Six Flags Ends Its European Adventure

Premier Parks/Six Flags undoes its expansion, selling off its European parks to raise funds to help its cash crunch. What will the future hold for these parks? Look to their past for the answer.

From Ben Mills
Posted March 12, 2004 at 4:58 PM
Six Flags have recently announced that they are closing a $200 million deal to end their involvement with all but one of their European parks. This means that Six Flags Holland, Six Flags Belgium, Bellewaerde Park, Walibi Rhöne Alps, Walibi Aquitane, Walibi Lorraine and Warner Bros. MovieWorld Germany will soon be under the ownership of an unknown UK based company who, according to Lance Hart from Screamscape, have “no connection to the amusement industry”. I suppose it could be Tussauds, then.

It is expected that the aforementioned parks will have removed all DC and Looney Toons logos, characters and names by the 2005 season, as Six Flags themselves, and not the individual parks, held the rights. However, Walibi Lorraine (formally Walibi Schtroumpf) will likely keep the rights to the Smurf characters, as they held them long before it became a Six Flags park.

But these parks haven’t always been Six Flags owned…

It began in 1975, with the opening of a small park in Belgium called Walibi Wavre. The years tumbled on, and by 1991, the Walibi Group was one of the largest amusement park operators in the continent, having acquired Walibi Rhöne-Alpes, Walibi Flevo, Bellewaerde Park, and a multitude of water parks and other attractions across Europe.

And so, in 1998, Premier Parks jumped in and purchased the Walibi Group. They had acquired the Six Flags chain earlier that year, creating one of the largest amusement park chains in the world. Great, right? Surely now they had an unsurpassed domination in the world of amusement parks, everything would be on the up? But as we all know, things didn’t go quite to plan, and Premier Parks began an uphill struggle to fight their most dangerous opponent… Themselves.

Various tactics were tried. Some worked, some didn’t. For instance, Warner Bros. Movie World theme parks were built in Germany and Spain. Former Walibi parks were redeveloped and christened as Six Flags parks, in a bid to boost their popularity. New acquisitions were made across the continent, especially water parks. But it was this gargantuan size that brought Premier Parks, now renamed as Six Flags, to its knees. Its greed and hunger for more and more growth was going to cost it its entire European division.

Besides, Six Flags have never exactly had a stellar reputation when it comes to theming and park maintenance, have they? This was another obstacle. Six Flags’ “cheap thrill” style might have a chance in the UK, where we have all been desensitised to quality and hygiene thanks to my beloved Tussauds, but it doesn’t wear so well in countries such as France and Belgium. The countries that are used to parks such as Disneyland Paris, Parc Asterix, and Futuroscope generally don’t appreciate having walkways covered in filth, and rides set in dreary, un-landscaped empty fields. Here we have a situation where Six Flags did a Disney; they didn’t do enough cultural research. And as such, they paid the price. Literally.

- - - - - - - - - -

So what can we expect from the parks of the company formerly known as Six Flags Europe in the coming years? The biggest change will hit Warner Bros. Movie World Germany. Unless they manage to get a separate license from Warner, the park will have to do some major re-theming, re-branded, and re-marketing, as they will have lost the rights for the subject matter of almost every ride in the park.

Other than that, most redevelopment will concern the various DC Superheroes and Looney Toons areas and rides in the parks. As Six Flags have practically never gone beyond a fancy name in terms of theme association, very little work will need to be done. And I’m sure most LT kiddie flat rides could be easily changed with a dash of paint to similar, but non-copyright breaking characters. Or Smurfs, if they get real desperate.

But in fact, the most interesting developments could come from somewhere outside the parks. As we don’t yet know who the mystery buyers are, it is impossible to guess whether they will wish to hold on to the parks. We could see a situation where the parks are sold off separately to the highest bidder. Alternatively, the new owners could decide to stabilise the parks financially, before selling them off together making a profit on their investment of $200 million. But this is all speculation. Things may become clearer when the new owners have been revealed.

