The owner of the Universal theme parks remains bullish on the business, even while Universal's Orlando and Osaka parks are attracting just one-quarter of their usual attendance during the pandemic. But Universal has slowed its investment in the parks as it rides out the continuing business effects of the pandemic.
Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts spoke this morning online as part of the Goldman Sachs 29th Annual Communacopia Conference for investors. When asked about theme parks and when he thinks more people might return, Roberts said,
"I think very possible that for many people, they're going to wait until we have a vaccine, and that's okay. I mean that's a personal choice. For other people, the answer is they want to be at the theme parks sooner than that — and they're comfortable.
"I think we've given them reason to be comfortable, as we have put in what we think are the best possible protocols and safety that the experts locally have advised. The consumer results and satisfaction scores show they are very overwhelmingly comfortable — the customers that have come to both Orlando and Osaka. It's about 25 percent of our usual attendance — some days are more and some days are less. We hope to open Hollywood in the foreseeable future.
"But that's not the business that we've been enjoying. When we bought NBCUniversal, I think Universal was around $500-600 million of EBITDA, and we were around $2.5 billion when COVID did. And we've lost all that — or much of that — and therefore we have a long way back. It may take a vaccine until that happens.
"In fact, as I think about the entire company, probably 70 percent of the COVID effect is this one conversation, and there's only so much we can do about that. But for the 10 years that we did own NBCUniversal, the fastest growing part of our company was Universal theme parks, so you have to ask, 'Do you think it's coming back someday, and are these great assets?'
"Companies that aren't as well capitalized that are not part of a bigger enterprise, maybe won't be able to come back with the strength in the hotels and customer experience that Universal parks will. So I'm really bullish on the business. It's really the main part of COVID that we have not been able to completely get fixed yet, but I'm optimistic for the long term."
Universal Orlando and other theme parks in Florida are operating under capacity limits, as they look to promote safe social distancing and prevent the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. However, daily attendance at the Universal Orlando theme parks has varied wildly, with strong attendance on weekends balanced by lighter attendance on weekdays, illustrating that attendance continues to be dominated by locals who work during the week rather than by tourists on vacation.
When Roberts was asked about Comcast's upcoming capital investments, Roberts said of the parks,
"At the right time, we can invest in theme parks, but not now. So we've slowed down some investments in theme parks, but I hope they will come back and I want them to come back."
Universal officials earlier this summer confirmed that the company has "paused" development of its announced Epic Universe theme park, which was to anchor the new south campus of the Universal Orlando Resort, located next to the Orange County Convention Center. However, construction continues on the as-yet-unannounced new roller coaster in the Jurassic Park land of Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, and new Super Nintendo World lands are nearing completion at Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Hollywood, where a new Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash! dark ride is finished and ready to debut as soon as that park is cleared to return.Tweet
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