Six Flags continues to plummet

August 3, 2006, 8:45 PM · Washington Post 8/3/06

I caught this article skimming the Post this afternoon and was startled by the continued slide of the Six Flags chain. It seems that Dan Snyder and Mark Shapiro still have not found a winning combination in the theme park business as the regional park chain operated in the 2nd quarter 2006 with a $39.6 million loss in addition to having their corporate outlook downgraded from "stable" to "negative" by Moody's Investors Service. To make matters worse, the 14% decrease in attendance doesn't even include the three parks that Six Flags is in the process of selling, which includes the former "flagship" park, Six Flags Magic Mountain.

While I have noticed many of the changes that Snyder's group has made to the parks, most notably the $15 parking and stronger character presence in the parks, it seems to not have dramatcally changed the profitability of the parks. After criticizing Cedar Fair for blaming lower than expected profits on weather, Shapiro now turns to heat waves in the Midwest and torrential rain in the East for the surprising downturn in attendance. However, Shapiro also notes that customer satisfaction is up, and in-park spending is also higher than last year.

What Snyder and Shapiro don't understand is that when guests begin to realize that a season pass is probably going to cost twice as much for 2007 (Snyder had not taken control of the parks in time to change pass prices for 2006), Six Flags will lose its core audience, and have millions of dollars of rides and attractions that will not be geared to the day-trip guests that will likely frequent the park in coming years.

If Dan Snyder thinks he can change this franchise overnight, this financial report should prove to him that turning around a loser of a theme park chain is much more difficult than running an NFL franchise.

Replies (16)

August 3, 2006 at 10:06 PM · This isnt the NFL...You can't raise ticket and parking prices for a mediocre product and just expect that people will still show up. In my opinion, the only price that needed to be increased was that of the season pass. Of course guest spending is up....prices are up on everything in the park, and hey...people still gotta eat and will still play games. Guest spending certainly isn't up because their product is better, it's up because they raised their prices and the people who are still coming pay for it. Cedar Fair guest spending is up despite their lowering prices almost across the board. By the way, there will be an eternal comparison between those two companies because they both sell the exact same product...thrill rides. Despite that fact, the companies couldn't be more opposite in terms of success.

The fact that Six Flags can't hold attendance numbers without their so-called "parks that don't fit the new strategy" is not a good sign. If attendance was flat or even a few points down I could understand...but 14%??? It makes me wonder why they are getting rid of some of these parks in the first place (cough Magic Mountain..cough) I know I know, debt this rate though, they will be back in the same debt within ten years...without those parks.

If they want to regain consumer confidence, they are going to have to first improve the parks, and then lower gate prices and mass market to draw people in. At this point, the word is out, and people aren't choosing to go to Six Flags, and a price hike is making it worse.

Kings Island does a promotional day with it's passholders, where they basically give each and every passholder eight tickets to give to their friends, and then set aside a weekend to have all of those people in the park. Do they make any money off of admissions? Absolutely not, but the park is full, they sell a ton of food, drink, and merch, and thousands of people who probably don't even think about going are let in to experience the park because their ticket was free, and I'm absolutely certain that Kings Island converts plenty of those people into fans and also sells a good share of season passes in the process. I don't know if Six Flags practices this or not, but I think they should, in order to show people that they are improving. First things first though...they actually have to improve.

August 4, 2006 at 7:55 AM · I've been avoiding Six Flags for years.

Their parks have virtually no aesthetic appeal.
I don't go to a park just for the thrill rides.

The last time I found myself in a SF park was for the closing of ASTOWORLD last year (and had a negetive experience).
The time before that was for the openning of BATWING at SF AMERICA 5 years ago.

I've been giving my money to Busch, Universal, Paramount and Disney.
(as for Knott's Berry Farm and Cedar Point--I've only been to each one once)

August 4, 2006 at 8:53 AM · They need to take lessons from Cedar Fair, obviously, like a lot of "businessmen" they think only about the dollar signs & how to make more of it in a quick way. LOWER PRICES = MORE SALES--DUH! I knew a lady that owned a tan salon in a small town, well, she charged like $65 for a reg. size bottle of lotions/products that I could pay $15 or less elsewhere, she soon went out of business because she wouldn't lower her product prices. Same difference here. It's not about making the quick buck, it's about making more money in the long run. That's why Dogpatch went under--bad management. Spending too much, too soon, w/o thinking of future things. Mannn, when are they gonna learn! This is just terrible! If they wanna close or sell some of the parks, why not get rid of the smaller parks, like the Oklahoma Six Flags.
August 4, 2006 at 9:33 AM · The more I think about it, the more I'm coming around to the view that Snyder, et. al took the wrong approach in getting control of Six Flags. To use another sports analogy, they should have done what the owners of Champ Car did to gain control of CART -- let the thing go into bankruptcy, then buy the financially viable assets through the court. That way, the largest stockholders (Snyder and his allies) gain control of the company, but they do so without having to take on the company's debt and without having to deal with the money-losing parks.

