Universal's Theme Parks Post Record Earnings, Again

January 26, 2023, 7:48 AM · Universal's theme parks posted their highest adjusted earnings in their history at the end of last year, according to parent company Comcast.

Comcast reported its fourth quarter and full year 2022 financial results this morning, with the company's Universal Parks & Resorts segment posting strong numbers, as the post-lockdown recovery at the top of the world's theme park industry continues.

Universal's theme parks posted revenue of $7.5 billion in 2022, up nearly 50% over the year prior, with revenue up 12%, to 2.1 billion in the fourth quarter of the year.

Adjusted EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] was up to a record $2.7 billion in 2022, rising 16% to 782 million in the fourth quarter.

Universal attributed the strong performance to attendance that surpassed pre-pandemic levels in Orlando, Hollywood, and Osaka, and company leaders expect the surge in attendance to continue in 2023.

"We are seeing some exciting demand to start the year," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said.

Universal recently announced two expansion projects: a family-focused park in suburban Dallas as well as a year-round horror attraction in Las Vegas. In addition, Super Nintendo World will open officially at Universal Studios Hollywood next month and work continued on the Epic Universe theme park and new south campus at the Universal Orlando Resort for a 2025 debut.

"NBCUniversal's total capital spending increased $1.4 billion [in 2022], driven by Parks' capex increasing $1.1 billion, of which Epic [Universe] was around $800 million, and reflects our continued investment in new attractions like Super Nintendo World at Hollywood and Donkey Kong in Japan." Comcast President Mike Cavanagh said. "In 2023, we expect Parks capex to increase by around $1.2 billion over last year as we continue to build Epic, which we plan to open in 2025 and begin work on our recently announced park extensions mentioned earlier. The required investment to develop these extensions is nowhere near the scale of Epic or Universal Beijing, but rather enable us to leverage our already large market opportunity and could serve as a model that contributes even higher growth at theme parks in the future."

"The concept that we're going to build in Dallas, which is designed for a younger audience and less investment, if it's successful - which we're pretty confident it will be - it's a concept that will work in a lot of places around the world that may not support a full-scale park like we have in Orlando or Beijing, but could support something else, so that we're excited about that concept," NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said. "And then the Halloween Horror Nights experience in Vegas, which which I'm really excited about, could also be expanded to a number of different places around around the world. So we're definitely having a eye towards expanding internationally, not just domestically, and they won't all be places for a big giant primary theme park. We will look at different concepts for different markets."

For our reader ratings and advice on visiting Universal's theme parks, please see our listing pages:

For more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.

Replies (19)

January 26, 2023 at 9:34 AM

So am I reading this correctly, and Universal spent $800 million on Epic Universe in 2022 alone??? I'm guessing some of those costs are on contracts that will continue throughout the development phase and up until the projected park opening in 2025, but that's still a HUGE chunk of change in one year. If that number is accurate, I could see the final cost of Epic Universe exceeding $5 Billion when you include land, infrastructure, and IP licensing spent before the pandemic slowed development.

For perspective, it is rumored that Disney's most recent American parks, DAK and DCA, cost $800 million and $1 billion to build, respectively, and Universal's most recent American park, IOA, cost $1 billion. Hard Rock Park, the most recent full-size American theme park, was reportedly built for $225 million, and the ENTIRE American Dream complex (including Nickeloden Universe) cost $5 billion in New Jersey (more expensive land and construction costs than Florida).

January 26, 2023 at 10:30 AM

@Russell, Galaxy's Edge alone cost about $1 billion (according to media sources, not sure if that includes the cost for both WDW + DL or just one instance of SE:GW). I think $5 billion seems more than reasonable for 4 lands + an entertainment district + a hotel + all the connecting infrastructure.

It's great to see parks divisions continue to do well after coming out of the pandemic! It's interesting to see Universal take a different approach vs. Disney in ramping up themed entertainment attractions (Epic, Dallas, Vegas) to spread out demand.

Disney meanwhile seems content with trying to appeal to high-spenders as a luxury brand, with price hikes and high-cost themed entertainment (Starcruiser).

It will be interesting to see how this affects both businesses long-term. I definitely think Disney is hurting their brand in the short-term with their recent decisions, but I also think Universal's work could possibly take a hit if they expand too rapidly without as much quality control or attention to detail.

I will say, I am excited about Universal adding additional themed experience "supply." This, in my opinion, is Disney's weak spot: they keep re-theming or replacing old attractions without increasing their total park capacity by a significant amount.

