The BLOG FLUME - 2003 Attendance Figures

The 2003 attendance figures are out, and most big parks are flat. The big loser? Parks that debuted 4-D movies. Looks like the public said... yawn.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted December 22, 2003 at 11:40 AM
OC Register - Dec 21
There are similar stories in the big papers, but thanks to David Klawe, we can now consult a handy-dandy table for the Top 15!

The 2003 attendance figures are in and everybody is flatter than Gwyneth Paltrow in her Oscar dress! Here are those Top 15:

1) MAGIC KINGDOM-------------------------------- 14.04M - Flat
2) DISNEYLAND------------------------------------- 12.72M - Flat
3) EPCOT----------------------------------------------- 8.62M - Up 4%
4) DISNEY/MGM STUDIOS------------------------- 7.87M - Down 2%
5) ANIMAL KINGDOM-------------------------------- 7.31M - Flat
6) UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO----------- 6.85M - Flat
7) ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE--------------------- 6.07M - Flat
8) CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE--------------------- 5.31M - Up 13%
9) SEAWORLD ORLANDO------------------------- 5.20M - Up 4%
11) BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA BAY------------- 4.30M - Down 4%
13) SEAWORLD CALIFORNIA--------------------- 4.00M - Flat
14) KNOTT'S-------------------------------------------- 3.48M - Down 4%
15) CEDAR POINT------------------------------------ 3.30M - Up 3%

So what to make of this? Well, besides the fact that Amusement Business doesn't put a lot of effort into it anymore. They have IOA's attendance being EXACTLY the same! And they can't even bother to get half the names right. It isn't only just "Universal Studios" in Orlando. SeaWorld uses "Orlando" in its title, not Florida. Knott's no longer uses "Berry Farm." And the Adventuredome actually uses "Circus Circus" in its title. (While I am griping, can Busch Gardens stick with a frappin' name in Florida? On their site I have seen it listed as "Tampa" and "Tampa Bay" AND "Florida." Their logo now says "Busch Gardens Tampa Bay" so I guess we should all start using that. Sigh. BGTB just doesn't look right.)

Anywho... The late opening of Epcot's Mission: Space clearly hurt what could have been the most impressive increase this year. Instead that "honor" goes to DCA. If there was ever a more inflated number for a theme park, I have never seen it. That place was pretty dead on summer weekends! If Disneyland ever does do something to its AP program, expect this number to plummet.

My MVP goes, for the second year in a row, to SWO. Up 4% and they didn't even add a new attraction! Disney WISHES they could build gift shops and restaurants and get MORE guests into their parks. Just goes to show what happens when you bother to maintain a certain level of quality, don't it?

The big loser? You'd think it would be USH, and you'd be partly right. They just didn't push hard enough for people to renew their APs. Even with Shrek 4-D. I think 4-D is the big fat loser here! USH, USF, MK and BGTB all debuted big 4-D movies this year to entice guests and no one was apparently enticed. (I have an upcoming Flume on the oversaturation of 4-D attractions.)

So who stands to improve next year? Certainly USH and USF will benefit greatly from the upcoming Mummy coasters. DCA will probably have another increase due to APs running over for a few rides on their Tower of Terror. Epcot should post modest gains, but probably mostly during Spring Break and Summer. SWC's Journey to Atlantis should open well also.

IOA may benefit from spillover from USF, especially if they get the Unusual Driving Machines going. Hey, it would be SOMETHING to advertise! It remains to be seen how much Disney/MGM will benefit from a stunt show (if that opens in 2004). SeaWorld should maintain, with more Waterfront to open next year.

That leaves the "coaster" parks. BGTB, Knott's and Cedar Point attendance relies heavily on new attractions. The first two are already rumored to be getting something big. We shall see.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted December 22, 2003 at 11:58 AM
Here is a more complete list of the top 25 parks from the LA times
And Amusement business magaziene has a list of the top 50 North American parks. My link wont work but it is on web site.

