(I believe EE was started back in '03)
So for him to be there 4 years from a theme park fan standpoint I am going to have to vote disappointment. I am all set with another Stitch like show.
While heavy discounts and gun-shy guest spending may have hurt the bottom line the fact that the parks continue to dominate the theme park industry-- outpacing the competition by tens of millions of visitors annually -- the work of Mr. Rasulo has to be regarded as a success. Period.
I Respond: I visit the WDW parks at least a dozen times a year. Assuming that can be described "frequent" I am trying to figure out the specific cutbacks you are referring to and the quantity that constitutes a description of "a lot."
I Respond: Why?! I mean, please explain how the marketing strategy employed by Disney has been lacking. Again, compared to other parks, Disney attendance has been solid.
"OK, we're experiencing a huge jump in annual pass sales. AP holders generally take up more parking spaces, spend less on food and beverage in the park, create unmanageable crowds whenever something new opens, and generally throw off the who idea of peak and off seasons. Thus, parking is a mess, per-cap spending is down, and the park is over-crowded."
"So what should we do about this?"
"Clearly, we need to get more people to buy APs by raising the price of single day tickets proportionally more than APs and offering monthly payments, charge more for food while decreasing quality and quantity, and take away formerly free good-will, good value perks like free embroidery on overpriced Mickey ears."
"Wait, we're going to expand the AP ranks even though they hurt our bottom line while destroying any hint of value during the worst recession we've seen since this park opened, at the same time that deflationary forces are guiding every other business in the world to lower prices?"
"Brilliant idea. We should charge extra for putting tomatoes on the burgers too."
OK, so that conversation never happened (at least, not that I heard in person) but that about summarizes how the parks and resorts people reacted to economic problems. I've had the privilege of working with some really great guys in the finance department who really get it. They do their jobs well and provide value to both the company and the guests. Unfortunately, it seems like the prevailing attitude is that the best way to get more money from the guests is to charge them completely repulsive prices while relentlessly cutting quality and quantity. You can't blame that completely on Rasulo, but he allowed it to happen under his watch and he just didn't get the parks or take a real legitimate interest in what was really going on at the parks and resorts themselves. I judge him a failure and can't wait to see him go. Sure he was better than Presler, but that's just because you couldn't do any worse. Likewise, Staggs won't have to try to hard to do better than Rasulo. The bar remains very, very low.
The right strategy has been adopted throughout the slowdown, with an emphasis on keeping and gaining market share during the recession even if it does come at the cost of lower revenues and profit margins.
However, he was on hand in 2006 when Expedition Everest was added and in 2008 when TSMM hit both coasts, so at least one of those thumbs has to come back up. For good or for ill, most all of the Finding Nemo tie-ins (the subs, the Seas, and the musical at DAK) were added to the parks in 2006/2007 as well.
Additionally, with work proceeding on the Disney Cruise Line, a new park being added in Shanghai, and the expansion coming to both HKDL and DLP, the company is certainly headed in the right direction. Furthermore, the expansion that is currently taking place at DCA and coming to WDW's Fantasyland should be duly noted.
As an outsider looking in, and based on the superficial things I have listed, I'd have to say his tenure was pretty successful. Not perfect, but things could have been a lot worse, I guess.
My thoughts? How can marketing the Disney parks as one big homogenous "product" ultimately result in positive outcomes for Disney? Sure, one could argue that "Disney Magic" is what the parks are hawking, and that this intangible (Disney Magic) is present in every park the world over. So--just as a customer should expect the riblets at Applebees to taste the same whether they were in stores in New York, Kansas City, or Shanghai--a guest to any Disney park the world over should expect the same "Magical" experience.
As theme park enthusiasts, we know that really isn't the case. A visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom is not the same as a visit to DCA. We can argue the subjective points of how similiar, or how different, these experiences are. But instead, just consider the confusion among guests who don't appreciate the nuances that some of us might...
How many people do you know who have gone to WDW for years and, upon visiting Disneyland for the first time, wonder why the castle is so small? How many guests think that they'll find Mr Toad at the Magic Kingdom?
The variety offered by the many Disney parks already creates confusion. Why compound that problem by presenting these parks as a single dagwood sandwich when no one destination will have the ingredients to deliver on that promise?
Consider this: When DCA opens its big new Carsland, what do you do? With the global "Disney Parks" approach, do you present that big new thing as if it exists at every park--furthering the confusion? Or, do you opt not to show off your new attraction, in essence not taking advantage of a huge capital expenditure?
The current marketing strategy is taking place in parallel with solid performance from the parks (given the global recession). Do not confuse that as a causal relationship.
And, even if that marketing strategy is working, ask yourself if it's sustainable. What do you do with World of Color, Carsland, the big Fantasyland Expansion, Mystic Manor, and all the other park-exclusive attractions that are rolling out over the next 5 years?
Luckily in California, there is a huge local fan base, John Lasseter, and a group of imagineers who care a great deal about Disneyland and it's history so that resort was able to make a lot of great additions (or bring back some older ones) despite Jay's constant insistance on cartoonification. On the east coast, we're not so luckily and the parks will continue to decline by degrees certainly.
I respond: How has it hurt the bottom line? Marketing = sales. What exactly would have been a different strategy that would have resulted in increased revenue ... long or short term.
Mr. Kirby writes: He essentially tried to strip the domestic parks of their unique identities, rebranding everything as "DisneyParks" and constantly cloning attractions between the two resorts.
I respond: Nonsense! It's ridiculous to claim that the employment of the Disney Parks brand as a marketing strategy was motivated by an intent to "strip the domestic parks of their unique identities."
I respond: Yeah. The expansion of Fantasyland sure represents a "decline." The Star Tours retrofit sure represents a "decline." The conclusion that the parks will "decline" before finding out how Disney employs the use of the Marvel characters sure represents a "decline." Give me a break!
Look, we'd all love to see someone like Walt Disney running the company again. He was a visionary and a very special man. Sadly, guys like Walt just don't come along every day. In the meantime, we have to cling to the hope that the person in charge has just enough vision and nostalgic love to keep things moving forward slowly but surely. Which is exactly what Jay Rasulo did: kept things moving slowly forward - which has to be considered a successful run at the helm.