Is the RMC roller coaster fad over?

August 1, 2018, 4:18 PM · Cedar Fair went almost all-in with Rocky Mountain Construction coasters this season, converting Mean Streak to Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point, Hurler to Twisted Timbers at Kings Dominion, and adding RailBlazer at California's Great America. Did they help the chain to a big attendance boost?

No.

Cedar Fair reported today that attendance for the first six months of the year was down two percent across the chain, despite an increase at Knott's Berry Farm, which defied the trend toward RMC coasters by opening a Gerstlauer Infinity, HangTime. Chain-wide attendance was 8.7 million, a decrease of 211,000 from the same period a year ago, according to the company.

Revenue was down one percent for the period, driven in part by a decrease in per-capita admission revenue, as more of the people who did come to the parks came on repeat visits with a season pass. Season pass sales were down at Kings Island, so even that baseline is down at one of the chain's top parks. All told, Cedar Fair suffered a $7 million operating loss for the six-month period — a $26 million swing from its $19 million profit for the same period in 2017.

Cedar Fair blamed the weather for the declines and losses, but that's the oldest excuse in the book. At some point, a park has to create attractions that people will come out to see, rain or shine. The numbers so far this year aren't the type of performance that is going to encourage more parks, including Cedar Fair's, to follow the company's 2018 playbook. RMCs simply don't seem to be moving the needle enough to put the company firmly in the black this year.

RMC has 16 coasters in operation now, with five added this year. (Six Flags also added RMCs in Georgia and San Antonio.) The manufacturer has three coasters each in California and Texas, as well as coasters in Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and Massachusetts. So they no longer are attractions that fans need to drive across the country to experience, as they were when New Texas Giant and Iron Rattler opened in the Lone Star state.

Hey, RMC coasters are great rides. I have yet to have a bad experience on an RMC coaster. They provide some of the best rides I've ever enjoyed, in fact. But hybrid coasters are no longer unique. And when Lightning Rod and Steel Vengeance suffer immediate operational problems, that discourages trips from the casual fans parks need to build attendance.

We've seen coaster manufacturers get hot and cool down before. At one point, installing a Bolliger & Mabillard meant a park could bank on a huge attendance jump. Yet after everyone in the industry hit that well hard, the market demand for a fresh B&M dried up in the United States. When SeaWorld Orlando's Mako didn't help the park, that's when fans knew the B&M hot streak was over in the US. (There hasn't been a B&M built in the country since, though our neighbor to the north is getting a new one at Canada's Wonderland next year.) Yet those B&Ms remain beloved rides by many fans, as will the RMCs.

Three RMCs are on order for next year — two in Europe and one in Japan. We will see which U.S. parks have placed orders when parks reveal their 2019 additions later this month. If the trend toward RMCs has cooled, which manufacturer will become the next "hot new thing" in the thrill ride market?

Replies (17)

August 1, 2018 at 6:06 PM

Although besotted with CF, I can't help to think that their dormant local smaller parks might be a problem as well. They are often over looked with small mundane improvements (albeit skipping on bathroom refurbishments) since the local market can't sustain a huge investment like a Valravn. I'm not sure I can admittedly agree that it's manufacture fatigue. The general public is completely incognizant of that in my opinion when compared to ride experience. Mako, in the peak of the blackish backlash, performed as expected to an outside Disney and Universal park that hasn't invested in attractions in years. I do agree that with the recent problems with LR and SV that other theme parks might think twice before installing the next RMC.

August 1, 2018 at 7:01 PM

That may be part of it, but I think the people more likely to go to smaller regional parks are more worried about what the economy is going to do so they are spending less on discretionary items like trips to amusement parks.

August 1, 2018 at 9:57 PM

Its important to note that attendance at Cedar Point went down the year Top Thrill Dragster, the worlds tallest and fastest roller coaster at the time, opened as well. Mainly because the ride was extremely unreliable and even went SBNO for much of the summer. Its likely that people saw the crowds and 1 train operations and decided it wasn't worth going back (or didn't go at all because they saw it on social media). I got on Steel Vengeance the morning of opening day but didn't get on it again even though I went back the next morning because it had a delayed opening then 1 train operations.

August 1, 2018 at 11:33 PM

Economy can be an issue as always and that can be playing a part in things. But it's hard to say, sometimes attendance is just funny in how there's little real reason for it to go down, it just does. Of course, easy for places like Cedar Point to claim weather and do think they need to realize just cranking out pure thrills isn't enough in today's world.

August 2, 2018 at 1:52 AM

Lightning rod’s issues aren’t even rmc the launch shame was bulit by a outside. Company and SV is running fine and it’s be a lot warmer in Ohio this year then ever nobody wants to stand in two hour waits while it’s 98 outside

August 2, 2018 at 2:29 AM

I don't think it's RMC fatigue...all of the new for 2018 designs were either released into a market that didn't yet have an RMC or were a completely different design from those present. While the operational issues on those RMCs may be partly to blame, when running the rides are just as popular as any new ride should be. Rather, I think a few other factors have contributed to it:

-Lack of investment in mid-size parks despite major investment by the competition
-A general drop in tourism, resulting in guests sticking to their home parks and visiting those less frequently
-Declining guest experience due to parks being understaffed, requiring upcharge lockers on certain attractions, and/or overselling Fast Lane passes
-Guests delaying a trip because of a known attraction for next year and/or because of no new attraction this year
-And yes, weather (particularly heat) likely had some impact as well

2018 has honestly been a pretty out-of-character year for Cedar Fair for a variety of reasons. Hopefully they're able to figure out what is not working and make next year a return to form.

