Hard Rock Park; bad concept or bad location?

It didn't make a profit. What's to blame?

From Daniel Etcheberry
Posted December 2, 2012 at 3:20 PM
The economy was in very bad shape when this park opened, but did the park's concept and location help or hurt?

"Nights in White Satin- The Trip" was considered to be one of the best rides anywhere! It only lasted 1 season.

From Andrew Dougherty
Posted December 2, 2012 at 4:19 PM
In think it was the location.

From Mike Gallagher
Posted December 2, 2012 at 5:11 PM
I tnd not to analyze the business of things, but I think it was a bad combination: Tough location, expensive ticket, and not enough rides/attractions.

That said, and I've stated this here before: The day I had at HRP about a week and a half after it opened in '08 was one of the top 5 amusement park days of my life: one absolute classic in NIWS:TT; One very good B&M in Led Zeppelin:The Ride; and one well-themed, above average mine train (Eagles:Life In The Fast Lane.) Also saw one very entertaining show.

I don't believe I ate while in the park, but I still have my guitar-shaped souvenir cup/bottle. There could not have been 300 people in the park..and they gave me free parking. Yes, $50 was pretty steep for what they had, but it was money well spent.

Incidentally, the Moody Blues played the theater where I work this past Thursday night.

From AJ Hummel
Posted December 2, 2012 at 7:00 PM
I was planning on visiting this park in 2010, but the place closed before then. It's a shame that the place has become an example of what not to do when starting a park, as although I wouldn't go out of my way to visit it did look like a decent park.

As to why it failed, I'd say it's a combination of the below:

-Poor Location: The park was built on the site of a failed shopping mall and away from the main tourist parts of town. Just the fact that the mall failed should have been enough to send up a danger signal before the project even got off the ground.

-Unreasonable Pricing: If I remember correctly, the park had only about 15 attractions (including the five coasters), yet charged a $50 admission price in its first year. I've got a feeling that it would have been significantly more successful with a $30 admission price. During the second year, I heard that they were practically giving away tickets (2 for $20 or something like that).

-Delayed Attractions: Not only did the park lack attractions, but I heard about a third weren't even ready by opening day. Some had yet to finish testing due to various issues, and a couple weren't even completely assembled. For example, Maximum RPM took almost two months after opening before it even saw one rider.

-Unrealistic Expectations: The park managers reportedly anticipated an average daily attendance between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe only a handful of parks can achieve those numbers, and they are all destination parks people usually spend multiple days at, not some half-day park that draws visitors from about a 100 mile radius. I could see a park like this one pulling 5,000 to 10,000 visitors a day, but not more.

I honestly think that if the park had a better location, reasonable pricing, more attractions, and delayed opening until everything was ready, they would have been successful. However, initial reactions and bad reports just killed the place. From the trip reports I've read, it sounds like the park had an average daily attendance of around 300 visitors, and I don't know of any park that can survive on that. It's still sitting there and could be restored and run properly by a new party, but I've got a feeling the chance of that happening is slim (probably worse than the chance of Kentucky Kingdom reopening).

From Russell Meyer
Posted December 3, 2012 at 8:05 AM
I think the biggest problems with the park were timing and location. I covered the groundbreaking and park opening for Theme Park Insider, and spoke at length with many of the creative minds behind the development of the park (many of whom created Islands of Adventure). They did have bold expectations and a bright vision for the park, and for the most part it came to fruition. However, no one came to see it because it was in an area that was never going to draw because visitors to Myrtle Beach are there to do beach activities, and the recession hit really hard right as the park was opening its gates.

I think the creative team also shot for the moon on the project, and while they delivered on many aspects, they dug themselves such a deep hole with debt and cutting edge attractions, that they could never recover or weather the economic storm that unexpectedly struck. The $50 admission seemed more than reasonable, considering most visitors to Myrtle Beach are willing to shell out $20 to play a round of mini golf, but the location of the park off the beaten path (and on the approach vector to the airport which restricted attraction height) made the park seem less accessible. The delays in opening some attractions, primarily Maximum RPM, had some impact, and the overall number of attractions probably disappointed many expecting a full-day experience, but if the crowds had initially come as expected, I think we would be discussing their newest attraction for 2013 right now.