The only Six Flags European park not to be included in the deal is Warner Bros. Movie World Madrid, which Six Flags only part-owns. This park only opened in 2002, with the most impressive opening line-up of any new European park in the past ten years. Despite not being as successful as hoped, it still makes enough money to keep in the Six Flags roster without any complaints.

So the future looks interesting for the Walibi Group, to say the least. Surprisingly, many of the original board members from before the Six Flags fiasco remain in senior positions at the company. Provided the new owners give the reformed Walibis some independence to run their parks, they now have a potentially awesome arsenal at their disposal: one of the largest, most popular theme park chains in the continent.

Just like it was all those years ago.

From James Tacey
Posted March 13, 2004 at 1:21 AM
Movieworld Germany is going to be interesting to watch over the coming weeks/years. It is still next door to a working Warner Brothers Studio right?

From Philip Curds
Posted March 13, 2004 at 4:26 AM
You know it could be Charterhouse Development Capital, owns and operators of Tussauds. After all, Tussauds was put up for sale last year, it wasn't sold, but the return on the capital was high, if the bid price had been accepted. An enlarged group could be profitable, but only if some of the properties are sold off (esp. those in France). Who knows, intriguing saga.

From Ben Mills
Posted March 13, 2004 at 5:28 AM
Yeah, I'd thought about that. $200 million is a fantastic price for that many parks. If Charterhouse do make this deal, it will make them a truly formidable theme park force. Its unlikely that Walibi will become part of the Tussauds chain. That'd be too risky, what with Tussauds going for flotation. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

From Kenny Hitt
Posted March 13, 2004 at 6:13 AM
I guess Premier is finally starting to realize how absolutely craptacular their parks have become with so many gathered under the SIX FLAGS banner.

Now, if only Warner Brothers would buy the old flagships back...

From Ben Mills
Posted March 13, 2004 at 6:48 AM
Warner never owned the two parks in Europe. They were built and operated by Six Flags right from the start. Warner do own the park in Australia, however.

Its good news that Six Flags haven't sold MW Madrid, though. Its a great park, and some of its best rides would be unusable if it was no longer a Warner park, not to mention all the great theming. Fortunately, its unlikey that SF will ever drop its managing interest in MW Madrid, because they have to put so little money into its operation, they're better off keeping it.

From Noel G
Posted March 13, 2004 at 5:53 PM
Wow that news has left me go smacked.

Not only so many Parks being sold off for so little but explains as to why WB in Australia has so much hassles of having DC characters and related paraphanelia in the Park.

As a little inside information as being one of the original cast members that helped set up and open Warner Bros Movie World here in Australia the cost of the Park to build was inexcess of $365 millinn so $200 million is cheap.

Have a very good friend within the ranks of WB Germany so will confer with him to see if I can gain an insiders view on the situation.

From Noel G
Posted March 13, 2004 at 5:57 PM
James Tacey in answer to your question as far as I am aware yes there still is a Warner film lot next to the Theme Park it consists of 3 fully operating studios.

Cheers Noel

From Ben Mills
Posted March 14, 2004 at 4:43 AM
Although, the price makes me wonder whether something else is included in the deal, although I have no idea what the mystery buyer could offer. Suggestions, anyone?

From Dirk v. Diringshofen
Posted March 14, 2004 at 5:34 AM
Just to set some things straight:

- Warner Bros. Movie World was constructed on the location of an older German movie based theme park that closed due to lack of guests. It even incorporated some elements of the orginal park, e.g. the movie history museum.

- Warner Bros. Movie World Germany was constructed, operated and owned by Warner Bros. originally and only LATER sold to Six Flags Europe. Therefore the licenses / rights for the different characters/movie themes (Looney Tunes, Batman, Gremlins, Never Ending Story) for this park are not held by Six Flags Europe but by the park itself. In fact Six Flags had to sign a special contract clause when they bought the park from Warner which forced them to continue to operate the park as a movie based park and continue themeing new rides to movies. That is why the free fall tower ended up being called "Wild Bunch" (after a movie).

