Attendance, spending mixed at Six Flags

February 20, 2020, 3:52 PM · Attendance declined year over year at Six Flags' theme parks in the fourth quarter of 2019, and bumped up just 2 percent overall for the year, thanks in part to the addition of five parks, the company announced today.

Revenue for the year increased $24 million to approximately $1.5 billion in 2019, the company said. Despite the increase in attendance, per capita guest spending declined $0.21 to $42.37 in 2019. Of that, $24.86 was for admissions (a $0.44 decrease from 2018) and $17.51 was for in-park spending (up $0.23 from the prior year).

Overall, net income was down 35 percent in 2019, to $179 million. For the fourth quarter specifically, attendance and revenue were down 3 percent, contributing to a net loss of $11 million for the quarter. Six Flags also recently announced that its Chinese development partner has defaulted on payments to the company leading to Six Flags advising that it "is unlikely that the company will recognize any revenue or income in 2020 related to the development of parks in China."

It's a tough start for new Six Flags CEO Mike Spanos, who took over in November for the retired Jim Reid-Anderson.

"We are working diligently to formulate a new strategic plan with the goal of restoring sustainable growth in attendance, revenue and profitability, and also to add directors with critical skills and experiences to our board," Spanos told investors.

"We will continue our consumer-centric approach, while focusing our organization on action, creativity, and relentless execution for the benefit of our guests, our employees, and our shareholders. I believe that Six Flags’ future is bright, and I am excited to take on this new chapter with our great team."

Six Flags also announced today that its chief financial officer, Marshall Barber, will retire from that position on Monday. Leonard Russ, Six Flags' Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning and Analysis, will become interim CFO as the company seeks a permanent replacement.

Replies (12)

February 20, 2020 at 10:11 PM

Those statements to the investors are huge red flags. They sound impressive, but what do they mean?

"...a new strategic plan with the goal of restoring sustainable growth in attendance, revenue and profitability..."

Did the old strategic plan say that "We are going to excel at mediocrity."?

Can anybody remember when Six Flags had sustainable growth in attendance, revenue, and profitability?

"...add directors with critical skills and experiences to our board,..."

Is there something wrong with the current set of directors?

Here's a suggestion: Instead of adding the usual assortment of drinking buddies, golfing partners, CPAs, and bankruptcy experts, how about adding a few people that actually set foot in the parks and try to enjoy them?

"We will continue our consumer-centric approach, while focusing our organization on action, creativity, and relentless execution for the benefit of our guests, our employees, and our shareholders."

What does this mean in plain english? C'mon, Mr. Spanos, you can do better than this!

February 21, 2020 at 3:31 AM

The past few years or so for Six Flags were right back down the tubes. From the old rusted out paint jobs and broken vehicles on the rides all over SFOG, to the all ridiculously huge amount of downtimes and 1 trains ops at SFNE in the middle of summer...then the locker situation at SFGADV (which honestly was the last straw for me, I haven't been to a SF park since and don't really have any desire to go back to any). Tanking like this all of a sudden isn't a freak accident or fluke, this is the result of years of managing for the next quarter and not the next decade.

When Shockwave at SFGAm opened in 1988 it was the worlds tallest and fastest coaster with the most inversions. It ran 3 trains pretty much all the time and had a massive queue that was always full even with the very high capacity.
Then 30 years later Jim Reid Anderson had the audacity to go in the same park with the marketing slogan "worlds tallest loop roller coaster"...which was a sh*tty carnival ride that you could find at any ghetto carnival anywhere. They went into the New York market doing pretty much the same thing. I don't know who this clown thought he was kidding but with sh*tty rides, sh*tty operations, sh*tty maintenance and upkeep, and then deciding that you are literally going to shake down your customers for a dollar at the entrance of the parks most popular rides. No thanks.

February 21, 2020 at 9:18 AM

I think that's a bit harsh the_man. Six Flags is what it is, and I think they're often unfairly criticized for being "low rent". You get what you pay for, and when many are shelling out less than $100 for unlimited visits to a park, you have to expect that the quality is going to be significantly less than chains that charges over $100 for a single day.

