How will Cedar Fair and Six Flags fit together?

November 1, 2023, 9:09 PM · Let's assume that the proposed merger of Cedar Fair and Six Flags is happening. If the deal comes through Thursday morning, I will update this post with those details. And if it does not happen, well, I will keep this post up for the inevitable next time that this rumor gets attention. [Update: The deal happened. It's a "merger of equals," but Cedar Fair's CEO is in charge, and the company remains at Cedar Fair's HQ in North Carolina.]

How would these two theme park chains come together? What would stay and what would go as they combine operations across North America?


Let's start at the top. I cannot imagine that a combined company would not keep "Six Flags" as its consumer-facing brand. "Cedar Fair" has zero consumer brand value. While Six Flags might have somewhat diminished brand value these days, it enjoys massive brand recognition and the addition of several well-regarded Cedar Fair theme parks may help boost consumers' opinions of Six Flags, especially if the new company is to be run by former Cedar Fair leadership.

That said, there are at least a couple of current Cedar Fair theme parks that probably should not adopt Six Flags branding. We'll get to those in a bit.

Beyond park names, the merger of Six Flags and Cedar Fair creates some potential branding conflicts. Let's start with Six Flags Fright Fest versus Cedar Fair's Halloween Haunt. If I am running the new company, I would choose "Halloween Haunt" as the more valuable of the competing Halloween brand. "Six Flags Halloween Haunt" would be an entirely new brand that could reenergize Halloween events at (almost) all parks in the chain.

I also would be inclined to choose Cedar Fair's Winterfest brand over Six Flags' Holiday in the Park, simply because that's one word versus four. But Six Flags' holds a live trademark for its holiday event brand, while Cedar Fair does not have the same for its. If the new company can get a trademark for Winterfest as a theme park event, then go with that. Otherwise, it might be time for "Holiday in the Park" at most of the current Cedar Fair theme parks that stay open in November and December.

Intellectual Property

Six Flags brings IP licenses for DC Comics and Looney Tunes characters from its former owners at Warner Bros. Cedar Fair brings a license for Snoopy and the Peanuts characters that it inherited with its purchase of Knott's Berry Farm.

This is one area where I believe that this merger would provide a clear increase in value to the parks, as it could allow the Cedar Fair parks to dump the moribund Peanuts franchise for its kiddie lands in favor of the better-known Looney Tunes. (Again, with one exception.) The merger also could allow Cedar Fair to choose from various DC franchises in branding roller coaster and thrill rides, which could be a plus if implemented judiciously.

The new company's decision on its children's area could provide a tell as to other developments in the U.S. theme park business. If the new company does not move to expand its use of Looney Tunes, that could be an indication that Warner Bros. might not be inclined to extend its license with Six Flags. Disney would love for Warner Bros. to take back the DC rights and sell them instead to Universal, as that deal would make Universal more inclined to sell its Orlando rights to Marvel characters to Disney. But Universal would have zero interest in Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes, given the success of its own DreamWorks and Illuminations franchises, led by the Minions, whom I would argue are even more valuable brand than Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes with today's young consumers.

So if Warner Bros. wants to keep the American theme park rights to Looney Tunes and DC together, Six Flags is its best - and perhaps only - bet... unless Warner Bros. has plans to get back into the U.S. theme park business itself.

The Knott's exception

Now let's get to that exception that I keep mentioning. Six Flags and Cedar Fair now operate parks in just two common media markets - San Francisco and Los Angeles. The San Francisco market is about to become irrelevant, but Los Angeles would present a big challenge for the new company.

The merger would bring the two "Great America" theme parks under the same ownership for the first time since they were Marriott's theme parks. But Cedar Fair has sold the California's Great America property, with a lease that will terminate the company's rights to operate the park within a decade. I would be surprised if a Six Flags/Cedar Fair deal did not accelerate the closure of California's Great America. Why put anything into promoting and operating a lame duck park when there's another park in the same media market (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom) that really could use some additional marketing and capital investment support?

In Southern California, both Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm can, and should, continue to operate. Both draw enough visitors to rank in the TEA/AECOM Top 20 for North America and both enjoy disparate fan bases on either side of Los Angeles that would not transfer easily to the other.

The challenge comes with branding. Six Flags long has promoted "Six Flags" as the primary branding for each of its theme parks, using the rest of each park's name only as modifier and national differentiator. In the LA market, "Six Flags" means Magic Mountain. Slapping the Six Flags brand on Knott's Berry Farm only would cause confusion.

That's why I would argue that Knott's Berry Farm should retain its own branding, not just for the park itself, but also for its Knott's Scary Farm and Knott's Merry Farm events. Let Six Flags Halloween Haunt/Fright Fest and Holiday in the Park happen up the 5 in Santa Clarita.