Warner Bros. Movie World Madrid is a different topic.


Yours
Dirk

From Ben Mills
Posted March 14, 2004 at 5:45 AM
Hmm...I wasn't aware that Warner used to own the park. I do remember the older movie park that used to be there before it was Warner-fied, though, and let's face it, I don't think I should be using the words on here that would correctly describe it. When it became Movie World, it was basically a new park, wouldn't you agree?

Sorry about the ownership though, I genuinely wasn't aware of that.

From Kenny Hitt
Posted March 14, 2004 at 8:05 AM
I said if only Warner Bros. would buy the FLAGSHIPS back, i.e. Over Georgia, Magic Mountain, Over Texas, Great Adventure...

I never said anything regarding the European parks...I was referring simply to the fact that Premier is selling off the parks and I think I know why...they aren't making money cause they were built under the Eisner school of park development (and yeas, dammit, I KNOW Eisner never worked for Six Flags, I mean they're cheap and unreliable...oh, just forget it!)

From Dirk v. Diringshofen
Posted March 14, 2004 at 3:26 PM
Ben, never mind ... this is just a minor detail that gets lost more often then not, even among journalists writing for large magazines. I just wanted to point it out as it has the described implications for the licenses of the characters / movie titles. That is quiet important as some attractions as e.g. the Batman simulator, the Gremlin's dark ride, the Looney Tunes water ride and to some degree even the white water rapid Never Ending Story would be nearly impossible to clean of all of the characters without totally changing the rides at high expenses.

But you are right: Warner Bros. Movie World was a totally new park when it replaced the rather odd and failed park operated by Bavaria that was there before. To be honest some infrastructure, the street set based on the German tv-series "Marienhof" and the movie history museum,, housed behind that set, are the only thing I can think of that got reused.


Yours
Dirk

From Ben Mills
Posted March 14, 2004 at 3:37 PM
Well, while we're all a-speculating, would anyone like to add their two Euros about who they think could be taking over the company? Or even who they would like to see take over?

Pesonally, I think a Universal take over would be both feasible and fantastic. They've been looking to branch out a lot more lately, so adding a bunch of reasonably well-maintained parks to their roster would suit the bill. Not to mention how easy it would be to convert Movie World to fit Universal's specifications, thus eliminating the need to build that hugely expensive German park they were planning a couple years ago.

And it could be true. After all, NBC don't have anything to do with the amusement park industry...

From David Klawe
Posted March 15, 2004 at 12:28 AM
Screamscape.com is reporting that Time Warner is the buyer for the European Parks (there was a link to a swedish article).

From Ben Mills
Posted March 15, 2004 at 10:40 AM
I started to translate that article, but it said so little that I gave up. God knows what is going on with the British company, though. The article didn't make a lot of sense about that. Anyway, Warner are now definately the owners the former Six Flags Europe parks, so the following weeks should be interesting.

From Ben Mills
Posted March 15, 2004 at 2:15 PM
While I doubt T. Holland is reading this, I'm sure he'd be quick to remind us all that this now raises an even more likely opportunity for a Harry Potter attraction. Provided they get Miss Rowling to agree to it, of course.

Anyway, now Warner have entered the theme park ring again, does this mean that they might not license rights out to other park companies as freely as they do currently? I doubt giving the rights to Universal Orlando would cause too many problems for Europe, but you can never tell with the entertainment companies and their half-brained excuses.

From Noel G
Posted March 16, 2004 at 2:02 AM
The plot thickens and WB hasnt announced anything of this takeover.

As the WB are fairly boistrous in this sought of thing as when a new aquisition has taken place they usually let the people know. RE AOL.

But having worked and still have many respectable contacts within WB and the WB Studio Store outlets My understanding is WB do not want to tie up their monies in hard assets such as Theme Parks as they are far to draining on the almighty $.