August 2, 2018 at 7:07 AM

Mako is a fantastic coaster, but the reason it didn't help Seaworld Orlando goes far beyond anything having to do with RMC fatigue. Kraken VR didn't move the needle on attendance. And with Shamu's Happy Harbor closed, One Ocean soon to close and Infinity Falls getting ready to open just when the summer season is ending … things aren't likely to improve.

August 2, 2018 at 10:01 AM

I couldn't disagree more with this assessment. First, RMC coasters aren't a "fad", they're merely the most popular company right now because they offer relatively inexpensive products that deliver one-of-a-kind experiences. Next, I'm confused how Cedar Fair saw a 2% decline in attendance, but saw just a 1% decline in revenue supposedly related to a reduction in per cap admissions. Perhaps Cedar Fair has lost some revenue due to admission discounts and repeated season pass visits, but it would seem that overall per cap spending has increased if 2% fewer people visited, but there was only a 1% decline in overall revenue. Also, weather is absolutely wreaking havoc with theme park attendance right now. If weather is the "oldest excuse in the book", then why is TPI highlighting the extreme heat in California? While I would agree that parks should work harder to "weather proof" themselves by giving guests something to do on a lousy weather day (where's that dark ride Ouimet promised for Cedar Point shortly after taking over?), but the fact of the matter is that parks that rely heavily on world record breaking roller coasters cannot simply put them under domes, and they're going to see some attendance declines when the weather turns bad. The Mid-Atlantic and Southeast have been getting inundated with rain over the past month, while the west coast is dealing with some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. Whether all your attractions are inside or not, the weather most certainly is a factor when comparing attendance year over year.

I think on the whole, analysts and observers put too much emphasis on new attractions to deliver immediately on their investments. That's probably necessary for small or newer parks, or parks investing heavily to reverse a negative trend, but for a mature park like Cedar Point or even Disneyland, a single new attraction isn't meant to cause an immediate attendance spike. Instead, these investments are meant to sustain the park for the long haul. Cedar Point offers a wide array of attractions, and while a world-record holder like Steel Vengeance is like a flame for the coaster enthusiast moths, as just one of a portfolio of world-class coasters, it's not going to necessarily create a seismic change like FOP did for an under-performing park like DAK. Similarly, when you have a mature park that is already near critical mass, even the most critically acclaimed and well received attractions may not make a noticeable change in attendance. I think that's what we'll find at Disneyland when Galaxy's Edge opens. DL is a park that is already very mature, and merely adding 14 acres of geekery is not going to allow Disney to push 5% more guests through the gates (we'll see though).

However, with RMC, you have just another coaster brand that is spreading out across the country. They're solid coasters, but for most mature parks, a single new coaster is not going to make a huge immediate impact, certainly not like it would have 20 years ago when most parks had no more than a handful of coasters. It's not an indictment of RMC or that they were a "fad", it's just that the theme park market is very mature in the US, and subject to a lot of different forces that cause these minor blips and hiccups.

August 2, 2018 at 12:01 PM

Regardless of whether the addition of these RMC's significantly boosted attendance, Steel Vengeance and Twisted Timbers were my sole motivation for purchasing a Cedar Fair platinum pass for the first time. Were it not for the installation of these coasters I probably would have hit two Cedar Fair parks this year - Dorney, which is just up the road from me, and Carowinds - and not invested in a season pass. I had no intention whatsoever of visiting Cedar Point or Kings Dominion until these RMC creations came along and can't believe that I'm the only one who was drawn to these parks for the same reason. After all the hype about Steel Vengeance, any hardcore coaster enthusiast would be tempted to visit Cedar Point out of curiosity if nothing else.

August 2, 2018 at 3:54 PM

There will always be a place for "rides." But I would argue today's consumer is more demanding... they play detailed video games, visit Harry Potter World (Universal) and soon will be visiting Mickey's Star Wars Land. In other words, they want detailed experiences and themes. Knott's, where attendance was up, is a "theme park." Carowinds and Cedar Fair are amusement parks.

I also believe the good economy has actually hurt regional parks. Everybody I know this year is going to Europe, Africa, cross country treks to see Mount Rushmore... in other words they're doing the things they had put off for years when the economy was not good.

August 3, 2018 at 7:52 AM

RMC coasters to me are a cost effective, innovative, and entertaining way to fix a problem that many parks were having, large wooden coasters that were waning in popularity and increasing in maintenance costs. Mean Streak was dead...nobody was riding it, and now they are. CF took dead weight and turned into something positive. The economy is flying high and park spending per guest is up, so hard to believe that they would simply fall because people didn’t want to go anymore. The weather this spring/summer has been crazy...it’s rained at least once a day for the last 3 weeks in my corner of the country.

