Published: July 17, 2008 at 11:41 AMI've swapped many e-mails with Fred over the years, and what he wrote is what I have heard from every single source within BEC: The parks are running normally and management expects that to continue, despite the corporate deal with InBev.
But I ran this post to make a point, both to InBev and to potential buyers of the A-B parks: People love these theme parks. They absolutely adore and cherish them. That is brand value and customer loyalty with a financial value far beyond however many billion your assessors determine the physical parks themselves to be worth.
I didn't ask Brian to send this e-mail. I didn't know he was doing it. But the fact that he cared enough about these parks to take the time and make the effort of asking questions of top corporate managers helps make my point.
A-B park fans care. They do not want to see their parks closed, cut back, ignored or exploited. They want to see the current management team stay and the current financial expectations remain (no jacking prices or slashing expenses to help "pay for" the deal, to the detriment of the customer experience).
Pick up the phone and call Mark Shapiro at Six Flags and ask him about the value of customer loyalty. Because he would trade in a microsecond to have Six Flags customers feel the way about his parks that BEC's customers feel about Busch Gardens and SeaWorld.
Passion is an extremely value and lucrative asset in business. It is also the most fragile. If InBev screws these customers, their immense goodwill toward these parks and, by extension, to other A-B brands, will evaporate.
Again, talk to the folks at Six Flags. They'll tell you how much it costs to try to win that loyalty back.
Published: July 17, 2008 at 11:41 AMBrian, thanks for your post. I expected as much in a response though.
Right now there is really no other response to be had. Maybe a continued round of questions toward theme park personnal may get some "off the record" responses and give us more to discuss. For instance, e-mail any and all media realations people and request the same? Anyone can e-mail/contact BGE, etc... via their website under contact and media relations. Don't expect to get too much in reply, but maybe one might step up and go off record to speak of what may be floating around the water cooler so to speak?
My contacts so far have nothing major to report, just their own opinions on what they expect to happen. Sorry to say, but time will tell more as it passes.
Published: July 17, 2008 at 12:46 PMThere was a news story a few days ago about a Las Vegas company spending billions to buy theme parks. They said they had made offers to some big names. I wonder if it could be Busch.
Merlin/Blackstone can't because of their deal with Universal, and Universal isn't likely since GE is selling all kinds of stuff. So... who knows?
Published: July 17, 2008 at 1:19 PMMerlin has no deal with Universal that I know of. (Blackstone has invested in both Merlin and Universal Orlando.)
Published: July 17, 2008 at 2:32 PMThank you for your time and effort Brian. As a lifelong fan of BGE and BCE, I truly appreciate it. As for the response, I'm also in PR and as some of you have pointed out, it's a typical response. However, in light of everything that must be coming into them now, a response just confirms that the BEC folks do care about park patrons and service - here's hoping it lasts.
And many thanks to you as well, Robert. For writing what I know many A-B theme park fans including myself are feeling - and in a far better way than I would pen it :) You're spot on with what A-B has currently achieved in terms of brand loyalty, and also regarding what they have to lose if InBev just dumps these parks off to the highest bidder. They're more than parks. Period.
Should some of the InBev C-suite folks stumble across our little forum here, I hope they take our words into consideration before ruining what, IMHO, is the epitomy of what not only theme parks, but good ole family entertainment should be.
Published: July 18, 2008 at 6:59 AMI feel compelled to also add my "two cents" to this discussion. For years we have immensely enjoyed visiting BG - Tampa. Even though we live in metro Atlanta (only 20 mins. from SFOG), we actually had season passes to BGT and would make 2 to 3 short trips a year (of course this was around 2000-2002, when gas prices were not an issue). I will always remember what one employee said on an occasion when they were bypassing the fingerprint scan at the front gate. He quickly explained to us the importance of alleviating the long line, "because Mr. Busch would want it this way". Very well-run parks with a nice balance of family entertainment and incredible coasters. I still think Disney does it best, but at least Busch Gardens does it with a good balance of cost vs. value. I hope InBev and/or the future owners make the "right" long-term decisions. p.s. - Robert, nicely done interview on NPR.
Published: July 18, 2008 at 3:45 PMThe Merlin/Universal thing is complicated. As I understand it, Tussauds had some kind of licensing deal with Universal that was never really taken advantage of. I seem to remember the complications coming from the fact that the deal was with Universal Creative rather than the parent company... they still had to pay whoever owned the individual properties they intended to use. Which is why we saw all that wonderful UC stuff way back when (2003, I believe), like the Spiderman show and the Halloween specials, before Tussauds realised what a bum deal they were getting.
I've not heard of any other connections other than, as Robert mentions, the Blackstone thing, and the long-finished deal relating to European properties that came about just before PortAventura's conception. Though if you know of anything else Alicia, I'd be very interested to hear it.
Published: July 18, 2008 at 7:13 PMOne thing to consider also is that the AB stockholders still have to approve the sale of the company to InBev. While there are a lot of employee owners, not sure if it is enough to affect the vote, but there is a lot of sentimental value to the American tradition of AB. I have a few shares myself and intend on voting against it, so we will see how it all turns out!
Published: July 21, 2008 at 2:11 PMI live in Williamsburg Virginia and I have also been to all the theme parks on the east coast and don't want Busch Gardens to loose it's record of being one of the best parks from service to landscaping to cleanliness. The only other parks that come close are Disney parks so please start an online petition asking Disney to invest in the two Busch parks. I loath the thought of the park being bought by Paramount Kings Dominion and have the trash, gangs, cement jungle, horrible service personel that they have.
I know this may be premature since the sale is not final but after being a season pass holder with my family for the last decade it concerns me greatly.
Thank you in advance for your consideration