>>1. The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., 14 million, flat

2. Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif., 12.7 million, flat

3. Epcot at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., 8.6 million, up 4 percent

4. Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., 7.8 million, down 2 percent

5. Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., 7.3 million, flat

6. Universal Studios at Universal Orlando, 6.8 million, flat
7. Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, 6 million, flat

8. Disney's California Adventures, Anaheim, Calif., 5.3 million, up 13 percent

9. SeaWorld Florida, Orlando, Fla., 5.2 million, up 4 percent

10. Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, Calif., 4.5 million, down 12 percent

11. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, 4.3 million, down 4 percent

11. Adventuredome at Circus Circus, Las Vegas, 4.3 million, down 4 percent

13. SeaWorld California, San Diego, 4 million, flat

14. Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, Calif., 3.4 million, down 4 percent

15. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, 3.3 million, up 3 percent
16. Paramount's Kings Island, Kings Island, Ohio, 3.2 million, up 3 percent

17. Morey's Piers, Wildwood, N.J., 3.2 million, down 5 percent

18. Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, N.J., 3.1 million, down 3 percent

19. Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, Calif., 3 million, down 2 percent

20. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in California, 3 million, flat

21. Paramount Canada's Wonderland, Maple, Ont., 2.62 million, down 7 percent

22. Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington, Texas, 2.6 million, down 3 percent

23. Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Ill., 2.57 million, down 5 percent

24. Hersheypark, Hershey, Pa., 2.55 million, down 3 percent

25. Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Va., 2.5 million, down 4 percent <<

SFGAM was Number 23 for attendance which isnt surprising, but seeing that their attendance was down sure was!!!!!!!
With a new coaster addition to the park im sure they felt attendance would be up. And from my visits this year the park seemed alot busier than past years.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted December 22, 2003 at 12:44 PM
Considering SF only dropped a total of 2% or so, it shows how well their smaller parks are apparently doing. But these big parks are the ones making the most money, so I can see why they panicked so badly.

From Russell Meyer
Posted December 22, 2003 at 1:12 PM
I'm a little surpirsed that a record breaking coaster did not translate into more than a 3% increase for Cedar Point. Aside from the break-downs and unreliability of Dragster, I though the Cedar Point PR department did a great job, and figured they could have drawn a bigger increase. It sure got me to head over to Sandusky!

From Derek Potter
Posted December 22, 2003 at 6:08 PM
We saw the figures for Cedar Point and Kings Island....both in Ohio. They both show decent numbers at +3%. So how is the other Ohio park doing??? Six Flags WOA, which is about an hour away from CP, has seen a 25% DECREASE in attendance the last 2 years. Anybody want to buy a park????

From mister johnson
Posted December 23, 2003 at 5:24 AM
SFWOA may go down in the books as the poorest strategic decision made by any attractions company, ever. DCA is getting all that glory at the moment but if someone takes a look at the mess in Aurora, I think they'd be outraged at what appears to be a complete lack of planning and an utter disrespect for the guests who do bother to show up there. I've been to SFWOA three times since the SF banner went up, each visit motivated by a new ride and a hope that things have changed. Little chance I'll do that again.

From Carrie Hood
Posted December 23, 2003 at 7:41 AM
I think the biggest problem for CP was that Top Thrill was not working most of the time, and when they closed to replace the launch system the ride didn't reopen till the end of the season. My guess would be since they've got it working now they're numbers will raise this comming season. At least that's my guess on it.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted December 23, 2003 at 3:17 PM
Plus it's a ride that only a small portion of the public actually WANTS to ride. You ain't gettin' Ma and Pa to CP if that's what you're offering them.

From Derek Potter
Posted December 23, 2003 at 6:11 PM
CP has been a thrill park for the past 30 years, and they show no sign of stopping that trend. The indoor waterpark and improvements are on the agenda for 2004. Most are looking for 2005 to bring CP's next big ride. There are plenty of rumors out there for that one, the biggest one being a floorless coaster. Their target audiences are obviously teens, college-age/20 somethings, and the coaster clubs. Since they make the money that way, I wouldn't look for them to sway anytime soon. There is no way that SF can compete with CP, so maybe SF should try a different clean walkways.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted December 24, 2003 at 1:21 AM
That's funny, but I checked the Cedar Point website and they sure seem to offer a lot of kiddie and family rides for being just a "thrill" park. In fact, three of the ride categories that THEY list are "Carousels," "Child's Rides" and "Tranquil Rides." And I'm sure this water park is being created to lure families and not thrill-seekers. Cedar Point may be fighting for this stoopid roller coaster title, but they clearly are targeting EVERYONE in their ride selection. Not that any of that matters to anybody on the planet but Cedar Pointyheads though.

As for SF not being able to compete... whatever. There are two SF parks with over 3 million up there, and those two parks had nothing but problems this year. Of course, CP had problems with Dragster, but apparently Pointyheads aren't smart enough to stay home and wait them out.

Anyhow, the whole thing is moot. Disney, Universal and Busch kick BOTH their sorry asses. Hell, the crappy Adventuredome in Circus Circus kicks CP's ass, so it can't be all that great.