And let Knott's Berry Farm keep its Camp Snoopy, too. Magic Mountain already has a Looney Tunes area. There's no need to duplicate that in Orange County.

I also would pause before any rebranding of Cedar Point. Nothing that the company could do would boost the value of the Six Flags brand more than adding it front of the beloved Cedar Point name. But nothing that the new company could do would more damage its Cedar Point brand than slapping "Six Flags" in front it.

Six Flags Kings Island? Six Flags Carowinds? Sure, the former Paramount Parks has prepends before, and they can deal with them again. But I would tread very carefully before doing anything with the name of Cedar Point.

Will parks close?

I see no reason why this merger would attract the attention of the Justice Department on antitrust grounds. First, the U.S. government seems to have forgotten that anti-trust laws remain on the books. Second, even the combined company would trail market leaders Disney and Universal by quite a bit. I think regulators are more likely to see these as troubled companies teaming up to try to survive rather than market leaders looking to create unlimited market power.

That said, with 25 parks after CGA's inevitable closure, the new company would include many parks that are dragging down its brand value. Even with a presumed increase in access to capital, there's no realistic way that the company could afford to install attendance-driving new rides every few years at each of these parks.

Therefore, the new company's managers ought to look at selling or closing its underperforming parks. Rank 'em by attendance, then start from the bottom of the list. If you find any takers, sell. If not, consider closing the worst performers, anyway.

What about season passes?

And here is another area where a merger can create value. Even if the chain closes underperforming parks, the new company would have a stronger line-up of top parks to entice fans to buy chain-wide premium seasonal and annual passes or memberships. Knott's and Magic Mountain together? Cedar Point, Kings Island and Six Flags Great America? These are combinations that can drive sales, or at least upgrades, from more theme park and thrill ride fans, especially with more aggressive price increases.

That, in turn, makes more money available for the company to invest in its top parks. The Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks need better capital investment if they are to have any hope of remaining the popular destinations that they have been. A merger provides an opportunity to get that, but only if the company's new management does not fumble the bag when integrating the chains.

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Replies (16)

November 1, 2023 at 9:24 PM

There’s probably a much more nuanced that I’ll have on this once the shock wears off, but right now I can’t stop thinking about how funny the idea of “Six Flags Knott’s Berry Farm” is.

That being said, KBF is probably gonna end up retaining its name just to avoid confusion, but I also think there could be a lot of cool synergy between KBF and SFMM, as a lot of people like both parks and one is South of LA while the other is North of LA. Maybe some package ticket deals or advertising?

November 1, 2023 at 10:16 PM

Woah woah woah, why are we calling Peanuts "moribund"?? There's no way it's any less fresh than Looney Tunes, which is several decades older! (they're both great and way better than DC Comics)

November 1, 2023 at 10:18 PM

Keeps Knott’s Berry Farm as is. No new branding and no change in seasonal names(I don’t want Scary Farm to change to Fright Fest, presented by Snickers).

November 1, 2023 at 10:33 PM

Yeah, this Peanuts libel needs to stop immediately.

November 1, 2023 at 10:54 PM

Robert, I like you and agree with most of your posts but back off the Peanuts hate, I know lots of kids who love them more than Looney Tunes.

November 1, 2023 at 11:26 PM

This is a stereotypical example of "good for shareholders, bad for consumers"
The SF/CF company will have basically no incentive to invest more in their parks than they do now. This merger basically eliminates competition for major parts of the USA (I realize the parks in other markets don't technically compete with each other, but that's about as close of competition as you're gonna get). Remember its not these peoples jobs to run the best parks possible for their fans, its their job to make as much of a return as possible for the shareholders.
Also I disagree that Looney Tunes is more popular than Peanuts. Pretty much everyone including little kids know Peanuts from Halloween and Christmas, if for no other reason. Looney Tunes hasn't been relevant at all for multiple generations. My kid knows the Peanuts characters but only knows Looney Tunes from Six Flags and has never seen any of those characters in any other context.

"First, the U.S. government seems to have forgotten that anti-trust laws remain on the books."
I agree that it shouldn't be allowed but probably will be.

November 1, 2023 at 11:21 PM

Peanuts has deep resonance with people who grew up with newspaper comics and the TV specials. But they’re all over age 40 now. Looney Tunes have wider generational appeal, but Minions own consumers who weren’t adults before 2010.

November 1, 2023 at 11:42 PM

I just don’t agree with that assessment, and not just because I’m 31.

