When Will SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Open Its New Coasters?

May 8, 2020, 12:49 PM · SeaWorld today reported a $56.5 million loss in the first quarter of 2020, due to the closure of its theme parks on March 16. The company said that it was on pace for record attendance and revenue in the first two months of 2020, only to have the novel coronavirus to freeze that momentum.

Attendance increased 9 percent to a record 1.9 million guests with revenue up 12 percent to a record $120.6 million from the first two months of the year, before the March closures resulted in a net decline of one million guests and a decrease of $67 million in revenue for the quarter when compared with the first three months of 2019.

The SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks were going all-in on new roller coasters to boost attendance in 2020, with new rides coming to the chain's top five theme parks. Only the Texas Stingray coaster at SeaWorld San Antonio had opened before the parks were forced to close, though Busch Gardens' Iron Gwazi was testing and close to opening.

"Depending on when we are allowed to reopen, we will make a decision as to whether or not the unfinished projects are completed for the 2020 season, or pushed into 2021," Interim CEO Marc Swanson said.

Swanson said SeaWorld soon will be announcing enhanced health and safety protocols for guests returning to its parks. To that end, Swanson sold SeaWorld's lower attendance versus rivals Disney and Universal as a plus.

"Our parks also typically have significant excess capacity and have landscaped and well manicured open outdoor space with room for people to safely socially distance, while still enjoying the sights and experiences, our parks offer," he said.

"We're used to operating in an environment when we do much less than a non-peak day," Swanson said. "If you look in Orlando where SeaWorld Orlando where on a peak day might be upper 20,000 to 30,000 in attendance, a day in January or February might be 5,000, so that gives you some order of magnitude there of how how low the attendance can go and we still feel good about operating."

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Replies (7)

May 8, 2020 at 2:31 PM

I'm calling shenanigans on these numbers. How in the world can Sea World claim that they were on track for record attendance and revenue and then report a $56.5 million loss because the parks were closed for 1/4 of the financial period? That just doesn't add up. I realize that the parks sat idle for 3 weeks while employees were paid, but that shouldn't undo 9 weeks of record revenue to the tune of $56.5 million. It makes me think they deal in projection accounting (earned value) instead of the hard numbers that paint the real picture of what's going inside of a company.

I do find it interesting that they are publicly divulging what their average daily attendance numbers are during the different seasons (5k during Jan-Feb, and 20-30k on peak days). No other parks have ever offered that level of detail in regards to the number of guests they draw during a given season. I wonder if Mr Swanson was shooting from the hip, or was authorized to divulge numbers that are typically some of the most closely guarded secrets of the industry.

May 8, 2020 at 1:22 PM

He's an interim in the theme park equivalent of the Defense Against Dark Arts teacher or Spinal Tap drummer job - what does he have to lose?

May 8, 2020 at 2:16 PM

Lol Robert! Breaking news this hour as one Gilderoy Lockhart has just been announced as the new CEO of Seaworld’s Parks Division...

May 8, 2020 at 4:27 PM

My guess is that the coasters that were at the testing phase prior to the shutdown (Emperor and Iron Gwazi) will be prioritized for 2020 completion, while those that still had a ways to go (Ice Breaker and Pantheon) will likely get bumped back to 2021. If the closures stretch into July (which is looking likely in about three-fourths of the country), I foresee a lot of parks deferring 2020 additions to 2021 to both reduce costs and increase marketing potential, especially if the ride wasn't close to completion prior to the shutdown. Opening a new ride late in the summer at a seasonal park doesn't make much sense, particularly if passes have already been extended to cover a portion of next season.

May 8, 2020 at 4:43 PM

I’m supposed to hit up SW Orlando and BG Tampa in August (obviously a big question mark over that actually happening).. The last time visiting both Parks was in 2018, and we were a few weeks earlier than the Xfinity Falls grand opening.

So with my luck, our trip will be on, but Iron Gwazi and Ice Breaker won’t be ready yet.

I’m also hoping to hit up BG Williamsburg for Howl-O-Scream, so if Pantheon is open by then I’d be delighted, but won’t be getting hopes up...

May 10, 2020 at 3:05 PM

They laid off 90% of staff, many critical to park operations at Busch Gardens and many don't plan on coming back. Alot of knowledge lost, BOD doesn't seem to care. They dont have any ride mechanics, and many hours of testing and checking will have to happen before they are even allowed to run rides. The zoo is still costing company alot of money and they have resorted to using non skilled people to work with them, way under staffed. It will be a long time, even if they had the go ahead to plan an opening in 2 months. Technically it won't be able to happen.

May 11, 2020 at 9:21 AM

@RetiredBG - I'm curious where you're getting your information from. Your username would suggest that you may have relationships with current employees, but you may not be getting the full picture. Sea World has maintained that animal care specialists have been deemed "essential", and have posted numerous videos of staff interacting with the animals in their habitats. I wouldn't be surprised if the company has pared down the staff or reduced hours since those that not only care for the animals but also performed in shows are only doing half of their jobs right now. However, my understanding is that those employees have not been significantly affected. I also wouldn't be surprised if some employees that may have seen their work hours reduced may have left to seek alternative employment. However, where else is a person with those skills supposed to go with most zoological facilities similarly closed? If those highly skilled workers were leaving, it's not like they're able to find an alternative employer unless they change industries.

As far as ride mechanics, I wouldn't be surprised if those employees are finding tough sledding. Rides that aren't operating do require some level of maintenance, but as with animal care specialists, it's not like those highly skilled employees are going to find somewhere else to go, though there are probably more options than an animal care specialist.

There's no doubt that it will take some time to get everything back up and running for guests, but I highly doubt it will take 2 months. For seasonal parks, they start staffing up a couple of weeks ahead of time, and start un-winterizing attractions and facilities. It doesn't take anywhere near 2 months to get a park ready for the season after being closed during the winter months.

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