Wet Weather Means a Dry Quarter for Cedar Fair

May 4, 2023, 1:15 PM · California's rainy winter washed away any hope for a profitable first quarter at Cedar Fair this year. The amusement park operator reported a 27% drop in attendance for the three-month period ending March 26, compared with the same period in 2022. That's despite Cedar Fair parks being open for 31 more days this year.

Most Cedar Fair theme parks are closed for the season during the first quarter of the year, so Southern California's Knott's Berry Farm dominated the company's performance for the period, as it is open for the full three months. But wave after wave of storms kept many fans in the area home, instead.

Those who did make it to the park spent more, with Knott's Peanuts Celebration and Boysenberry Festival driving in-park spending, which rose nearly 10%, to $64.47 per visitor for the quarter. Overall, however, revenue dropped 14% year-over-year, to $84.554 million. With rising operating costs, the company's net loss for the first quarter rose 52%, to $134.546 million. Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter was a loss of $101 million.

Historically, the company only records about five percent of its annual attendance and net revenue in the first quarter, Cedar Fair said, so losses are routine for the period. Carowinds and Kings Dominion expanded their calendars into the quarter this year, but the rain at Knott's and California's Great America made 2023 an especially tough opening for Cedar Fair.

Looking ahead, flagship park Cedar Fair opens for the season this weekend, with a new Wild Mouse spinning coaster to offer fans, while the weather should get better in California. (Though it was pouring rain in the Los Angeles area again this morning. Sigh.)

"We are encouraged by early season guest spending levels which are pacing well ahead of last year, driven by higher pricing for admissions and continued strong spending on food and beverage, and merchandise," CEO Richard A. Zimmerman said. "As we fully reopen all our parks between now and Memorial Day, we are confident we will continue to build on the momentum we achieved last year."

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Replies (4)

May 4, 2023 at 1:36 PM

I am curious how Cedar Fair rates the feasibility of maintaining a year-round operating schedule for their East Coast parks. While we didn't make our first visit to Kings Dominion until mid-March, I read numerous reports that overall operations were significantly pared back and most attractions were running at reduced capacity. While on most days, that reduced capacity could accommodate the crowd levels, but on the few nice weather days over the winter months, there were reports of long, slow moving lines. We visited Carowinds at the end of December, and observed similar reduced ride capacities during their Holiday in the Park event.

I'm sure there are a lot of variables involved (less maintenance from winterizing and un-winterizing attractions, more reliable full-time, year-round staff, and less retraining of employees), but if the chain is still losing money during 1Q, it makes you wonder if year-round operation makes sense.

May 4, 2023 at 3:38 PM

This year's experience in California - typically reliable for theme park-friendly weather - exposes what a crapshoot year-round operation is in most of the country. Industry history teaches that unless fans have booked far in advance and committed thousands of dollars to their trip, they don't come out in anything approaching inclement weather.

The further you expand beyond the summer season, the greater your chances for days with crowd-erasing inclement weather. So I understand why parks would not want to take that risk and instead choose to play it safer with more traditional schedules.

But if you are going to take that step and assume that risk, you've got to go all out and deliver a summer-quality experience for your guests who do show. Otherwise, you're just reinforcing the message that park-goers should wait for summer before visiting.

May 4, 2023 at 3:47 PM

Unlike BGW, I'm guessing the marketing team at CF will show face this quarter as I had no idea, being less than an hour away, that KD opened earlier this year.

May 4, 2023 at 5:10 PM

I don't know if they did in the Richmond market, but the park's marketing team pushed the announcement out into the DC market pretty heavily in December and early January. However, after the first couple of weeks of the year, there really wasn't any advertising to remind potential guests that the park was still open weekend through the winter months.

We knew because we're passholders and subscribe to their e-mails, but I can see why many people weren't aware that the park had expanded their operational calendar.

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