What will Harry Potter mean for Universal Studios Hollywood?

December 9, 2011, 3:17 PM · Now that we know for sure that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be coming to Universal Studios Hollywood, what does that mean for Universal's original theme park?

Universal Studios Hollywood

Ticket prices are going up

Remember that fabulous $99-for-seven-days steal of a ticket deal at the Universal Orlando theme parks? Yeah, that went away when Harry Potter arrived. So I'm guessing that we should get ready to say goodbye to Universal Studios Hollywood's annual buy-a-day, get-the-year-free annual pass deal within the next couple of years, too.

No one else in my family has an annual pass to a local theme park. But that's going to change when Butterbeer is available 15 minutes down the road. And I expect that thousands of other Southern Californians will make the same decision. With all those new customers looking to buy annual passes, Universal Studios Hollywood won't have to (essentially) give them away any longer. Universal learned in Florida that Harry Potter allows it to raise ticket prices and still see attendance jump. Expect the same in Los Angeles.

Parking is going to get tough, unless…

Universal Studios Hollywood is the only major theme park I know of that does not offer unlimited free parking to its annual passholders. (Free parking is available only if you enter the garage before 5pm.) That's because the popularity of its original CityWalk as a night-time entertainment destination helps fills Universal's parking lots in the evenings, with plenty of people paying $10-15 a car to park.

Add in thousands of new annual passholders, and things are going to get tight. If Universal further restricts parking for annual passholders, that will hold down the number of people who buy passes, cutting into Universal's Butterbeer and merchandise sales, and hurting the return on their Harry Potter investment. If anything, Universal needs to start offering unlimited free parking with its APs, to encourage even more people to buy more expensive annual passes.

But the only way to do that is to either increase the size of the parking garages (incredibly expensive), or get rid of something that's hogging a lot of the parking spaces in the evening.

Score one more reason to get rid of the Gibson Amphitheater.


That's right - What Will Disney Do?

Harry Potter has been Universal's first real hit on Disney in Orlando since the resort opened in 1990. Will Potter have the same impact on Disneyland?

Disneyland's rarely faced any significant challenges in the Southern California theme park market. Magic Mountain, with its emphasis on thrill rides, appeals to a different segment of the market. Knott's is moving more and more toward Magic Mountain's thrill seekers, and so far as it still appeals to families, hits a different price point than Disneyland, appealing most to families who can't afford Disney.

SeaWorld's too far away to be significant competition. I think Legoland's the only park that's ever hit Disney in its core market, but it's only really peeled off families with elementary-aged children in San Diego County - that's not a huge percentage of Disneyland's market. And those families come back to Disneyland when their kids hit puberty, anyway.

Universal's been a one-day diversion for visitors from outside the LA area. It's never had the repeat-visit appeal to locals that Disneyland has had. Harry Potter changes that, though. Especially following the introduction of Transformers, which is coming in April. The addition of Transformers and Harry Potter can make Universal an appealing alternative for hundreds of thousands of Disney passholders who live in Los Angeles County. (Disneyland is located south of LA, in Orange County.) I can't believe that Disneyland would let that happen without a response.

Leading us to…

This is just step one

And as we've learned from Orlando, when Disney responds to Universal (New Fantasyland, Avatar), Harry Potter has given Universal the resources to respond right back (Harry Potter expansion). Frankly, as a theme park fan in SoCal, I get giddy thinking about all the wonderful new attractions as Disney/Universal theme park war might deliver.

Bring it on.

Replies (8)

December 9, 2011 at 6:07 PM · I wonder how they'd turn the land the Gibson is on into a parking garage? Seems too deep into the walking part of the park and too separated by a chasm between the only parking access road in. Still, I agree with all of the above and could see it being a prime piece of land to turn into Wizarding World, etc. It's fun to imagine how they'd even go about it.
December 9, 2011 at 6:28 PM · They wouldn't make the Gibson a parking garage. If they remove it, it would be to make it the site for Harry Potter.
December 9, 2011 at 7:34 PM · I dont think they would get rid of the gibson. Its one of the prime spots for concerts and best. Nothing close by that is about same size except for greek and hollywood bowl. Which both have a time restriction on it. Where gibson doesnt.
December 9, 2011 at 11:09 PM · The new Nokia Theater at LA Live is slightly larger and aggressively seeking dates, so could take the market space vacated if the Gibson were to close.
December 10, 2011 at 10:24 AM · I don't think Disneyland will be that much hurt as you make is sound. Disney World wasn't really altered attendance wise. I also hate to call Avatar/Fantasyland reactions but rather expansions that were inevitable. Besides, the redone DCA and Cars Land is practically a new theme park to compete with HP. And if Disney is going to be reactionary, it always seems that they have something their sleevves.
December 10, 2011 at 6:19 PM · People keep talking about how this will hurt DL, but I don't see this hurting them at all. Historically whenever USH has done well DL has as well. I'd say Potter is more likely to hurt places like Knotts or Sea World. In fact the new developments at USH and DCA could spell the beginning of the end coffin for Knott's unless they can somehow get their act together soon.
December 11, 2011 at 6:13 PM · I don't think Disney will be hurt. But it will be challenged. And that, I suspect, will be enough to provoke a response. Disney not only doesn't want to lose market share, it doesn't want to lose potential market growth to anyone in the theme park business.
December 12, 2011 at 8:35 AM · Southern California nothing like Orlando. Harry Potter will change the theme park landscape to be more like Orlando. Suddenly, there are more choices. Like most Southern Californians, we visit the theme parks like we go to the movies. Its a field trip or a evening out.

I usually think of Universal Studios as a once in a few years trip. Exactly, how many times do I need to be educated about the movies? Much less than you think. I really don't care, but their rides are pretty good even if I ignore the dialog from the Studios Tour.

Harry Potter is about immersive entertainment. I give them credit for seeing the long term view. It won't be a passing fad. It will linger for decades.

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