From TH Creative
Posted December 4, 2012 at 10:42 AM
It was too narrow a theme for an entire park. A Hard Rock Island at IOA (with a stage and access to the Hard Rock Live restaurant) would have been pretty cool.

From Russell Meyer
Posted December 4, 2012 at 12:11 PM
I certainly don't think it was too narrow of a theme. Music is a part of everyone's life, some would say way more than books or movies. The execution may have failed to catpure and be inclusive of all different types of music (instead focusing on rock, punk, and psychedellic), but the idea of a theme park centered around music is by no means too narrow.

From Ashleigh Noad
Posted December 4, 2012 at 12:23 PM
I think Russell has hit the nail on the head.

In addition to the steep price, the timing of a theme park destination - just as the world is/was coming out of a global recession... I think the theme and the concepts of the park were excellent; just particular parts of the actual business strategy had huge flaws with sad consequences.

Interestingly enough I recently read a book looking at the element of 'themed' destinations and how in particular themed restaurants have been suffering a decline in recent years. With Hard Rock being a forerunner of this chain, perhaps I am wrong - maybe people are sick of the Hard Rock brand?

From TH Creative
Posted December 4, 2012 at 1:01 PM
When I said "too narrow" I meant the franchise ('Hard Rock'). Certainly a park that included rock, jazz, classical, country, etc. etc. would be broad enough to draw from.

From Mike Gallagher
Posted December 4, 2012 at 1:20 PM
I thought it extremely odd that Hard Rock Park did not have a Hard Rock Cafe. Maybe one was planned later. Isn't/wasn't there one elsewhere in the touristy area of Myrtle Beach?

From Russell Meyer
Posted December 5, 2012 at 8:57 AM
The Hard Rock brand, which the park's creative team purchased, encompasses an entire range of music, not just rock 'n roll. It does carry the stigma of being just "classic rock" (Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, etc...), but the brand and those responsible for stewarding the brand do not see it that way. "Hard Rock Calling" on Palladia is a very successful concert series that has artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Muse to Aretha Franklin to Metric to Stevie Nicks to Arcade Fire to B.B. King. The park designers chose to go with some of the more recognizable icons under that brand, which specifically appealed to the typical Myrtle Beach vacationer (let's be honest---middle-aged white guys), and perhaps that alienated visitors. However, trying to integrate more modern pop music into the park presents significant challenges of the "here today, gone tomorrow" aspect of the music industry now. As far as classical, jazz, new age, and other music genres, I feel that those are niche brands that would not have fit with the vision of the park, and certainly would not have driven admissions up.

As far as a Hard Rock Cafe, if you've never been to Myrtle Beach, there is one of the most iconic Hard Rock Cafes (pyramid shaped building) about 3 miles away from the former location of Hard Rock Park. Also, park designers were buying the brand recognition of Hard Rock, not the ability to own and operate a Hard Rock Cafe. Park operators are not interested in running established restaurants that they have to run at 5% margins.

From TH Creative
Posted December 4, 2012 at 4:28 PM
Mr. Meyer writes: "...as far as classical, jazz, new age, and other music genres, I feel that those are niche brands that would not have fit with the vision of the park."

I respond: I agree. My point was that these genres (along with country) could be part of a park themed for music -- not the Hard Rock park (brand).

And I still think Hard Rock would have had a better chance for success as an IOA island -- like Marvel or Jurassic Park or Dr. Seuss -- as opposed to a whole theme park.

Side Note: I spent a few months working at Hard Rock's corporate headquaretrs here in Orlando, so I'm familiar with Hard Rock Calling and its international presence. It was actually a very cool gig. I had a working space just outside of Hamish Dodds' office. He has a signed Syd Barrett guitar hanging on his office wall.

