Attendance rebounds at Six Flags

August 10, 2023, 6:58 AM · Attendance at Six Flags theme parks increased 6% year-over-year for the three months ending July 2, the company reported today.

Six Flags attributed the increase to higher sales of season passes, which had lower average prices this quarter when compared to the year prior. The lower prices on passes and higher number of visitors coming into the park with season passes led to lower per capita revenue on admissions and in-park spending, however. Total guest spending per capita was down 5% to $60.76 for the quarter.

Overall, though, the 6% increase in attendance during the three month period, to a total of 7.1 million visitors, helped push Six Flags' revenue up 2%, to $444 million for the quarter. Net income was down 55%, however, to $21 million, which the company attributed to higher interest costs and adjustments to its self-insurance reserve.

Adjusted EBITDA was up 5% year-over-year for the quarter, to $161 million.

"Following a year of transition, our strategy is taking hold. Despite a challenging weather backdrop in the first half of the year, we are seeing a return to a solid growth trajectory in attendance, revenue and earnings," President and CEO Selim Bassoul said. "Looking ahead, we are optimistic about the remainder of the season, with major investments in our Oktoberfest Food Festival, Kids Boo Fest, Fright Fest, and Holiday in the Park events; and looking further ahead to 2024, we will be investing heavily in new marketable attractions, to further elevate our position as a leader in thrills."

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Replies (16)

August 10, 2023 at 9:49 AM

"Six Flags attributed the increase to higher sales of season passes, which had lower average prices this quarter when compared to the year prior. The lower prices on passes and higher number of visitors coming into the park with season passes led to lower per capita revenue on admissions and in-park spending"

"Following a year of transition, our strategy is taking hold"...President and CEO Selim Bassoul said.

Wow you can't make this stuff up lol.

August 10, 2023 at 10:10 AM

"...our strategy is taking hold"

What "strategy"??? This moron's strategy was to raise prices to draw more big spenders, but when they realized that SF needs to lean into their value proposition they dropped prices to compensate. Then when they sell more season passes because they dropped price they claim that was their "strategy"?

Who actually believes what this idiot says? As I stated on an earlier thread, this guy has ZERO strategy and no idea how to run a theme park company. I'd wager to guess Mr. Bassoul has never stepped inside of a Six Flags as a guest (and might not have stepped inside of any other theme park as a guest more than a half dozen times in his life). Six Flags has no "strategy", and is just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. When the winds start blowing in a different direction, they'll probably come up with another knee-jerk "strategy" with little basis in reality hoping to achieve short-term results.

Six Flags is no better off today than they were decades ago under Dan Snyder.

August 10, 2023 at 10:30 AM

I literally asked this question on the discussion forum on July 31st:

Can anyone explain to me the plan/direction for Six Flags? We've been platinum season pass holders for three years. Each year, we get an offer to renew our season pass that includes a discount and other "perks." This year, Six Flags is only offering the memberships as their renewal offer. The same memberships that Six Flags was supposedly steering away from just 18 months ago. It sure seems like Six Flags has adopt the "fling poo at the wall and see what sticks" method of corporate management. How else do you explain all of the advertising surrounding the "world's largest loop coaster" being opened in 2018, and now it has been years since it has been operated?

Mr. Bassoul had a plan that he didn't see through. (I don't believe it was going to work, but he didn't give it nearly enough time to prove out). So, he goes back to what they were doing and says that this was his plan all along.

I also need to point out the hilarity of: "major investments in our Oktoberfest Food Festival, Kids Boo Fest, Fright Fest, and Holiday in the Park events" -- These are pre-packaged, previously done "events." The Around the World Food Fest at SFGA reuses the same wooden kiosks. There is no investment. It just illustrates that SF continues to roll out these lame events in lieu of cleaning their parks, operating their parks effectively, making real investments in food and beverage operations, and making investments in new rides. How many rides are closed all year in 2023?