November 2, 2023 at 6:03 AM

If Cedar Fair management remains in control after the merger I think it is more likely that parks like Great Adventure and Magic Mountain lose the Six Flags branding than Cedar Fair parks add the moniker. The former Paramount Parks didn’t suffer after losing that well recognized name and logo. And while Six Flags has a solid brand recognition, the chain is not held in high regard by the GP and fresh branding makes sense. What about using Knott’s, the combined park chain’s best brand? Maybe not in front of the park name, but using “A Knott’s Family Theme Park” as a subtitle might work to unite the merged chain’s amusement parks.

And if Cedar Fair execs remain in charge I think the combined entity would be open to ending the Warner Brothers contract. Cedar Fair had access to the very popular Nickelodeon characters after the Paramount buy out and opted to keep the moribund Peanuts franchise over SpongeBob et al. I don’t think the light superhero branding on thrill rides helps the Six Flags parks all that much, and as you mentioned WB Discovery could benefit from flipping the contract to Kabletown.

November 2, 2023 at 8:41 AM

I'm in absolute shock right now. I think a few parks that are too close together might be doomed. Dorney Park, for instance. I'm also not sure if I need to keep my Cedar Fair pass or my Diamond Elite Membership. It makes sense now why Cedar Fair changed their Platinum Pass to Gold as that is what Six Flags uses. I would definitely agree that Peanuts kids areas are doomed to become Looney Tunes as they're not going to pay for two different licenses for kids areas. I wonder if Millennium Force is suddenly going to become Superman and if we're going to see a lot of ride Name changes.

November 2, 2023 at 9:17 AM

I could not agree more with Zarex! I don’t think the light superhero branding on thrill rides drives attendance or even ridership at the Six Flags parks. When Vertical Velocity became the Flash: Vertical Velocity, the only change was a sloppy coat of paint to red and yellow. (Seriously, I don't think they used drop clothes as red paint drips are all over the loading platform.) The Aquaman rebrand didn't increase ridership of the old Yankee Clipper, ridership was high most of the season because it was usually the only water ride open at SFGA.

And to jump into the Peanuts vs. Looney Tunes debate... both franchises have newer shows; Peanuts on Apple TV+ and Looney Tunes on Cartoon Network. My kids love the old Peanuts holiday specials, but since ABC lost the broadcast rights to Apple a few years ago, I am not sure how much the characters remain in the consciousness of most young kids.

November 2, 2023 at 10:09 AM

Your comment is much appreciated, MLB! I think Robert might be mistaken on the branding issue. Adding the Six Flags name to the entire chain doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, since the brand isn't held in high regard at the moment and at least a few parks are certain to not take the name. Does Six Flags Canada's Wonderland get a bump in attendance after the name change? I doubt it.

Uniform branding would help if the chain were advertising nationally, but while Mr Six had his moment the character's popularity didn't last after the Coaster Wars ended. And it doesn't help that the parks are so very different in terms of ride lineup and experiences. Somebody can go to a Olive Garden in Maryland and Texas and have a very similar (albeit poor) experience. That is not the case with the Six Flags parks.

And one could make a case that Mickey and Friends would have been considered a moribund franchise for much of the past few decades if those characters weren't present in the Disney parks. The parks kept Goofy and Pluto in the public eye despite limited appearances in other media, and plopping Snoopy and Woodstock into a bunch of popular regional parks could lead to a similar, though much smaller, enhancement of the Peanuts brand.

November 2, 2023 at 12:12 PM

Robert, I'm slightly surprised you overlooked King's Dominion and Six Flags America having overlapping footprints. Certainly similar drive times between Vallejo and San Jose.

November 2, 2023 at 12:27 PM

I would add Dorney Park and SFGAdv as well as WoF and SFStL (in the same state though on opposite sides - @3-4 hours). There's also the conundrum with the Schlitterbahn parks (under Cedar Fair) and how they fit into the combined chain.

November 5, 2023 at 1:07 PM

I am relieved to hear CF's management is taking over, however, I think both brands have a lot of room for improvement. I agree that the term "Halloween Haunt" is much more recognized as a high quality Halloween event over Fright Fest.

I really hope they don't get rid of the peanuts characters. If they did, I'd actually rather see a brand new, original, cast of mascots over Looney Toons or DC. I heavily dislike the DC branding throughout Six Flags parks. I don't feel it adds anything to Magic Mountain especially. I dislike superhero themes/movie though.

Hoping KC's only amusement park, World's of Fun, gets a much needed face lift. Or maybe even gets sold to new owners who will care more about the park! We need something here!

November 6, 2023 at 3:04 PM

On a related note, a new Peanuts feature film is being developed from Apple. The writers & director are the same creative team who worked on the 2015 film.

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