From Daniel Etcheberry
Posted December 4, 2012 at 4:24 PM
They should had done a Disney/submarine type of ride with the song "we all live in a yellow submarine" or a it's a small world type of ride with the song "we are the world" or a jungle cruise type of ride with the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" or a Disney-like haunted mansion with the song "thriller" or a radiator springs racers type of ride with the song "life is a highway".... the options are infinite.

From TH Creative
Posted December 4, 2012 at 5:21 PM
Daniel Etcheberry = GENIUS!

From Andrew Dougherty
Posted December 4, 2012 at 6:45 PM
^ That actually sounds really corny that way with 1 song a ride. Kinda corny.

From Russell Meyer
Posted December 5, 2012 at 8:59 AM
Ultimately, I think the intellectual property costs are too astronomical for music to ever be a viable theme park concept. It kinda works for a single attraction like Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket, but when you're building an entire theme park around music, it's a nightmare. Led Zeppelin had very exacting specifications for the use of "Whole Lot of Love", and I could only imagine what it would cost to use "Yellow Submarine" on a theme park attractions. Even with the Hard Rock brand and iconography at play, I'm guessing the intellectual property costs for Hard Rock Park probably were more than half of the construction costs, and just having to deal with artists cost a pretty penny to insure they're music and imagery is being used appropriately in the park.

Even something as beniegn as a table service restaurant (Alice's Restaurant), probably cost the park an arm an a leg just for the name and concept.

Back to the discussion about other genres, I do agree that other genres could be integrated into an all-encompassing music theme park. Country music did have a pretty heavy influence at Hard Rock Park with the Eagles Life in the Fast Lane (people still debate whether the Eagles are country or classic rock), and there was an area of the park devoted to country music that included a country-themed ice show. Opreyland USA was pretty successful as a country-music theme park, and Dollywood has taken bluegrass music to the masses. Jazz and classical music have the obvious advantages of being mostly in the public domain (zero intellectual property costs), but I wonder if they would be able to sustain popularity as those fan bases are aging and tend to not be identified as typical theme park visitors.

From Mike Gallagher
Posted December 5, 2012 at 10:03 AM
Yeah, I don't consider myself a country music fan, but I love me some Eagles. Saw them a few years ago on Memorial Day weekend, one of the best arena rock shows I've seen. Loved the ride, too...although I preferred the original name, Midnight Rider, using the Allmans song of the same name.

From Daniel Etcheberry
Posted December 5, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Magic Kingdom and Disneyland could be seen as music theme parks since most of their rides have songs; pirates, mansion, world, splash, CoP, etc.

From Russell Meyer
Posted December 5, 2012 at 1:02 PM
True Daniel, but the songs are accessories to the stories, and were exclusively created for the attractions. Hard Rock Park attempted to make music the star, and create stories and experiences derrived from the songs, not vice versa. Additionally, those songs all came from 3rd parties that have a vested interest in their intellectual property, and expect to be paid for the use of their material. Disney Imagineers can either come up with a song themselves or have an artist create a song for a flat fee, and Disney owns that song for whatever use they see fit. In order to get that kind of leverage on an already existing song, you either need to pay a lot of money, use a not-so-popular song by a not-so-popular artist, pull a fast one (Billy Joel had his catalogue famously pulled out from under him because of a bad deal), or give the artist concessions on specific use of the song (number of times it plays, volume, mix, etc). Led Zeppelin, for instance, required that Hard Rock Park present "Whole Lotta Love" in its entirety, which meant visitors had to go through the pre-show (which played the first half of the song) before riding the coaster even if no one was in line.

Intellectual property rights are a huge deal, which is why so many parks try to use their own soundtracks, or just pay for a random soundtrack from a service like Musak or other satellite service.

From Daniel Etcheberry
Posted December 5, 2012 at 5:53 PM
Disney must be paying a lot of money to Aerosmith.