Cedar Fair’s future growth lies in a few places besides the continuation of thrill ride additions. One is to embrace some variety with attractions (dark rides, indoor experiences) to draw non thrill seekers and keep them there when weather is bad, another is to keep capitalizing on hotels/lodging. The other is to start allocating some serious investment money into design and improvement to maximize attendance at some of the second and third tier parks.

While you have to keep places like Cedar Point and Kings Island sharp, attendance there can’t go that much higher than it is already. You can still get some increases, but 120 or so operating days keeps a lid on it no matter how good it is. 3.5 million is a good year for them...maybe they get it close to 4 million people in a perfect scenario. That’s about the cap for any seasonal park, so why not work to get the rest of the properties producing like that.

I see more opportunity for growth when I look at parks like Carowinds and Kings Dominion, that reside in economic hot pockets, with plenty of land, plenty of people around, and mild/warm southern climate. With some smart planning, design, and investment, there’s no reason why these parks can’t hit the same kind of numbers, and quickly. What happens if you commit to making a lower tier park like Worlds of Fun more of a destination instead of the local amusement park? It has little competiton and is relatively close to big population. Who says it always has to be a major market. Anyone think of Sandusky, Ohio as a major market? It’s a hundred miles away from the nearest big city, yet outperforms every major market seasonal park in the country, every year.

Anyway my two cents. I think RMC was a smart move. The weather has been an enemy this season. I do agree though that some attraction diversity would certainly help to combat the effect of rainy and hot days.

August 3, 2018 at 8:26 AM

Since RailBlazer wasn't even operating until the middle of June, I don't think it is reasonable to expect it to have a huge difference on the attendance for the previous 5 1/2 months.

August 3, 2018 at 11:52 AM

I like Derek's idea of Cedar Fair's investing more money in lower tier parks. Dorney and Michigan's Adventure are the two that immediately come to mind. I suspect that Dorney generates pretty good revenue because of the water park although it could possibly benefit from more high quality attractions. As things stand, it is in no way equipped to compete with Hersheypark, an hour away.

August 3, 2018 at 1:27 PM

Yep, CF hit home runs with both SV and TT this year - they are both outstanding rides. I loved them both. But being in Michigan I can certainly say that they need to show Michigan's Adventure some love - and a little more often than every three-four years or so. Perhaps they will get the refurbished Witches Wheel that CP has announced they are removing... but then again, that ride is over 40 years old, so not sure if even a refurb will do it. MA would be a great place for a coaster like Hang Time.

August 3, 2018 at 5:13 PM

Hot weather plays a part in attendance. Maintenance of existing attractions is a MAJOR part in attendance. Cedar Fair promoted Steel Vengeance quite well with having news crews, and various clips early before the grand opening of park. The very worst problem occurred when it shut down, long lines when it was operating again, and no fall back plan. Many coasters, and rides were not operating. Bad idea to market heavily early in the season, and have major rides not operating. Just a really bad start to the season. Cedar Fair did give many discounts, and incentives to people attending park to return. RMC is a great investment, and after people finally ride it, they have extremely positive remarks,, many state it is indeed the best coaster they have ever rode. That is a selling point in itself. Cedar Fair unfortunately was not on the ball, and relied heavily on that one ride, then having many rides down was extremely disappointing to many early in the season. The excuse of it is early in the season just did not cut it with many and in fact they had mud in there face! Keep the maintenance up and rides running smooth. Word of mouth will indeed sell tickets. RMC was indeed a incredible great idea. Having a skeleton crew staff, and rides down is a big mistake. The grand opening was a flop, but a lesson learned. People do indeed have social media and a disappointing experience can reverberate through the whole season. Promoting a top thrill seeking coaster is great, if it breaks down have other rides to fall back on!

August 5, 2018 at 11:49 PM

There's no way RMC is a tired 'fad'. Since most theme park guests do not travel to other parks (unless they live near more than one), generally speaking any new ride including RMC's are going to be big news. Yes, weather is likely playing a role too but I have to believe there has been a trend away from investing in the total park experience. Most regional parks seem more under staffed than ever. Service for simple things like food/bev has gotten much worse. Theming is either deteriorating, lacking or non existent. New rules for riders require the hassle of locker rentals. Staff are not trained properly, and on and on.

I do believe RMC's will continue to be good investments but they can only overcome so many other mistakes parks are making. Maybe before investing in the next wave of big thrills, parks should invest in the guest experience.

August 6, 2018 at 3:29 PM

Not buying the RMC a tired fad bit. Everyone I know, including squeamish, non-extreme coaster types have tried Steel Vengeance and have LOVED it. The weather, on the other hand, was absolutely brutal this year. In 43 years of living in Ohio, I have never seen it snow so deep into the season. Last time I checked, you can't ride a roller coaster if it's covered in snow.

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