"Looking further ahead to 2024, we will be investing heavily in new marketable attractions, to further elevate our position as a leader in thrills." -- I will believe it when I see it. Hopefully, it isn't like "world's largest loop coaster" being opened in 2018, and now it has been years since it has been operated!!

August 10, 2023 at 11:01 AM

Funny semi related story, I was in a meeting once where the CEO said "I was at Cubs game and saw that the vendors were wearing highlighter yellow shirts and it made them stand out more. One of the biggest complaints our customers have is that we are understaffed, so I realized if we have the employees wearing highlighter yellow shirts then people will see the employees more and that will make them think we are not understaffed."

Granted that was Mark Shapiro, not Selim Bassoul, but not long after, I decided that was enough "Six Flags logic" for one lifetime (he was also wearing earrings for this meeting, which Six Flags employees were not allowed to do). I should write a book about all the face palm moments i've had in meetings throughout the years.

After the bankruptcy (which I don't blame him for as it was inevitable before he came in and there wasn't anything he could do) they named an interim CEO, Al Weber, who had been in the industry his whole life and actually did some sensible things. But he only lasted a few months before the board found their guy, Mr. "lets build a Larson Loop and advertise it as the worlds biggest looping coaster" Anderson. That's OK though because now they have the soup nazi at the helm turning things around.

August 10, 2023 at 12:07 PM

@MLB Thanks for clarifying something. I thought that it was simply naivete on my part that led me to get sucked into purchasing a membership, something I swore I'd never do. Followed the link in the email to renew my pass and the next thing I knew, I'd unwittingly purchased a membership. Well, I don't like the direction in which this company appears to be heading but the membership, unlike my season pass, will get me into all Six Flags parks. Also, a Six Flags membership is cheaper than a Cedar Fair platinum pass. Until recently, I would have said that this was on a par with the operations at Cedar Fair parks vs the operations at Six Flags parks. Now, however, I don't have much confidence in any chain. There is obviously something very wrong when a crack in a support column is discovered by a parkgoer and ignored by the park.

August 10, 2023 at 12:32 PM

@Bobbie - I think it's shortsighted to assume that the park (Carowinds) "ignored" the observer who first spotted Fury's cracked support column. While the observer provided a very detailed account of what happened that day on various outlets, I still feel that they didn't report their observations in the best, most effective way. Now, some of that has to do with the way Carowinds (and many other companies, not just theme parks) have setup their customer service departments, but I think the delay in the first observation and ride closure was more of a function of "barking up the wrong tree" than anything else. Certainly, customer service departments should take reports of potential safety issues seriously, but a response to a potentially life threatening observation should be handled by or routed to a safety professional, not a customer service person. That is what caused a delay in the park's response to the observation, NOT the park knowingly or deliberately ignoring the observer. Personally, if I was in the observers shoes, and customer service was seemingly ignoring my observation, I probably would have gone either to First Aid (where trained safety professional are always on call), or shown the video to the ride ops, who have a direct line to maintenance and more knowledge about the coaster to understand how serious those images really were.

Back to the topic, I agree that SF jacking the price of passes granting admission to all the chain's parks was a big mistake, and also agree that shifting that perk back to a "membership" is frustrating (though I didn't feel deceived when we ultimately purchased the new membership product a few weeks ago). Six Flags doesn't have a clue who their target audience is, and continues to flail around trying to figure out how to best cater to the people that are actually willing to spend money to visit their parks.

August 10, 2023 at 12:59 PM

If I may, I'll defend this iteration of Six Flags a little bit. Having visited three of their parks this year (Over Georgia, Great Adventure, and Great America), all three were largely in terrific shape with all major coasters operating multiple trains. The parks were clean, food lines were manageable, and there seems to be an uptick in families attending as opposed to purely bored teenagers getting out excess energy. Great America in particular was in pristine shape and really impressed me, comfortably the best park in the chain for my money.

