flags is going to need to do some significant promotion to reestablish the one-day family theme park trip as a priority for the public. (Instead of the one-day visit being what a gaggle of teen-agers does.) That you offer the alternative isn't enough. You've got to convince the public that your alternative is a worthy one.

This isn't just the topic for an advertising campaign, though a more aggressive one will be required. It demands a complete marketing campaign, including efforts to reach out via websites and other publications to model one-day and weekend visitation plans for families, so people can envision what a fun, engaging and worthy Six Flags visit looks like. Disney's did that with the week-long model, but it took years.

And, FWIW, I loved the dig at Disney over the whole Disney merchandise fetish. I know, Disney's laughing all the way to bank on that one, but the extent to which people will blow money on Disney stuff amazes me, and I think Shapiro's spot on in identifying that some families want to avoid getting caught on *that* ride.

Mark Mahoney

Published: March 23, 2009 at 2:52 PM

If I were to buy a Six Flags Season Pass for Six Flags Over Georgia because it is cheaper than the pass is on sale for at my home park (SFGA), would the five free tickets for friends be transferable to all six flags parks like the pass itself? Any answers would be appreciated.
Anthony Murphy

Published: March 23, 2009 at 4:43 PM

I believe its for your home park, but if SFGA is the one you are going to, you might as well keep it at SFGA since your coupon and discounts will only be good at the Georgia Park.

And speaking of the Disney merch. dig, he has not leg to stand on since Disney has started to put some of their stuff in his park stores. The one thing I do not like is Six Flags selling off parts of the parks to Disney, Home Depot, and Geico, especially Geico. SFGA is sometimes like a giant Geico commercial.

Oh and more kiddie rides I think is needed for them too!

Don Neal

Published: March 23, 2009 at 6:33 PM

Thanks for the interview Robert. I gotta say true or not, their approach to "not a competitor to Disney" is great marketing. It's about the only angle they have. Run with it. I've never been to a Six Flags park. But with Chicago and Louisville just hours away, I might consider it some day if most of what he says is true. Good for them!
Joshua Counsil

Published: March 23, 2009 at 11:11 PM

What confidence he presents! Good for him.

Though I, too, think that they are a competitor of Disney. They are both major amusement chains.

Good luck.