There's Hope for the Holidays at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld

August 10, 2020, 11:48 AM · The SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks will go ahead with modified Halloween and Christmas events this year, even as it pushes its line-up of new roller coasters to 2021, the company's interim CEO said today.

"We know how much these are loved by our guests, and we're confident we will deliver compelling, exciting, and most importantly safe events with relevant and appropriate operational changes," SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.'s Marc Swanson said of the company's fall and winter event plans during an investors' conference call today. "More details will be forthcoming as we finalize those plans."

Rivals Universal and Cedar Fair have canceled their big Halloween events for the year, including Halloween Horror Nights and Knott's Scary Farm. Six Flags has not explicitly canceled its Fright Fest and Holiday in the Park events but said that it will evaluate those on a park by park basis.

Swanson also said that the company will not open its water parks in Williamsburg and San Diego in 2020. SeaWorld San Diego remains closed indefinitely as the state of California has not approved theme parks to reopen yet. The company's other parks have reopened, although Busch Gardens Williamsburg is only hosting special events with extremely limited capacity.

Looking ahead to 2021, Swanson said that the company will rely on its planned 2020 new coaster line-up to help drive attendance in the new year.

"We felt this was going to be our best lineup of new attractions in our history. And so many of those are now going to carry over the next year: Iron Gwazi, the coaster in Tampa; Icebreaker, the coaster here in Orlando: Pantheon in Williamsburg; Emperor, [the] coaster in San Diego. We feel really good about the 2021 lineup of rides coming to the parks, so we're excited to continue to make progress towards that."

Swanson said that the company might look to use some of the cash it has borrowed to acquire additional assets.

"There might be situations where there's market dislocation or competitors in industry who aren't able to weather the storm. So whether it's a waterpark, a hotel, or something like a park that we could look at and convert to a Sesame Place, for example, those are the type of things we're talking about."

As previously announced, SeaWorld Entertainment reported a loss of $131 million for the three months ending June 28, 2020 on revenue of $18 million and attendance of just 300,000 guests, as a result of its parks being closed for most of the quarter due to the pandemic.

Replies (11)

August 10, 2020 at 1:57 PM

Given reports Sea World is horrible on mask/distancing enforcement,not sure how attending a holiday event there would be great.

August 10, 2020 at 11:56 PM

I must say that I'm perplexed by SeaWorld's logic on this one. Iron Gwazi is testing daily and will be operational by next month, yet they're willing to let that sit there until next year and instead put money into a watered down Halloween event that may or may not attract guests and may or may not even be feasible to pull off? To me, it would be more sensible to forgo the Halloween event this year and open the coaster, using that to draw in a strong base of locals this fall and out of area visitors next spring if people feel safe enough to travel by then. This is especially true once Universal announces their new coaster, because if that gets announced before Iron Gwazi opens, BGT is going to have a much tougher time drawing anyone from beyond central Florida until Universal's ride is ready.

August 11, 2020 at 6:02 AM

"Modified fall event" may or may not be Howl-O-Scream w/ houses

August 11, 2020 at 7:19 AM

BGT draws the vast majority of its attendance from local Residents and Tampa visitors. Universals coaster would have little impact, pandemic or not. I can easily see how Xmas can be done as it’s mostly walking through the lights and food booths which can easily be located in different areas to disperse people. Halloween would be more difficult but a watered down version that eliminated in-door houses but instead focused on shows and outside walkthroughs can be done. Kudos to them for thinking outside the box!

August 11, 2020 at 7:32 AM

@AJ - Logic would say that it's natural to have a tested and ready Iron Gwazi open for guests to drive attendance. However, I think the reasons BGT is holding it back are 2-fold. The first is that even if they did open it, the impact it would have on attendance would be minimal given restricted capacities and social distancing requirement on the coaster itself reducing throughput while frustrating guests subjected to long lines and slow loading. It's similar thinking to why Disney is holding back Space 220 and Ratatouille.

However, I think the main reason it's being held back is a very simple one. RMC has reportedly filed a construction lien against BGT for money owed for the record-breaking coaster. So in addition to having minimal impact on driving attendance, BGT would have to make a lump sum payment just to open the coaster. With limited revenue being generated, even from the debut of a world-class ride, BGT would struggle to cover the cost to pay the lien. Therefore, by waiting to open, BGT can delay paying the balance owed to RMC and hope that by next spring park attendance can be more robust, and the coaster can accommodate the demand driving revenue to recoup the investment.