I have no idea if others are having the same experiences, but I'm not totally shocked to see attendance up, especially considering how they've reversed a lot of their idiotic price hikes from 2022. I think Bassoul is probably a clown but a lot of the local park presidents seem to be doing a really good job. There are also credible rumors that Six Flags Great Adventure is getting a major coaster for its 50th anniversary and Over Georgia is clearly getting something to replace Splashwater Falls (possibly the first Intamin Ultra Surf, their version of the Mack PowerSplash), so I believe him that real capex is coming back. I'm (very, verrrrry) cautiously optimstic about Six Flags right now, more than I am about Cedar Fair.

August 10, 2023 at 2:09 PM

@evanweston - That might be true for those "flagship" parks with strong local management, but that doesn't sound like it's the case for the smaller parks, and is not always consistent even with their top parks from various reports. Personally, I have only visited SFA once so far this year (I refused to buy a season pass/membership until the prices got to a reasonable price point), and it was pretty much unchanged from previous visits. There were a few notable improvements (concerted effort to create clear locations/bins for loose articles at all attractions), but there were still a number of attractions down (Fireball, Zambezi Zinger, and everything in Coyote Creek) and the new Hurricane Harbor attraction for 2023, RipQurl, is still sitting in pieces with just 3 weeks left in the season.

We'll be going to Discovery Kingdom next week, and will likely visit SFGAdv sometime in September/October to see if those parks have changed.

However, I still think Six Flags has completely misread the market. They tried to market their parks as premium destinations without making any substantial changes to their operations and facilities. They more than tripled the cost for their most dedicated fans to buy a pass to visit all the parks in the chain, and while a relatively small subset of their customers would actually use that perk, it represented a significant decrease in value of the normal season passes, which diminished sales. They've recently made some changes to their pricing structure, and have made some attempts to improve the guest experience (mostly initiated by smart, savvy park managers, not by the braindead CEO), and have seen modest gains. Now, they need to understand who their target audience is, and how to best maximize revenue from those guests, not try to change the makeup of their customer demographics. I'd say the Six Flags experience will improve thanks to excellent local management in spite of Bassoul, not because of his enlightened leadership and brilliant corporate "strategy".

August 10, 2023 at 4:37 PM

Say what you want about Bassoul, but I will say this: On the whole, I've had significantly better experiences at Six Flags parks than Cedar Fair parks over the past couple years, and I've found the new investments Six Flags has been doing more interesting than Cedar Fair's. The chain tried something new when Bassoul came onboard and it flopped, but they've managed to pivot back to a stronger strategy than Anderson's without losing what Bassoul was actually doing well. That's not to say that he's been amazing, as I wouldn't expect someone who actually understood the business to bomb so hard out of the gate, but I do feel Six Flags is now on a trajectory that could yield good things if they can keep to it for a few years.

August 10, 2023 at 5:09 PM

OMG, it took me to read this article to realize I haven't been to any SF parks in over 2 yrs, all while still having a membership. Time to cancel.

August 10, 2023 at 5:12 PM

@evanweston - I hate saying you're wrong, but you're wrong at least when it comes to SFGA. That is my family's "home park" as it is a two hour drive. We also went to Cedar Point this year and stopped at SFGA on the way home. SFGA only runs one train on Maxx Force, their newest coaster. It has been that was for two years now, which has created incredibly long lines from open to close. The (admittedly dumb) Mardi Gras Hangover has been closed for years, it was purchased in 2018. As of mid-July, the park is finally operating more than one water ride per year. This goes back years! Please don't get me started about the awful ride operations on Batman and Raging Bull that artificially inflate wait times.

Hurricane Harbor (Gurnee/Chicago) - multiple slide complexes were closed in the middle of July on a weekend, and they have an annoying habit of testing the lifeguards in the wave pool every hour. The waves start, three whistles, waves go off, people wait. (I worked at a waterpark all through high school and college. When management runs to get the log book instead of to the emergency, you know it is one of the tests. There is even a sign that say they test guards every hour). Hurricane Harbor (Gurnee/Chicago) - has not opened Wipeout, their newest ride, in two years!