For instance, once Tron opens in MK, since Splash Mountain is closed, MK will have an additional hourly capacity just shy of 500 guests. When Tiana's opens, MK will have an additional capacity (compared to today) of 1680. That's 1680 additional guests/hour over the course of 2 new attractions. For comparison, Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT has an hourly capacity of 2000 guests.

EPCOT should really be the template for how Disney expands in the future (even though the expansions are a shadow of what was originally promised). When Frozen: Ever After opened, replacing Maelstrom, demand for that attraction (and EPCOT in general) soared, while capacity remained stagnant. By opening Remy's + Guardians in close proximity, Disney managed to spread out the demand in EPCOT, and they didn't merely replace an old attraction, they created a brand new building and area!

All this to say, in the new era of the theme park wars, the victors will be those who can smartly build & expand, without sacrificing a commitment to quality. The good news is this isn't a zero-sum game!

January 26, 2023 at 11:31 AM

I find it interesting that, when quarterly profits or revenue are announced, the consensus here is Disney is robbing its customers whereas Universal record profits are met with either good feelings for the company or few comments.

January 26, 2023 at 2:00 PM

Great point TwoBits. Just shows that people are happy to pay if they're being treated right. Disney is making everyone pay more for less, they're gouging us.

January 26, 2023 at 2:32 PM

Universal’s not innocent from the charge of price gauging that helps produce increased profits. And you can’t blame supply chains on a 50% increase on HHN Express.

January 26, 2023 at 2:50 PM

what an interesting article, well written AND it had thecolonel and TwoBits agreeing in the comments (never thought i'd see *that* happen)

January 26, 2023 at 5:32 PM

The $800 million is likely the total amount of the checks that have been cut -- not the sum total value of the construction contracts signed. Contractors are paid as work is completed.

A source told me Pandora cost $1.3 billion. Two rides, some F&B, a store and a ton of area development. That project opened five years ago. IOA opened almost a quarter of a century ago. Ditto DAK.

Over the past two years, construction labor and material costs have skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. Additionally, as production progresses, attractions always go through expensive design changes.

January 26, 2023 at 5:55 PM

Hands: "Disney meanwhile seems content with trying to appeal to high-spenders as a luxury brand, with price hikes and high-cost themed entertainment ..."

Me: Blogger recently posted how a day trip to UO cost her family of four $1100 for one day. How much do you think it will cost to park and enter UEU in 2025?

Hands: "It will be interesting to see how this affects both businesses long-term."

Me: What's long term?

Hands: "I will say, I am excited about Universal adding additional themed experience "supply." This, in my opinion, is Disney's weak spot ..."

Me: Cruise ships.

January 26, 2023 at 5:52 PM

When crapping on Universal drives traffic and ad money the way that crapping on Disney now does, expect to see the Internet awash in criticism of whatever Universal happens to be doing, or not doing, at the moment.

January 26, 2023 at 6:00 PM

R. Niles: "When crapping on Universal drives traffic and ad money the way that crapping on Disney now does, expect to see the Internet awash in criticism of whatever Universal happens to be doing, or not doing, at the moment."

Me: AH-MEN! Dumping on Disney is a huge cottage industry. Anti-Disney headlines always generate clicks. My favorite was an article with the headline "Disney World Truck Theft" (10/25/22). The truck was parked at a Comfort Inn and Suites near Disney World. And the YouTube vloggers are relentless ... Because they GOTS to get paid.

January 27, 2023 at 12:13 AM

We were at Universal over the Summer of 22. I had never seen anything like it. The crowds on the Citywalk at 11PM were insane. You couldn't get something to eat anywhere. The parks were also near capacity from open to close, and the only saving grace was the on-site (Hard Rock) perk of Unlimited Express.

I think we're done. Our next Florida trip will probably include an all day Busch Gardens visit only, and we will skip Orlando all together. I would hope Epic Universe may pull some guests and make other two parks more bearable, but I don't think that's going to happen.

January 27, 2023 at 3:30 AM

I think the reason why Disney gets so much flak for their prices while Universal has been able to avoid it is because of the amount that used to be included but no longer is. When you look at the numbers, the actual cost of a WDW vacation vs. a UOR vacation is not that much different if you're going for the same number of days at either destination (WDW vacations do tend to be longer, though). However, if you go back five to ten years, a WDW vacation used to come with many perks included that are now upcharges, while UOR has always been upcharging for them. As such, it doesn't feel like you're being ripped off by paying the high prices of these parks because those prices didn't used to include more. The other big factor is that both UOR parks offer a complete experience, while at WDW only Magic Kingdom is really a complete park at this point in time. This is exacerbated by the amount of investment UOR seems to get compared to WDW, though that's a bit of an illusion as WDW has actually received more in recent times (in the past five years, UOR got three major new rides, a new show, and a new nighttime spectacular, while WDW got two whole themed lands, two additional major new rides, a revamped show, a new nighttime spectacular, and a new full service restaurant) and just has a problem of not evenly distributing it around the resort like UOR does.