From Derek Potter
Posted December 24, 2003 at 11:04 AM
pointyheads....thats cute. I wasn't aware that you were such a CP hater. There is obviously way more to do at CP than Dragster, otherwise their attendance wouldn't have actually gone up. Us pointyheads seem to like the park for more reasons than a 15 second thrill ride. Any park that can weather the storm of a PR nightmare such as Dragster and still increase attendance, make money, and win awards, surely has something more than the average park does.

You obviously have failed to take into account that CP is a seasonal park. As for Disney, Universal, Busch, and Circus Circus kicking their asses, the only parks I see beating CP are parks that are open 12 months out of the year. I would like to see what Cedar Point's attendance figures would be in a year-round market. They hit the top 15 with about 5 months of operation. Do you honestly think that some of those parks would still be ahead of them? As for SF, I see four parks on that list. Two of them are open throughout the year, another one is just outside Chicago(in a pretty barren marketplace), and the other is in New Jersey, which is one of the best parks they have. With the exception of a couple SF parks, none of them can really do anything in a competitive marketplace. A couple of parks isn't going to do it for SF.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted December 26, 2003 at 12:33 AM
Yes, I do believe they would still be ahead of them. The only park it would have a hope of passing over would be Knotts. They certainly wouldn't make the 700K needed to go higher than that. Just because a park is open from November to March doesn't mean that their attendance is doubling. Except for the two weeks around Christmas, this is an extremely SLOW period for these parks. Far more than half their money is made during summer and many parks have huge Octobers also, depending on their Halloween offerings.

But then again, I can't figure out which SF parks you are talking about that are open all year. SFMM is only open on weekends after October, except for holidays.

Also, take a look at Number 20 up there. The Boardwalk is one of the most seasonal parks on the list. Beyond summer it is rarely open, and its hours are seriously shortened on non-summer days. Furthermore, most of these parks that go year-round have other outdoor activities to compete with. What's there to do in friggin' Ohio?

And I'm not a CP-hater. I'm a Pointyhead hater. Anyone that can't extoll the virtues of their favorite park without bashing another park gets that nod.

From Derek Potter
Posted December 26, 2003 at 11:56 AM
The boardwalk is there, but tell me this, how much does it cost to get in? If I'm not mistaken, it's free, and you buy tickets to ride. It's easy to go to the boardwalk, spend a five on the Giant Dipper, eat lunch, and go to the beach, when your other choice is paying $40 per admission plus food, souveneirs..etc etc at MM. Of course attendance is going to be high at the boardwalk when it is free admission.

When I say "parks open year around", I mean parks that are open after October. CP and PKI go weekends after Labor Day until Halloween. Even though a park like SFMM is only open on weekends, that still leaves at least 50 more operating days a year. The same goes for SFOT, and the other parks that operate in a more favorable weather climate. The slow business thing has some truth to it, but then again, Disneyland rakes in 12 million people a year in the same marketplace. It's foolish to assume that the extra 6 months a year doubles attendance, but warm weather obviously gives Cali and Fla parks more chances to open their gates and therefore, an advantage in potential attendance. If BGTB operated in the north, their attendance wouldn't be near what it was on the list. My point is that I would like to see an adjusted attendance figure based on the number of days that the park was open, not just the amount of people who walked in the gates. By putting the parks on a more level playing field, we would then get a better idea of park rating and popularity by attendance.

As for "friggin" Ohio, there is a lot more competition here than you may think. I'm not sure that you understand the concept of an Ohio winter. Im sure that all the parks and their competition around here would be open and full. There is just one problem, it's 20 degrees outside, and there are a few inches of snow on the ground. It has been like this for a month, and it will continue to be this way until the end of March. Riding Millenium Force or The Beast in 20 degree weather doesn't appeal to anyone.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted December 27, 2003 at 4:54 PM
Which is my point. Disneyland may be one of the biggest lures in this country, but it still doesn't hold a candle to California beaches. Weather may be nice in Florida year-round, but that sunny California belief is a total myth. Disneyland was unpleasant weatherwise in early December. SoCal gets a couple extra months of decent weather, but winter is nowhere near its reputation.

Speaking as someone who has actually been to a "year-round" park like SFMM on a November weekend, they aren't adding much to their attendance totals. When every non-coaster is sitting there waiting for you to jump on, then you ride it with who you came with and NO ONE ELSE... when a coaster train is sitting there waiting for you to climb on... when you have to wait for two cycles to ride the most popular trains... they ain't doing big business! I would predict most weekend days get no more than 500 people a day. Do the math. 1000 people a weekend x 25 (or so) extra weekends and you have a whopping 25,000 extra people. Say I'm underestimating and there are actually 4000 people a weekend, that's still a paltry 100K.