As it stands now, the only way I see to save Six Flags is to invest many, many millions in the handful of viable parks that company owns. (Chicago, New Jersey, Arlington, Atlanta, St. Louis, plus, maybe, D.C. and Massachusetts.) But no one wants to buy the "unviable" parks, leaving the company relying on a real estate market that's already peaked to raise the investment funds that it needs.

August 4, 2006 at 10:13 AM · The Six Flags park in Georgia has changed greatly from when I used to visit as a kid. Six Flags Over Georgia has become more about thrill rides that any type of theme experience. Actually, I dont consider it a "theme park" any more, it's just a place with a bunch of cool rollercoasters, and really only a few of those, Batman, Superman, Georgia Scorcher and Goliath.

When I was a kid, there was a "Jean Rebault" river boat ride where you went through "swamps" where indian shot arrows at you and Spanish soldiers shot cannons at you (there were loud booms and big splashes in the water near the boat). The log flume ride had two tracks, was very long, and you got very wet. There were great shows, lots of choices of food, the employees were friendly and the place was clean. Now, you have a park with no theme (unless you call a bunch of teenagers running around in bugs bunny costumes a theme), gang bangers running around jumping in line, trash cans overflowing, and outrageously priced pizza, hot dogs and hanburgers that are served by a sullen and surly group of teenagers who act as if they're doing you a favor by waiting on you.

I bought season passes for me and my son, which is a good value considering how many times we're visited the park this summer. However, $15.00 to park is insane. Parking should be free.

The other issue is the cost of food, which is way too high. $8.00 for a Hamburger? That's just nutty. And on top of that, they wont allow you to bring food into the park, so you're stuck. We either leave, eat somewhere and come back, or I pack a cooler in the trunk and we eat and then go back in. I would be willing to bet that if the park offered healthy food (good luck finding a salad or chicken breast sandwich) that was reasonably priced, people would buy, buy, buy.

I understand that the park has to pay for the expensive coasters and such, but I think they would fair better financially if the concessions and food were better prices. Six Flags charges $3.50 for a small lemonade; that's a $3.25 profit. They would sell twice as many if they were priced at $2.00.

The bottom line is that Six Flags is a fun diversion from time to time only if you buy a season pass and a season parking pass, do not eat and drink there. For goodness sakes, a bottle of WATER is $3.00 from a vending machine!! Everytime I pay that, I feel a little more resentment against Six Flags, because they have you by the throat. You cant bring your own water, so you have no choice.

I think all of this will ultimately be their downfall.

August 4, 2006 at 11:54 AM · I don't know why this isn't working for Six Flags. It's worked great for Cedar Fair.
Buy a descent park like Knott's Berry Farm, tear out all the family rides, jam it with trill rides, reduce your gate price to $25 reducing it to the poor man's alternative to Disneyland, fill it up with trash (literally. they don't clean up the horse poop from the stage coach track) and watch a once good park go into decline.
August 4, 2006 at 12:13 PM · Some other news circling around the web today... The costumed characters at Elitch Gardens have been laid off, and rumor is that this is happening at many other ones as well. It's funny how this was one of the things that was supposed to change. Now it's the first to go. They can't make Elitch Gardens successful either eh? There is one park within hundreds of miles of that place...Lakeside Park, and Six Flags can't find the attendance for that one either. Let the sale commence I guess. As an outsider looking in who loves the business, it frustrates me to watch it all go down. Even though some of us knew it would happen, Six Flags is now officially no better off with the new administration than it was with the old. I'm pulling for you Six Flags...I really am, but what are you thinking?
August 4, 2006 at 12:34 PM · My only exposure to Six Flags is Great Adventure in NJ. We used to like it when we went about 25 years ago, but we visited again 10 years ago and it was horrible. It had almost no theming. The prices for food were outrageous. Big wads of gum stuck everywhere and letters etched in the walls. Lots of areas needed rehab. We went on a weekday and stood in line for 3 rides...each line being about a 1-2 hour wait. After 6 hours in the park and only riding 3 rides (and getting severe sunburn because there wasn't any shade), we vowed never to visit the park again. I was working for WEA (Warner/Elektra/Atlantic) at the time and Warner had bought Six Flags, so we thought it would be a big improvement. The final straw was when we were leaving the park. They had a huge circular fountain. It was literally clogged with teens/gangstas. It looked like each one had brought their own 'boombox' and was trying to blast the others away. We have kids now and refuse to go near the park. We ended up going the next year to Busch Gardens: Old Country/Williamsburg/Europe/whatever and were SHOCKED at the difference. It is now our 'home' park...and for good reason.