It looked like Six Flags was understanding and trying to carve out its niche, but I think they've been pushing too hard on the Membership model without preparing the market for the financial ramifications of that shift. They don't really discuss this much in their financial results, but I strongly believe that this subtle change in the way they sell admissions has dramatically changed the way people view their purchases, particularly in the era of subscription this and subscription that. It has also changed the cash flow of the chain, while they didn't alter the way they spend money - it was often believed that the number of season passes a park sold the previous year would dictate/fund the new addition announced at the end of the following season. Now with a steady flow of cash, SF has to be disciplined in how they spend it, which is probably why they're in the situation they find themselves in right now, especially in a financial quarter were they used to rake in HUGE revenues from guests buying season passes for the upcoming season.

The "est's" (biggest, tallest, fastest, etc...) will never go away because they're appealing to the lowest common denominator guests that SF seeks to attract. However, it's odd to me that anyone would think that SF would change its stripes or diverge from a strategy that has defined their position in the marketplace.

February 21, 2020 at 11:53 AM

I do have a lower expectation of quality at Six Flags because of the price, but still have a major problem with the mandatory locker situation because it has nothing to do with capacity or safety. It's just a cash grab and the El Toro policy takes it way too far. I know a several people that have ran Six Flags parks over the years and while some of them made the lockers optional because the massive amount of complaints, others have flat out told me they make so much money off having them be mandatory that they can't justify making them optional.

And if you are enforcing people can't have any items at all even in zipped pockets (which I can understand they don't want because stuff falling out because its a pain to deal with and can cause claims), but at that point it is basically mandatory that everyone who goes on the ride pays extra and that is not right. If you're going to do that the lockers should be included with admission like at Universal. That is just flat out ridiculous that you buy a pay-one-price admission for the park and then can't even go on the rides without paying more even if your loose articles are very clearly secured. They cut deals with Smart Carte so they don't have to pay for them while also making money and that's not right...if they are mandatory that should be part of operations cost. We all know there are so many simple and easy better ways to go about this, but none of them add to the bottom line.

February 21, 2020 at 11:55 AM

I'm kinda mixed on this as I can understand The Man and Russ points. I've been to numerous Six Flags across the country and it does feel each park has their own way of running things. I live in CA and I agree the last few times I've been to Magic Mountain and Discovery Kingdom has been frustrated. As The Man stated very limited trains which causes long queue and the worst part is that train having empty seats. You have two staff working, one doing double duty as ride operator and checking the seats which slows things down. Garbage everywhere. Bees everywhere, faded structures, rides closed. My experience of six flags in Texas and on the east coast was much different as they seems to have more train, cleaner, and more staff.

All of this which leads to Russ point about getting what you pay for and what you expect when you go visit a six flags park. This is one reason why I try to plan my visits on a week day in the slowest month. Maybe I'm wrong but it does seems like Six Flags suits care more about what's goes into their pockets than what comes out. Which maybe explains why they been bringing out all these carnivals type of rides the last few years and at least to me shows no signs of even trying to turn things around like Sea World. Six flags does seem to be more out of touch compare to what the other chains are doing.

On a final note, I guess we can't have it both ways. I've posted a few rants regarding paying a high price for Disneyland and knowing I'm going to expect Indy and space mountain to break down a few times a day, and a few things to be non Operational on certain rides (look at you cars!) which for me sort of ruins the experience of that ride. FYI, I've yet to ride Cars where everything worked 100%. I think I rather pay the Six Flags lower cost and at least know the coasters will be operational lol.

February 21, 2020 at 12:03 PM

To The_Man: I agree with your locker room statement and again which is why I'm always questioning the Six Flags suits. How about when you get ready to board a train and the staff makes you take off your hat and glasses, which I get for a big thrilling coaster but for a family type ride! Come on!

Maybe others can help me out but don't Cedar Fair parks have cubicles where you can store your bag, glasses, hat. I remember seeing those years ago on my east coast trip. Are those still there or removed for lockers? I think I saw those too at Dollywood and Busch Gardens. Although the bigger coasters at Busch did have lockers if I remember right.

February 21, 2020 at 12:17 PM

Both Cedar Fair and Busch have mandatory upcharge locker policies as well (which obviously i'm not a fan of), however they don't take it to the extent where you're not allowed to have anything at all on your person even in your pockets like SFGADV was doing. Cedar Fair tried it at Steel Vengeance for a while but got backlash and backed off. The older and less popular coasters at CF parks still have bins in the station and don't have lockers.