As far as the numbers go, I think demand will probably remain high this year, but drop next year as people defer their trips to 2025 for Epic Universe. I know I'm personally planning to visit Florida primarily for WDW this year, but will throw a day or two over at UOR onto that trip. With nothing of value coming to either resort next year, I likely won't go again until Epic Universe opens, which will get a UOR centric trip with three to five park days at the resort. In California, I think the reception to Super Nintendo World is going to be a strong indicator of how this year and next year goes for the park.

As for the cost of Epic Universe, I'd be surprised if the project is less than $4 billion total, with the theme park being roughly 3/4 of that. Super Nintendo World alone cost almost $400 million in Japan, and that's without the Donkey Kong area that will be coming to Epic Universe from the start. I look at the project less like simply adding a second gate and more on the scale of something like Shanghai Disneyland, which ended up costing $5.5 billion.

January 27, 2023 at 3:34 AM

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Parks' performing well. CEO making north of $30 million a year (Brian Roberts $34 Million [2021]. Bob Chapeck $32.5 Million [2021]).

And then there's the steaming service.

Variety (01/26/23) - "Peacock’s full-year EBITDA loss of $2.5 billion was in line with the outlook we provided a year ago, and for 2023, we expect Peacock losses to be up modestly to around $3 billion,” Comcast president Mike Cavanagh said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call Thursday."


January 27, 2023 at 7:32 AM

@TH - When you charge less for a year-long subscription then what it used to cost for a single WWE pay-per-view (Peacock gives you all WWE “premium live events”), you know you have a revenue problem. Not that I’m complaining because if not for WWE and EPL, I wouldn’t have a Peacock subscription.

January 27, 2023 at 8:30 AM

Yeah, Peacock really needs to step up its game or Universal will get left behind in the dust. Reboots of shows like Saved by The Bell just isn't going to compare to buzz-worthy programs like The Mandalorian or The Last of Us.

January 27, 2023 at 10:13 AM

Colonel and I may be agreeing, but not for the same reasons. Robert and TH nailed it when they stated that crapping on Disney drives traffic and ad revenue for bloggers. Perhaps we will see that come 2025 for Universal.

Right now, there isn't a whole lot of difference between the prices of 2 day to 5 day tickets for Universal. Last summer, we took advantage of the buy 3 days, get 2 free promotion, and I know recently Universal was doing a buy 2 days, get 2 free promotion. However, when Epic Universe opens, Universal will have 3 REAL parks (I'm not counting Volcano Bay even if Universal says it counts). I would expect multiday tickets to increase by around 50% when that happens, much like Disney right now has very little discount for multi-day tickets from 2 to 4 days, but charge relatively little for extra days 5 through 10. That's fairly wordy for what my point really is: When Universal raises prices to help pay for their new park, it may be considered price gouging by part of the theme park attending public, and maybe that's when crapping on Universal becomes the money maker for bloggers.

January 27, 2023 at 11:16 AM

honestly, the big difference is that people have, for a very long time, felt that disney is /not like the other publicly traded mega-corporations/

it appears they're having a very hard time dealing with that dissonance now that it's very clear that, yes, disney wants to take all your money, too. just like comcast, six flags, cedar fair and ... every other large corporation on earth. that's their one job.

January 27, 2023 at 4:11 PM

Beyond the billion dollar losses at Peacock, the Universal parks' parent company is having to endure a wave of cord cutting.

Advanced Television (01/26/23): "Comcast posted fourth-quarter earnings down as losses grew at its Peacock streaming service and the cable business lost subscribers."

The article continues; "Cord-cutting cost the company 440,000 video subscribers while it blamed Hurricane Ian for a loss in broadband customers at Comcast Cable."

People who give up on coaxial don't come back.

January 28, 2023 at 6:42 PM

I get Peacock for "free" as part of my Xfinity package. It's now only place to stream a lot of NBC shows and such and do enjoy WWE and the movies it gets but if I had to pay regularly for it, not sure. So yeah, they need to step it up a bit to get more attention over other streamers.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive