Earnings update: Revenge of the 'little guys'

November 10, 2008, 5:12 PM · Here's the short version of how U.S. theme park companies are doing:

Disney, Universal, Busch: down
Six Flags, Cedar Fair: up

The details? We looked at Disney last week. Here are how other companies did over the past three months:

Six Flags

  • Attendance up 200,000. (No base figure released.)
  • 5% overall revenue increase over last year's Q3
  • 2% increase in per capita guest spending for the quarter
  • 60% increase in net income over last year.

    Universal Orlando

  • Attendance down 2% for the quarter
  • Revenue down 1%
  • Net income down 18%

    Cedar Fair

  • Attendance for season at all parks up almost 3%, or 607,000 people.
  • In-park spending down about 1% in Q3 over same period last year.
  • Q3 net income up 70% over same period last year.

    This was to be expected, given high gas prices and the consumer slowdown in the last quarter. U.S. visitors stayed close to home, favoring the "local" amusement parks run by Six Flags and Cedar Point, over the destination theme parks and resorts, run by Disney, Universal and Busch.

    A weak dollar helped offset that loss by bringing in foreign tourists to Orlando over the summer, but with the dollar strengthening, that bump is going away, leading to sharply reduced advance bookings in Orlando.

    Replies (6)

    November 10, 2008 at 6:00 PM · Perhaps we need to take this with a grain of salt with the success of Six Flags. While its good they are doing better, the price to get into a Six Flags without the specials of buying online, a the supermarket, or bringing a coke can is only $34. That kinda annoyed me as a season pass holder because it made the value of a season pass go down a bit, but I made up for it by going there more often due to my little cousins. Don't get me wrong, I will still get it in the future. Heck, even fright fest was at most $50, much lower than the big FL parks
    November 10, 2008 at 7:43 PM · I still dont think the big parks in Florida will lower there prices at all? What do you think?
    November 10, 2008 at 8:43 PM · Cedar Point ran ran heavy discounts and promotions throughout the season to increase guest flow into the park. The best package included tickets and a meal, for only slightly more than the price of a normal ticket.
    November 10, 2008 at 10:48 PM · Six Flags and Cedar Fair, and to an extent...Busch, have a chance to avoid much of the economic impact that is hitting the country. The staycation trend will be around for a while, especially next year, and I can see a lot of people substituting a relatively inexpensive regional theme park trip for that $3000 Orlando trip.

    Cedar Fair has long been a stable company with good management that keeps an eye on it's spending even in the most profitable years, so they will be fine. Six Flags still sits in a precarious financial situation, but if they can keep it together moneywise, improve infrastructure, park experience and operations, and price competitively, they could make a serious comeback by cashing in on a lot of money conscious customers in all of those large regional markets. In fact, all of the smaller operations have a chance to grow their business and customer base, provided they have a sound bottom line.

    November 11, 2008 at 4:40 AM · When you are sitting at the bottom of the barrel, as is the case with Six Flags, then there is almost no where to go but up. However, as Derek wrote, this economic situation gives SF a great opportunity to strut their stuff and grow their business.

    Sadly, at some Six Flags parks, they don't seem to be doing anything to build a long term following. For example, I made the short four hour trek from Kansas City to Eureka (near Saint Louis) to visit SF Saint Louis in October. While the park did stand out, it was in a NEGATIVE fashion (please feel free to view my trip report here). I will not be going back to SFSTL regardless of the economy in 2009. In fact, I do not plan on going back ever, unless they add some new ride that I just cannot resist.

    Another example of a missed opportunity is the highly publicized Dark Knight Coaster, which was added to a couple SF parks in an attempt to add more theming and immersion to SF. However, the DK coaster is now one of the lowest rated attractions on this website, which cannot bode well for long-term customer satisfaction and repeat business.

    So, while SF may be experiencing a Renaissance in a weak travel economy, their long term outlook, in my eyes anyway, seems bleak.

    I should note that I did travel to Busch Gardens Europe earlier this year and thought it was an amazing park. BGE will be fine as long as it can maintain its high standards and survive the InBev take over.

    I have no comment on Cedar Point (I am waiting until at least two of my three kids reach the 54" height cut off before making that trip again), although I will say my local Cedar Fair park, Worlds of Fun, was a much better destination than SFSTL.

    Going forward, I have already canceled two planned non-Orlando trips for 2009 in order to save money for a big Orlando excursion in 2010. Once Harry Potter, Rip Ride Rockit, Manta, and the Space Mt refurb are complete, I must answer the call. I see the Orlando parks getting a big attendance boost in 2010. In the meantime, WDW, USF, and SWO will just have to weather the storm.

    November 11, 2008 at 2:00 PM · My touring plans didn't change this year, and probably won't next year. Hit 14 parks last year, this year, and next year appears to be the same. As long as I have a job even $5 gas isn't going to keep me away from the parks.

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