Personally I think all this kind of stuff is all despicable. Parks could easily make the lockers free but then they wouldn't make money off of them. I'm not some anti-big business guy or anything, I have an MBA, i've spent my career working in management, I love business and am grateful for all its provided for me and society. But I also try to be ethical and can't stand shyster business and that's what I view this as. I remember back when you could go to Six Flags parks and it would actually be fun (this was before Premier took over) so perhaps that is tinting my current experiences as well.

February 21, 2020 at 1:23 PM

I'm of 2 opinions regarding lockers...

I completely understand the safety implications of allowing guests onto dynamic attractions with loose articles and the liability (even though parks attempt to relinquish it through warning signs) of guests leavings personal belongings in open bins or on the load platform. However, it's clear that parks use these excuses as a crutch for their finances through mandatory locker rentals. Parks have been getting comfortable with the revenue generated by ride lockers, and even as guests complain, accountants cannot find an adequate substitute for this revenue stream. Increased admission prices would never fully offset the revenue generated by lockers, and would impact attendance and other sources of revenue like food and souvenir purchases.

However, there is a clear safety issue here, especially when you're talking about 100+ MPH roller coasters and stupid teenagers that find it necessary to do a TikTok of themselves riding a record breaking ride. Six Flags sees a disproportionate number of these types of guests because of their cost of entry and the types of attractions that appeal directly to these demographics. SF rightly needs to maintain the safety of all guests, and cannot risk any sort of incident that could place them liable for guests injured on a ride by a loose article. SF also cannot expect their employees to consistently and objectively judge a guest's ability to keep their loose articles in a zippered/buttoned pocket. They also don't want to rely on these employees to make judgement calls as to whether guests are complying with rules that have any sort of grey area, so an all-out ban is the only way to eliminate any uncertainty/risk.

I've read that BGT is in the process of moving to mandatory lockers for ALL of their major attractions. However, they're reportedly migrating to a locker system that allows guests to pay a flat fee at the beginning of the day and use multiple lockers around the park by each attraction. While it's not free, it's certainly a better option than the "pay to ride" situation that essentially exists at many SF parks.

I'll also note that even Universal appears to be slowly moving to pay lockers. While the current lockers are still free, the size of the newest ones has significantly shrunk to the point where common park souvenirs like wands and drink cups no longer fit in the newer/smaller lockers. Universal is providing larger lockers that can fit these items, but you have to pay for them at each attraction.

Obviously Disney has the best solution by allowing guests to carry on all of their loose items onto rides, but even then they're running into issues. For instance, you are not allowed to ride Rock 'n Rollercoaster with a Savi's Workshop Lightsaber. You either have to do a "rider switch/parent swap" with a friend/family member that holds the lightsaber while you ride, or hope that a generous CM will shepherd your pricey souvenir to the unload platform as you ride. As Disney builds more dynamic attractions (like Tron and the Guardians coaster at EPCOT), I wouldn't be surprised to see them also move to develop a locker system that they'll eventually find a way to profit from.

It's definitely a problem that is growing in importance and complexity. However, I don't think there's a 1-size-fits-all solution.

February 21, 2020 at 4:31 PM

Outside of MF at Cedar Point, I'm not aware of any mandatory locker policy for any CF park

February 22, 2020 at 6:20 PM

From Cedar Points website:

Valravn, Rougarou, GateKeeper, Magnum XL-200, Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster: Loose articles of any kind including purses, backpacks, beverage containers, etc., may not be taken past the entrance, or in line and may not be left on the ride platform. Cell phones or other small items must be secured in cargo pockets or waist packs. All loose items not able to be stored in cargo pockets or waist packs must be left in a locker or with a non-rider prior to entering the line.

Steel Vengeance: Waistpacks and loose articles of any kind including purses, backpacks, beverage containers, etc. may not be taken past the entrance, or in line and may not be left on the ride platform.

February 23, 2020 at 12:57 PM

We pay $50 each for a season pass to La Ronde, our local Six Flags park here in Montreal. Not sure how the company can make money that way, but you can`t beat the value!

February 23, 2020 at 2:53 PM

@the_man I understand that the website states that but they have bins in the station for mostly all of those rides you just stated for loose articles.

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