August 11, 2020 at 7:47 AM

Russel good points on the lien - however you can be assured that SeaWorld/BGT have worked out payment timing. The lien was filed by RMC for legal protection. RMC wants to be paid so they would want the parks/ride open so cash Is generated to pay that bill. The reality is that the new coaster opening next year will drive marketing and attendance when it matters most.

August 11, 2020 at 2:28 PM

That's right Tiptop22, but the lien, which is reportedly still on the books, would prohibit RMC from certifying the ride and allow for final inspection and certification by the State. Until the lien is released, BGT cannot legally operate Iron Gwazi, whether they have a payment plan in place or not. My guess would be that even if they have a payment plan worked out, RMC wouldn't want to release the lien until they've recouped a considerable percentage of what is owed, especially in the current financial climate.

August 11, 2020 at 4:00 PM

I can't say what the status of the lien is, but I know from friends in Florida that the ride has been testing daily and state inspectors were spotted on site last week. To me, it seems incredibly strange that such things would be going on if the lien has not been paid off and the ride isn't scheduled to open for at least six months, especially given that nobody has been seen working on Emperor, Ice Breaker, or Pantheon since the time of closure (at least to my knowledge). I did hear previously that Iron Gwazi was SeaWorld's highest priority to pay off because they believe it will have the biggest impact, and I have confirmed with friends in the know that the company is making payments for capital projects (though I don't know any more details than that). At this point, I don't think the lien is contributing to any delays in opening the ride, and if SeaWorld hasn't paid that off yet is still looking into buying additional parks I seriously question the outlook of the company.

Regarding attendance, I will say this...on my trip last month, Silver Dollar City and SeaWorld San Antonio were the two busiest parks by a significant margin (though SDC was far busier than SWSA), and those were the only two parks on the trip that debuted a new ride this year. With the exception of their headliner coasters, the two Six Flags parks were completely dead even on weekends. While I'm sure there will be less of an impact in 2020 than in an ordinary year, if a park is falling short of their projections it will definitely help. As a matter of fact, it might hurt to leave it sit there if it's complete as guests could defer their visit until it is actually running. I'll also say this...I'd be far more inclined to buy a ticket for Howl-O-Scream this year if I could ride Iron Gwazi at night than I am for any of the other offerings announced for the event.

August 11, 2020 at 6:55 PM

Thanks Russell but not sure where you got information that a lien would prevent FDACs permitting - you must pass inspection, show proof of testing and provide insurance coverage for the permit. Perhaps insurance can’t be issued? I’m not aware of any clearance of liens requirement, in fact I think it’s quite common to have liens filed for various reasons on lots of projects. In any event I’m sure SEA/BGT have thought this through and have their bases covered including the timing of opening.

August 12, 2020 at 5:54 AM

I’ve never been to a holiday event at BGT, but got to both Howl-O-Scream and Christmastime in BGW last year. Both were great events that I would absolutely attend again. I’m glad to hear they are going to attempt to salvage them, where they can (Tampa).

Iron Gwazi will come when the time is right, and 2020 is not that time. I can however understand how that can be frustrating to out of state guests though, who are attending in 2020. In a way they should be rewarded for their patronage, at a time when most chose to stay away...

August 12, 2020 at 1:40 PM

@tiptopp22 - I'm not sure of the specifics in Florida (or Tampa specifically), but in most jurisdictions, when a construction lien is filed against an owner, the state/jurisdiction will not certify it. Now, this typically occurs on general building construction, but say you're building an addition on your home and one of the contractors doing that work files a lien against you, the building inspector will not certify the addition for occupancy (or allow you to put up drywall if you haven't passed that point).

The same goes for a car - if you fall behind on your car payments, the finance company can file a lien against the vehicle, which means if you are found operating the vehicle, or if the vehicle is found parked on a public street, it can be impounded until the lien is lifted - typically by the owner paying the overdue payments and any associated penalties or establishing a satisfactory payment plan to persuade the finance company to lift the lien.

Again, I'm not versed in the legal particulars here, but when I see a current construction lien placed against Iron Gwazi/BGT, that means to me that if it had not already been inspected and licensed for operation, then the state and local officials are not going to ignore the lien and allow BGT to operate the coaster without some type of agreement between the parties that would move RMC to lift the lien.

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