Six Flags Attendance, Earnings Continue Recovery

February 24, 2022, 12:27 PM · Nearly 28 million guests visited Six Flags theme parks in 2021 as Six Flags continues its recovery from the pandemic, the company reported today.

Six Flags reported fiscal year attendance of 27.7 million visitors for 2021, compared with just 6.8 million in 2020, when its parks were closed for much if not all of the year. The 2021 number is down 16% from the 32.8 million visitors Six Flags welcomed in 2019, the last full year of operation before the pandemic.

Financially, Six Flags reported Adjusted EBITDA (earnings) of $498 for 2021, up substantially from 2020's loss of $231 million, but down 5% from 2019's $527 million. Guest spending per capita continues to rise, to $52.40 in 2021, continuing the trend of increasing from $42.37 in 2019 to $48.45 in 2020. That increase was driven by increases in both admission and in-park spending.

In the fourth quarter of 2021, Six Flags saw a double-digit percentage increase in revenue and and adjusted earnings over the same period in 2019, even though attendance was down 6% between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2021. Again, increases in guest spending on admission and inside the parks drove the gains.

Six Flags' active pass base continues to shift from members to season pass holders, with membership declining from 2.6 million members at the end of 2019 to 2.1 million members at the end of 2021. But the number of traditional season pass holders increased from 5.1 million at the end of 2019 to 6.2 million at the end of 2021, bringing Six Flags' total active pass base up to 8.3 million.

"In my first 100 days, we have established a new, customer-obsessed culture, a lean and empowered organization, and a strategic focus on delivering a premium guest experience," new Six Flags President and CEO Selim Bassoul said. "With our foundation now in place, we are moving quickly to invigorate the magic of Six Flags."

That might be the first time that I have heard a Six Flags executive use the M-word.

New attractions planned for Six Flags parks in 2022 include the Wonder Woman Flight of Courage RMC Raptor coaster for Six Flags Magic Mountain, Dr. Diabolical's Cliffhanger - a Bolliger & Mabilliard dive coaster - for Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Pirates of Speelunker Cave, a retheme of Yosemite Sam and the Gold River Adventure at Six Flags Over Texas that calls back to the attraction's original IP.

Update: Lots of interesting color in the investors conference call from Bassoul. In short, Bassoul is looking to Disney's playbook, trying to take Six Flags one step upmarket (he literally compared it to going from Walmart to Target), and limiting discounting to try to reduce overcrowding in the parks.

And he said the focus is coming off building new thrill rides and onto improvements in other areas, including food service and faster ride operations.

Here are some selected quotes:

"I have 7 children, including a 6-year-old daughter. So as you can imagine, I have spent a fair amount of time and money at theme parks over the years. I have seen firsthand, the type of magic that can be created for a family visiting a Six Flags Park. My kids would talk about our visits for weeks, and they would beg me to take them back. That's why I'm here to invigorate the magic of Six Flags."

"Our guest surveys and our guest interviews have both indicated that customers are willing to pay more for better quality of service. However, we have historically ignored this data. And instead, we prioritized filling our parks to maximum capacity at the expense of the guest experience. Data shows that guests who came on heavily discounted or free tickets pre-pandemic did not spend much time or much money in the parks, yet they used up our park capacity.

"So based on our analysis, our historical reliance on heavy discounting was not the right strategy. Through premiumization, we are focused on guests who are willing to pay more for a premium experience which will lessen the crowding of our parks, reducing pressure on operations and elevating the guest experience.

"Our pricing goal is to provide value for our guest times and value for the price paid. We'll simplify our ticket offerings, but combining season passes and memberships into a new product lineup with fewer choices and targeted blackout dates. Our new pricing architecture will not only be simpler for customers to understand, but we will also create credible upsell opportunities, and have the opportunity to dynamically adjust prices based on the season and the day of the week.

"We have already run a successful test of our new pricing program over the past month and we are ready to roll out the changes company-wide over the coming weeks. It is important to note that our ability to raise price is directly related to our ability to deliver a higher quality guest experience."

"As we sit here today, we have ample thrill rides in our parks. And while we continue to selectively add new coasters over time, our near-term focus will be to deploy our resources into guest-facing technology, food and beverage offerings, and other part infrastructure improvement for a higher guest experience impact with a lower cost than adding new rides. Now once we have reinvested in our business, our second capital priority will be to pay down debt."

"I think about the Walmart, Kmart customer who going to a Target customer. Hopefully, with what we're going to do, and we want to attract more families. We want more strollers in our parks, that's for sure. That's most probably a big new area that we have not been focusing on in the past - families in our parks with strollers coming in our park. So we're investing in kids areas. We're investing in kids meals. We're investing in tremendous way to bring families back to our park, which has not been an emphasis."

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