What should Six Flags do next?

March 2, 2023, 12:33 PM

Just posted to the front page about Six Flags' latest financial results. (If you didn't read it, attendance and revenue continue to dive.)

Clearly, the policy of charging more and offering less isn't working for fans. But it is driving up Six Flags' stock price, despite lower earnings, so there's that. I swear, Wall Street value the imposition of suffering on the public above all else, even its own profits.

Setting that aside, however, what do you think that Six Flags ought to do next to reverse its slide? Be realistic. The company does not have access to the cash that Disney and Universal can spend on new attractions. And any new spending is going to have to deliver a substantial increase in guests.

That said, I would love to hear some creative ideas about what Six Flags can do to win back a growing audience.

Replies (5)

March 2, 2023, 12:44 PM

They can start by improving operations. There are too many reports coming out about coasters running with only one train or plenty of rides and restaurants closed. The only thing that didn’t keep me from having a miserable day at Magic Mountain last year was my Platinum Flash Pass.

The Scream Break concept might work across the board since there’s definitely an appetite for horror events, as evidenced by the expansion of HHN to Vegas.

Edited: March 2, 2023, 4:07 PM

I think SF is correct in trying to move away from their cut-rate image and cheap thrills MO, but their attempts to erase that image over the course of a 6 month period is doing nothing but driving loyal fans away from the brand. SF has maintained the prices for so long that customers were used to the annual outlay for their season passes and never batted an eye. However, when they decided to not only jump the price 30-50%, they also chose to create tiered passes that for some guests increased the cost of a season pass 3-5x.

There's no arguing that the $50/year I was paying for a season pass that got me into pretty much every SF property (some waterparks were not included in the old season passes), but I wasn't about to pay $250 to get the same privileges under the new system even though the price is on par with similar products from Sea World and Cedar Fair. First, the SF experience is vastly inferior to the other regional parks, and secondly, SF hasn't done anything to justify such a massive increase in price from one year to the next.

I would gladly pay 50-75% more that what I've historically paid, and even allow the chain to gradually increase prices year on year until they're closer to what the other regional chains charge. However, I'm not about to reward SF with my business because they want to make up for lost time in a single year, and that's why I think they're really hurting in 4Q revenue, particularly since the chain isn't adding anything major to the parks this year (no Aquaman doesn't count, because technically fans have been paying for that attraction for 2 years now without being able to ride it).

Six Flags needs to demonstrate competence if they want to play at the big kids' table, and that means slowly and methodically improving the experience as they charge more for admission. What SF did this fall and winter was a slap in the face to many long-time season pass holders/members, and now they're going to have to work twice as hard to earn that business back. They've slowly decreased their season pass prices since the beginning of the year, but my guess is that it has not made a huge difference. They need to go back to square 1 and relay to guests that they're going to start charging more for a better experience and then they have to deliver that.

I am curious how the Spring Haunt events work, because I just don't see SF guests as ones that will pay for hard ticket events. They need to keep their expectations low and probably prepare to lose money on the events this year if they want them to be an annual thing. However, I expect the parks will be empty, and SF will cut staff to the bone and deliver a mediocre event that guests won't care about and then come up with some phony baloney excuse why it's a loss leader. That seems to be the Six Flags way.

March 2, 2023, 6:05 PM

My experience with Six Flags in 2022 was pretty much exclusively SFMM (with one brief visit to SFOG while passing through), and the name of the game was inconsistency. I had days where the park was running at peak, with at least two trains on everything, fast operations, and few closures. However, I also had days where half the major attractions were down, those that were open all ran one train, and lines were long because they weren't adequately staffed for the crowds.

In my opinion, the most important thing for Six Flags to do in 2023 is to get maintenance and staffing to a level where they can consistently provide a solid guest experience. If lines are long because the park is crowded, that's fine, but if lines are long because it's being run poorly, that's just not acceptable. There is no excuse to run one train on a ride that has three unless the crowds are so low that you're keeping the wait to 10-15 minutes with one train operation, and maintenance schedules need to be planned so that all trains are available during the peak periods. If a ride is operating at a reduced capacity or will not be open, it also needs to be clearly communicated to guests through signage and website postings.

Step two for the chain is to improve quality of their existing facilities. Not everything needs to be freshly painted, but nothing that is guest facing should show signs of neglect. It's not a good look to have empty buildings sitting around the park, so either fill them with something, beautify the exterior, or put them behind a fence. Smaller items around the park, such as restrooms and dining areas, should also be modernized if they're outdated or unattractive. It doesn't need to be super fancy, but the parks should look appealing no matter where you are in them.

Thirdly, the chain needs to start investing in marketable capital again. There's no need to give every park a new ride every year, but if a regional park doesn't get anything for two or three years it's going to be harder to keep guests coming back. Make a goal to give at least a third of the parks a major new attraction each year, along with smaller investments at a few others. Seasonal events can also be expanded to encourage repeat visitation, but most who weren't planning to go aren't going to decide to go just for those.

Once all three of these are in place, it will be possible to start raising prices to the level Six Flags wants. It's not unreasonable for Six Flags to ask $150 for a single park pass or $250-300 for a chain-wide pass, but they need to show that they are offering an experience worthy of those prices before they start asking guests to pay it. Gradually ramping up to that over several seasons, with continued improvement each season, is going to work a lot better than trying to jump all the way up there on just the promise of improvements.

Edited: March 3, 2023, 11:07 AM

The things people suggesting SF should do are all the same things people were suggesting 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago. With all of the management changes over the past few decades virtually nothing has changed from an operations and maintenance perspective and I was hearing about backwards sliding happening last year even with the raised prices (which oddly enough, the prices are now way down again).

I can tell you from decades of experience working in parks that the backbone of a park is its maintenance staff. I remember at SFOG a few years back going in the summer and seeing several seats that were broken on SUF, and then going back in the winter and the same seats were still broken. If they don't have enough full time, experienced maintenance staff the park is going to suck no matter what other things you try to do to mask that. I mean not only the rides at SF but everything at their parks, even the pickup trucks that the maintenance people use are falling apart (how expensive is it to maintain a ubiquitous utilitarian item like a pickup truck?) Until SF's corporate management makes that a priority and a commitment to fund it long term, the parks are going to be inconsistent at best. It really irks me because my home park growing up (SFGAm) was really a world class park that didn't have any of these problems from when it opened until the mid 90s, but now there have been multiple generations of fans and public that know nothing of SF other than it being bad and just expect that's the way it always has been and always will be.

Put me down as not optimistic on this one. I think their CEO will be gone after this year and hopefully the board, for the first time ever, will hire someone who has actually worked at a theme park. Funny enough Cedar Fair was actually sliding into the Six Flags trap where Kinzel had stayed on past his prime and kept cutting and cutting the maintenance staff in order to keep the margins as they had just taken on a lot of debt from buying the Paramount Parks. When Kinzel retired the board hired the former VP of Disneyland to run the company, he understood that you could actually build a loyal fanbase by investing in maintenance and running the parks well, and all of a sudden Cedar Fair parks were doing a lot better (although you could make the argument they have gone downhill since Ouimet left).

March 3, 2023, 7:34 PM

Anyone want to nominate a new Six Flags CEO candidate?

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