For CP to gain that necessary 700,000, they would have to get FOURTEEN THOUSAND people a day! Their current average is less than 23,000 a day DURING SUMMER. Give up, cuz year-round wouldn't help them.

From Marty Bartholomew
Posted December 27, 2003 at 6:26 PM
Can someone please list the bottom 25. My webtv cant access the list at amusement business. Thank you

From Justin Crast
Posted December 27, 2003 at 10:14 PM
MM definitely does far more than 500 a day on weekends during the slow seasons. Trust me.


From Robert Niles
Posted December 29, 2003 at 8:51 PM
I've updated our top theme parks by attendance page with the 2003 rankings.

I've not included parks that we don't cover (mostly South Korean and Japanese parks and the free piers). The largest park we don't have on the site is Efteling, in The Netherlands, which drew 3.2 million this year for 28th on Amusement Business's list.

From Derek Potter
Posted December 30, 2003 at 12:18 AM
We can talk about daily averages if you wish. BGTB (along with all other big FL parks),is open daily all year....minus maybe a few days. At 4.3 mil total, that adds up to a little over 12,000 a day. It would be safe to say that IOA is running on the same clock as BG. That would put their daily average at about 18,700. Epcot is third on the list at 8.6 mil. That gives them about 23,600 a day, which is about the same as CP and PKI, who each run about 145 days out of the year. Sure times get a bit slow in some months, but obviously they don't get too slow because if they did, I would think that these parks would have to close at times. 500 a day at SFMM isn't enough to pay the daily electric bill, so I would hope that is a sizeable underestimation. As for California "winter", I don't live there, but I do have family there who tells me about the weather and likes to rub it in and make me jealous around this time of year. That is what I speak from.

My point is this...You can't determine park popularity by simply adding up attendance totals for the year. Disneyland and WDW are clearly the most popular parks, but the rest of the list is in question. If people want to make lists and throw around rankings and such.. (as they love to do in this industry), then they need to work a little harder on their formulas and numbers.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted December 30, 2003 at 2:17 AM
So the whole thing comes down to the fact that you refuse to believe that at least 2/3 to 3/4 of the big company's attendance comes in Summer and Holidays. Disneyland can have 60,000 in their park on summer Saturdays. Now THAT'S popularity. Can CP claim that? Say the really popular parks like the Disney, Universal and Busch parks decided to close during the winter months. Certainly the majority of the people who normally visit during those months would then just move their visits to the open months, so their attendance wouldn't be affected much, if at all.

As for parks needing a bunch of people in the parks. I heard Disneyland needed only 1000 paying customers (meaning no APs) in the park to break even. Read MiceAge and you will see that DCA spends most of its year with less than 5000 people in the park, and most of those people are APs, yet they aren't losing loads of money. Parks just close down a bunch of stuff, reduce staffing and lower throughput. You think Disneyland doesn't save gobs of money when they shut down the Haunted Mansion and It's a Small World every September and January? It's more than a little convenient that these months are two of the park's slowest.

I don't much care for DL or MK but my eyes are open enough to realize they are way more popular than CP, and always will be. The Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks will ALWAYS be third-tier. But just be happy they aren't fourth-tier like Paramount.

From Robert Niles
Posted December 30, 2003 at 9:50 AM
One true apples-to-apples comparison would be to look at each park's attendance for the period during which the seasonal parks are open. (A straight daily average isn't fair to the year-round parks because fewer people are able to visit any tourist destination during the school year.) By the apples-to-apples standard, I suspect that Cedar Point and Kings Island, each with about 3.3 million visits, would jump Knott's Berry Farm, with about 3.5 million visits spread throughout the year. *Maybe* Busch Gardens Tampa is in range with its 4.3 million annual visitors. I doubt that the Ohio parks or the top two Six Flags parks would jump any other U.S. theme parks on daily attendance, however.

FWIW, not all of the SoCal parks are open year-round. Magic Mountain is open weekends only during fall and winter, and Legoland closes two days each week during the school year.

That said, annual attendance and park quality are two very different standards by which to judge theme parks. Popularity does not strictly correlate with quality. If it did, "Dinosaur" would not have grossed more than "Chicken Run" and Legoland would be kicking the snot out of Magic Mountain. Sometimes, the market for top quality is smaller than the market for just-enough-to-get-by. On quality, Disney, Universal, Busch and Lego stand far above any other theme park companies. Cedar Fair, Paramount and Six Flags may fight among themselves for supremacy of the second tier.

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