The food offerings at Great America are horrible. When Johnny Rockets can be considered among the best've got a problem!

Finally, the "value proposition" of the ability to go to any park...really depends on your location. If you live in the midwest, you have two options SFGA and St. Louis, that's it for reasonable, drivable locations. Give me access to the park and waterpark as a season pass, and I will renew. Force me into a membership, and I'll take a pass. This company doesn't know what it wants to be, and they are hosing their customers as they attempt to figure it out.

August 11, 2023 at 2:45 AM

FWIW I haven't been to a SF park in years but was in Chicago this spring and was going to visit SFGAm, but when I found out what rides were SBNO and what rides were running 1 train, I decided against it. I had a small child with me and the two best family rides were SBNO. If I remember correctly at the time

Railroad, Sky Trek Tower, Lobster, Condor, Giant Drop, Mardi Gras Hangover, and all water rides were SBNO. And 2 of the 3 coasters I haven't been on (XFlight, Maxx Force) were running 1 train. SUF and Batman were also 1 train.
And then sometime during the season Demon randomly closed on weekdays due to budget, and all the rides in County Fair (except Goliath I think) don't open until 12:30.

Back when I worked at SFGAm everything always ran at least 2 trains (Bull, Whizzer ran 3 most of the time) and Demon would run 3 on busy weekends...and the lines were still always really long. You couldn't pay me to go to that park with 1 train ops that would be absolute misery. I don't even want to think about the amount of arguments/fights they have in those lines.

August 10, 2023 at 6:37 PM

@Russell Meyer: Clarification. I wasn't suggesting that Carowinds ignored the structural problem, only that they should have noticed it before a parkgoer brought it to their attention.

August 10, 2023 at 6:46 PM

@the_man - Everything you heard was basically correct. Although, Sky Trek has reopened after being closed for many years, as has Roaring Rapids (although its operation is spotty at best. Don't bank on it being open). Condor is still in pieces and after saying opening early summer for months, now says closed for the season. Mardi Gras Hangover has been closed for years. Giant Drop is partially open, some of the cars don't move anymore, which makes me nervous post-Orlando. The Demon is now closed, and has been for a month including a Saturday a couple of weeks ago. Maxx Force is always one train, SUF is hit and miss between one and two. Raging Bull is only two, I am not even sure where the third train is anymore. Many of the flat rides are closed, not all...but many. Oh, and you'll love this... Loggers Run still says coming summer. LOL They did open Aquaman Splashdown this summer after being closed all of last summer. Finally, X-Flight sucks. It has the most constrictive restraints I've ever experienced. Somehow Gatekeeper at CP is the same type, but far more forgiving. My son won ride X-Flight after getting stuck on it and the restraint was so tight he couldn't breathe and he had a panic attack at ten years old.

August 10, 2023 at 8:39 PM

Magic Mountain brought in multiple food festivals this year and most of the offerings were unique to the chain and quite good. This was a much needed thing to get people to do things other than going to rollercoasters. So far, this has been the best year going to Magic Mountain and hope the momentum keeps going.

August 10, 2023 at 9:04 PM

@MLB you are right about Maxx Force, that was the one real wait I had because it was running one train, my mistake. It is definitely annoying but the short cycle time and a great crew kept it as reasonable as can be for one train operation.

I definitely would not describe the food offerings as horrible. They are perfectly standard theme park fare and nothing made me feel gross for the rest of the day, which is all I ask. I was on a very good deal where you paid $75 and got entry, parking, and the all-day dining plan and I felt I got great value for my money. You are right about X-Flight though, that is the worst sit-down B&M ever built. Atrocious coaster.

AJ sums up where I'm at with Six Flags. Outside of Kings Island, the generic Six Flags park is more fun to visit than Cedar Fair parks right now and I'm hopeful that things continue to trend upward.

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