Cedar Fair theme parks report record attendance in 2018

February 13, 2019, 12:58 PM · Cedar Fair this morning reported record-setting attendance across the chain last year, with in-park guest spending and overall revenue up, as well.

Strong attendance at Halloween and holiday events helped push Cedar Fair's attendance up one percent for the year, to 25.9 million guests, according to the company's annual report. In-park per capita guest spending was also up one percent, to $47.69. Overall revenue was up two percent to $1.35 billion, but Cedar Fair's operating income dropped two percent, to $291 million.

The regional amusement park chain blamed higher operating costs, led by increased pay for employees, for the decline in operating income. Cedar Fair also noted that overall attendance at its parks had been lower than expected in the spring and summer before rebounding during the late summer and fall.

From a fan's perspective, highlights for the chain in 2018 included the opening of the two-time Theme Park Insider Award-winning Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point, as well as the opening of the HangTime dive coaster at Knott's Berry Farm, which this year cracked the U.S. top 10 in the TEA/AECOM Theme Index industry attendance report — making it the most-attended park in the country outside the Disney and Universal chains.

Looking ahead, Cedar Fair said that it is targeting a four percent compound annual growth rate in its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization [which accountants call EBITDA] over the next five years.

"As we look to the future, we remain committed to providing a compelling entertainment experience throughout the year for guests of all ages and we are confident we will entertain a record number of visitors again in 2019," Cedar Fair President and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman said in the company's statement.

"The FUNdamentals [that's a namecheck of the Cedar Fair's stock symbol, which is FUN - Ed.] of our strategy are to broaden the guest experience through immersive new entertainment offerings that create urgency to visit our parks throughout the year; expand our season pass platform into a long-term relationship-based program to increase lifetime value for, and from, our guests; increase market penetration, particularly among the most attractive and growing audience segments within our markets; and pursue value-enhancing development opportunities adjacent to our parks. These initiatives will help us to achieve our new long-term Adjusted EBITDA goal of $575 million by 2023, and serve as the foundation for future growth well beyond the next five years.”

Here's a look back at our on-ride POV videos from Cedar Fair's new rides in 2018:

Replies (6)

February 13, 2019 at 1:19 PM

A real insider would see these as disappointing results. While the chain rebounded from a slow start to the year, a lot of the growth seen across the chain could be attributed to extensions of the operating calendar. The introduction of Winter Fest at two parks increased the overall attendance across the chain through "artificial" means. There's nothing necessarily wrong with claiming growth through expansion (often referred to as non-organic), but it's a bit of a panacea for a chain that does not appear to be getting much bang for their investment bucks. The 4% year over year growth projection is rather modest compared to where most publicly traded companies want to be (10% is a benchmark for success, even in mature markets), so perhaps Cedar Fair is hedging against an overall slowing of the US economy predicted by a number of respected analysts.

You could probably slice and dice these numbers a million ways, but I guess the most important takeaway is that Cedar Fair thinks it's doing OK, and will continue to invest in its parks, even when returns are minimal.

February 13, 2019 at 1:22 PM

So the company made more money last year, but kept less of it because it ended up giving more of that money to its employees?

Sounds good to me!

On the investor side, though, the bigger issue here is the soft attendance during the first half of the season. The "weather" excuse parks always trot out doesn't cut it anymore. If weather is unpredictable, you need attractions in your line-up that are weatherproof. Period. That's how the big kids in this business do it, and if theme park companies want big valuations from Wall Street, that's how they will have to do it, too.

Slogging along with weather-sensitive coasters and little else to offer is no way to run a growing amusement business in today's economy. Russell is correct: four percent a year isn't going to send anyone running to place a buy on FUN.

February 14, 2019 at 1:59 AM

Sadly for CF Steel Vengeance's opening was a disaster with it closed for most of opening weekend and running one train for the entirety of May. It may not seem like a big deal when looking at the whole chain, but when the most anticipated new ride in 15 years at the biggest most/famous park craps out trust me it is a big deal. The GP will delay trips if they are reading on social media that there are 3-5 hour waits because of one train operation and frequent breakdowns. Let's not forget CP's attendance actually went down the year TTD opened because that ride was junk, and they spent $25 million just to build it. Who knows how much they spent over the next several years just trying to get it to run.

February 14, 2019 at 7:35 AM

FWIW, Cedar Point and Steel Vengeance made Joepardy! last night. Maybe that can drive some revenue growth.

February 14, 2019 at 11:29 AM

I would like to see more indoor rides in Cedar Fair parks. Would make for a nice balance.

i know you hate the weather excuse Robert, but if you stick one of the “big kids” in any number of markets north of Florida and west of California, their numbers change, regardless of what their attractions are. People still have to walk outside, and nobody wants to walk 360 acres in Sandusky Ohio off the lake from November to March, even if the park had the top 30 TPI attractions... well maybe a few nuts around here, but not enough to keep the lights on.

A few bad weather days days doesn’t really bother the “big kids” because they operate all year and have a million ways to get deep in your wallet. A bad weather week in Ohio hurts, because winter and cold cuts the calendar in half from the start, and even cuts into the spring calendar. It also likes to rain, all day... not for a half hour like in Florida. I mean all...day. In a good weather year there might be 100 days for Cedar Point and the like to get what they can. They could probably expand the calendar a little with some indoor offerings, but not by much. I know the lack of theming is a put off for some, but Cedar Point and some of the better seasonal thrill parks would be bigger players with regards to attendance and financial numbers if they had an address in Florida.

February 14, 2019 at 3:43 PM

Well when you avoid the smaller parks, outside of placing a new or revamped eating establishment, for so many years what do you expect?

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