As Warner Bros Movie World here on the Gold Coast Australia was only built to last 5 years max as was a tax right off for WB in the US. As what the park makes in a year $ wise WB Global pretty much makes in a 24 hour period.

From Ben Mills
Posted March 19, 2004 at 12:16 PM
It looks like WB haven't taken over the parks. No-one has announced anything relating to Warner, and Six Flags are still sticking to the same details as before: the new owners are still a UK based firm.

This looks like its gonna drag on for a while now. Do we have a new DisCast on our hands, I wonder?

From Penny Berry
Posted April 14, 2004 at 8:21 AM
Just released -Palamon Capital Partners of London are the new owners. They also own Imagenet and D.A.V.I.D GmbH among others.

From Philip Curds
Posted April 18, 2004 at 12:11 PM
Whats interesting about this news story, you are correct that Palamon have bought the Six Flags European Division, is that Tussauds in the Sunday Times today announced they were looking to sell the parks once again in 2005 at some point. They also mentioned further expansion opportunities in Europe. If Tussauds and the ex-Six Flags Europe were brought together, you would have a really large European themepark operator, although its actually economies of scale benefits are difficult to calculate.

From Ben Mills
Posted April 19, 2004 at 12:08 PM
It'd be a great annual pass, though.

From Penny Berry
Posted April 22, 2004 at 6:32 AM
We have not heard anything new, but Palamon are saying they intend to invest 50 mil in the europarks. They also want them to be independant with the GMs responding to local customer requirements and to get away from the american "white knuckle " rides and concentrate on family and quality of the Parks. More when we hear something new. We are close to the source.

From Penny Berry
Posted April 23, 2004 at 7:26 AM
Any one heard what Palamon intend to use as themeing at Movie World Germany? My scources there are rather troubled as the other european parks will revert to Walibi. Witout all the Looney Tunes characters what will MWG have? Will be a massive job and very, very expensive to change everthing. Maybe someone should try to get in touch with the new owners and explain the problem. Trouble is so far no-one ( Who is worried about this) has seen or met the new owners as far as we know. Also the staff at MWG are somewhat scared to start making noises, thus they came to us to see if maybee through some one on here they could get the message through. In plain text they are sure the cost of paying the Warner Bro.s licence would be cheaper than changing everything--plus what would they have as a theme that all know if it isnt Warner stuff? If anyone has any ideas or contacts with the new owners please let us know and we will pass it on to our scources. Thanks,
Penny & Co

From Ben Mills
Posted April 23, 2004 at 10:04 AM
I seriously doubt that they haven't considered this. For a company such as Palamon that likes to analyse everything down to the last detail, I should think that they've been over the feasibility of every asset in the deal. Its highly unlikely that they don't have a plan.

AND, as the Warner contract was negotiated for the park back when Warner sold it to Six Flags, I suspect that the plans are already there to keep the license going. Quite simply, Palamon have proven in the past with their excellent track record that they aren't stupid enough to just ignore this situation.

And if the management of Movie World haven't got the guts to inform anyone of the situation, then its their fault for being so damn lousy at their jobs.

What is your relation to the park, or the theme park industry? I'd be interested to hear.

From Penny Berry
Posted April 27, 2004 at 11:18 AM
We are just 2 Irish girls who used to work in Blackpool at the Pleasure Beach now working at an Irish Pub in Essen. We live in Bottrop, have a lot of friends who work for WBMW. Bottrop is twinned with Blackpool! Who are you?
Penny&Co. So far we know the WB contract will not be renewed!

From Ben Mills
Posted April 27, 2004 at 12:00 PM
My name is Michael Eisner and I am King of the World and all that is worth being King of. Either that or some random guy from Basingstoke.

And yep, it looks like Movie World is gonna lose its Warner license, but not by choice. It appears that either Warner doesn't want to renew the license, or Palamon don't see it as a worthy investment. However, there should be a huge plug of money over the coming years. Actually, it looks quite promising.

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