From Russell Meyer
Posted December 6, 2012 at 7:34 AM
They probably are, but Aerosmith has held up their end of the bargain by staying relavent for the entire history of the attraction. They just put out a new album a month ago, and Steven Tyler has been on American Idol, keeping the brand elevated.

There are a couple of other bands from when the attraction opened in 1999 that are still rockin' it (Bon Jovi and U2 come to mid), but there were a lot of bands from that era who were on top of the charts that don't even exist anymore like Collective Soul, Tonic, Blur, Duran Duran, Creed, Live, and more.

From TH Creative
Posted December 6, 2012 at 8:56 AM
Duran Duran is still together and currently touring Europe.

From Mike Gallagher
Posted December 6, 2012 at 9:11 AM
^True, but they had broken up and reformed...multiple times. Now, if we could just get A Flock Of Seagulls back together. Maybe they can take over the Tiki Room.

From Daniel Etcheberry
Posted December 6, 2012 at 3:57 PM
I wonder if Hard Rock Park would still be open if it had been located in Orlando.

From TH Creative
Posted December 6, 2012 at 6:27 PM
Mr. Etcheberry: I wonder if Hard Rock Park would still be open if it had been located in Orlando ...

I Respond: ... as an island at Island of Adventure.

From Andrew Dougherty
Posted December 6, 2012 at 7:52 PM
If it lowered admission I don't see why I couldn't still be open in Orlando. Why don't they just sell the rides and move them over to Universal I mean like build another island with some of the rides.

From chris cona
Posted December 6, 2012 at 8:48 PM
I actually was in Mrytle Beach over the summer and saw a pretty good view from the highway of the park. The park looked very small and cramped like a carnival but the one coaster that I saw simmilar to the Hulk looked really cool and fun. Having a park like that with those ticket prices wouldn't have last even without the recession. Nobody really goes on the rides down in mrytle beach and for that price they will just buy single tickets at the boardwalk for the kids.

From Jorge Arnoldson
Posted December 7, 2012 at 9:57 PM
Hard Rock Park was built in a bad location, in my opinion. The only other businesses around were Medieval Times, a small resort, a few other cheaper hotels, and some strip clubs. I went there in 2009 when it was Freestyle Music Park; I thought the park itself was good (except the MonStars of Rock ride; Nights in White Satin was better from what I've seen on the internet). I'm sure Hard Rock Park could be redeveloped (with many improvements) somewhere else, preferably a more popular tourist destination like Orlando or Vegas.

From Mike Gallagher
Posted December 8, 2012 at 8:33 AM
Quote from Mr. Arnoldson: (except the MonStars of Rock ride; Nights in White Satin was better from what I've seen on the internet)."

From things I've read, walking up and down 10 flights of stairs a hundred times would be better than Monstars Of Rock.

Speaking of Monstars of Rock, I hope some of my TPI brethren will watch (and donate during) the 12/12/12 Concert For Sandy Relief on Dec. 12. As someone who was affected badly by and bore first-hand witness to the devastation the storm caused, I can tell you this area still needs a LOT of help. The concert, live from Madison Square Garden, will be streamed, shown on many cable stations nationally, and shown in some movie theaters locally in hard-hit areas (that's what I'm doing.) Featured performers are Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, The Who, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, and Chris Martin from Coldplay. Oh, and the Rolling Stones were added yesterday (an addition I predicted Thursday to my co-workers, family and friends.) If you can watch and are interested, please do...if you can help, even better.

From Daniel Etcheberry
Posted December 8, 2012 at 3:36 PM
If a theme park based on music were profitable, Disney would already have one.

From Russell Meyer
Posted December 10, 2012 at 8:57 AM
They do, Rock 'N Rollercoaster and American Idol The Experience.