I don't know that it's possible to turn Six Flags around now. It certainly doesn't seem possible to do a 'quick' turnaround. There's too much that needs to be changed - and not just the physical things. They need to change or re-invent their image. They need to 'theme' their parks to make them visually appealing. Any changes would require a huge investment. Of course, not only do they have no money, they owe out the wazoo. Their current strategy seems to be resulting in "1 step forward, 2 steps back."

robert olson

August 5, 2006 at 1:05 AM · I'll just put in my comment. I've been to several Six Flags amusement parks. I can't really say "Amusement" any more, however. Over the last five years, they have degraded seriously. I last went to the one in Maryland. I left in massive pain after I went on the Mind eraser or whatever it's called. I literally could not walk, and had to have a friend help me to the car. Turns out I had a concussion from the ride. Throughout the day, I was appalled at the lack of quality through the park: rides that were breaking down constantly, thug and punk-looking people walking all over the place and threatening guests, staff who looked like they were getting paid like $6 an hour to roast (which is pretty accurate)...and the pricing. I like to leave a park with at least five souvenirs. I left that park with none at all. This last trip was my last for GOOD. I'm a roller coaster enthusiast...but I'm not going to go to a park I'm going to be happy to leave.

Cedar Point, however, has remained my Mecca of Roller Coaster Religion. Always got good service, good food, prices are cheap enough, cheap tickets, reliable and EXTREMELY fun rides, nice location, always clean... I need something to replace Six Flags with for my local tastes though, since Ohio is a bit of a distance from Virginia, so I'm going to start trying Busch Gardens, since everyone says it's good.

August 5, 2006 at 10:57 PM · I went to Six Flags over Texas about 35 years ago and it was well themed, clean and a very family friendly place. I haven't been to a SF park in years, but the comments I hear do not make me want to go. Maybe they have some great coasters, but I would go to Cedar Point for great coasters if that is what I was looking for!
August 6, 2006 at 5:53 AM · I have never been to a sixflags EVER! Been to three CF parks, two Universal parks, 1 busch park, HP and MBP. I really want to go to one one of these days for the coasters like Six Flags Great Adventure which is 7 in a half hours from here and Six Flags Over Georgia which is 6 hours and 45 minutes away. The closest SF parks to me are SFKK and SFA which neither I want to go to that bad I will go to them one day but Im not in any hurry at all right now. My friend went to SFA last year(while I went to Cedar Poitn :)). He said the park SUCKED he said it was run down and the quality sucked but the coasters were cool. Six Flags only your coasters impress me....nothing else.
August 6, 2006 at 2:12 PM · We just got back from Six Flags Great Adventure in NJ and we were shocked that the parking was $15! This is twice as much as I would have expected. Good thing for them we didn't know about this before we went otherwise we may have reconsidered going out of principal.
August 6, 2006 at 2:15 PM · As I browse these comments regarding the decline of Six Flags - all of which I wholeheartedly agree with - I can't help think of Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio.

I visited SFFT in April of 2005 and I never really understood my strange reaction to the park until now. I kept commenting to my friend that it was "the most beautiful Six Flags park I had ever been to." There were not a huge amount of BIG thrill rides, just Superman, Poltergeist and the Rattler - the latter of which I would dismantle as it nearly broke our backs. It had an adorable Scooby Doo dark ride where you got to "shoot" the ghosts along the way. It had a beautiful themed street in Rockville. The backdrop of the park was the cliffs of an old quarry. And, it has won the "Golden Ticket" award for best theme park shows for the 7th consecutive year!

Maybe, Six Flags might want to take a look at Fiesta Texas - family-oriented, beautiful, diversity of rides and shows - and start emulating the magic of SFFT at the rest of the parks!

August 6, 2006 at 4:33 PM · Kent Liu: what was your opinion of the park? Can you give a brief trip report of the good and the bad? Thanks.

robert olson

August 6, 2006 at 7:54 PM · Wasn't SF Fiesta Texas originally developed by USAA, the Insurance and Financial Giant. They may still have an investment in it as well which might explain while it is always a good park.
August 7, 2006 at 8:49 PM · It's official now. Elitch Gardens in Colorado is now on the block. The price?? 170 million bones. Anyone taking bets on the next park for sale? How about who's gonna buy it. In this case, I think it might go down like this. The park land will become a sea of suburbia, and Lakeside Park will buy rides. Unless an up and comer amusement company throws it's hat in the ring, I unfortunately don't see the park staying open.

As much as a company like Cedar Fair would make the place a winner, I think that they are done buying parks for a good long while. They should be anyway. Their past expansion projects plus integrating the Paramount Parks leaves them plenty to do, so unfortunately for these parks being left behind, there isn't any fair haired prince charming to save them.

How about Busch moving into Coors backyard? Interesting concept....or how about Coors throwing their hat into the business. With all the sales going on, I couldn't think of a better time for a newcomer to make a big splash in the amusement world.

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