From Mike Gallagher
Posted December 10, 2012 at 10:25 AM
Daniel's talkin' theme PARKS, not specific attractions.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted December 10, 2012 at 6:03 PM
I think the location is the problem

From Derek Potter
Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:30 PM
I was there. The park was great, maybe a little thin on top tier attractions, but it was the first year and they had room. It looked great, embraced the music theme very well, and had tons of potential. The design team held their end up and then some...but the business side was a failure from the start.

To address a few of the topics coming up in the thread.

Location- Everyone bags on the location of the park, which was a failed shopping mall that was redeveloped. The location was also the intersection of Highway 17 and 501, one of the busiest sections in town. If location was the big deal that people say it is, then Broadway at the Beach, which is right down the road and equally far away from Ocean Blvd, would not be thriving. Unless you're in the middle of low country 40 miles from the shores, location is a moot point in Myrtle Beach. It was 10 minutes from the shore, and people drive that kind of distance for shopping, dinner, golf..etc etc. Fantasy Harbour wasn't and still isn't exactly the beacon of developed property, but revitalization was sort of the point. Success would have brought it.

Debt/Overhead- This on the other hand, was a killer. The licensing fees for Hard Rock and the respective bands alone were huge, let alone servicing the large debts from new construction, vendors, payroll..etc etc. They overspent

Price- Some might say that the park was too expensive, and they might be right. Perhaps they should have priced a little lower to entice customers. That's not to say they were too expensive though. It was still a good product Once again, people in Myrtle Beach drop a lot of cash on dinners, mini golf, (you would be surprised) shopping, and other attractions. A good theme park fits in, especially since the Pavillion had closed.

Economy- Obviously, this was a killer. They managed to open at one of the worst economic times in history. When you're out of money and the bank isn't loaning anything, trouble comes quickly. Myrtle Beach still saw millions come to the beaches that year, but that's probably pretty much where they stayed. The whole town took a hit from the recession, and is just now getting back to pre-recession numbers.

Management- In my eyes, the buck stops with management at any company, and this is no different. They overspent in the design/construction phase, overpaid for the licensing fees, undermarketed, overstaffed, and left very little in the reserves for operations, not to mention burning dozens of local businesses for millions in unpaid invoices. Again, all this might have been resolved had the credit markets not been frozen, but there didn't seem to be any plan in place to weather the storm, and they didn't seem to understand the way the market works down there. Attractions down there partner with hotels and cross market, they didn't. It's said that the CEO pretty much jumped ship only a couple of weeks after the grand opening...only to come back and sue the new owners after they bought the park at bankruptcy the following year.

I was there on the last day and got to see it as well. Great concept, fantastic design, huge potential...bad business plan, horrible management, and horrible execution. Had the business side been in the hands of a more capable person, we might not be having this conversation. The place looks rather sad these days. So much potential wasting away.

From Robert Niles
Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Might I draw your attention to this rather awesome 2006 Blog Flume post from Mr. Meyer, in which several of us gang up in the comments to shred the park's way-too-optimistic economic forecasts.

That conversation elicited the single nastiest email I've ever received from a manager associated with a theme park, who ripped us for not believing HRP's ridiculous numbers. I said to myself then that this park was doomed.

Throw in a global credit crunch at the precise moment that HRP needed a credit lifeline and, well, there ya go.

From Derek Potter
Posted December 12, 2012 at 5:47 PM
I truly believe that the park could have done some great numbers over time, given a couple years to mature and the 15 million that visit there every year. The potential was there for a truly great product.

As overblown as those first projections were, it still wouldn't have been crazy to see 5 million the first year under different circumstances and different leadership. Frozen credit markets alone don't explain horrible attendance. In fact to draw a parallel, Family Kingdom, the small beachside park on Ocean Blvd, had a record year that year.

The hate mail wasn't a coincidence either. That guy turned out to be a joke. I'll give him credit for being a good salesman in an era where Wall Street would pay a million for a sneeze, but he burned pretty much everyone...investors, employees, local government, vendors and local businesses, even the people who bought the place at the bankruptcy auction. He sued them before they could even start pulling weeds.

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