As we're now getting close to "announcement season" we're also knee deep in "leak season" as in things are starting to be found out about attractions that are coming in 2017. Because parks have to file permits for attractions, and those permits are public record many on the internet have gotten wise to the process.
Of course, all of this is strictly rumor at this point, but it does start to bring up "how much of a good thing is too much of a good thing". And that's just what RD is talking about today.
Written by RD Sussman
We are about six weeks from 'reveal' day for the Six Flags chain - the special day of the year when the SF corporate people reveal what parks are getting what for 2017. However this year has been full of leaks - leaks by the dozens in fact. And with that comes the realization that there is a LOT of disappointment abounding from many sides.
Since Premier Parks took control of the chain back in 1997/8, the idea was to take former Premier parks rides and try to work the magic that the SF name had on it around the country. Former Premier parks such as Geauga Lake, Adventure World and Riverside quickly flipped into SF parks, with the associated themes and rebranding of rides; additional coasters to fit the park's needs appeared almost as quickly as the names changed. Superman: Ride of steel appeared at three of the parks - all three former Premier parks, while other attractions began to spring up in quantity - all with the same theme. Fortunately, most of this clone action was limited to three or four of a type... but it was a harbinger of the future.
As we all know, SF went into severe financial hardship in the middle of the 2000s. This financial indigestion was felt throughout the chain, as capital expenditures began to be reduced. Parks had to go without major expansion while reorganization occurred, and the finances were paid down. A smart move to help reshape and rebuild a brand which had grown too fast too quickly - all on debt that was high interest and due quickly.
At the turn of the decade, the picture began to improve, and parks began to expand again. A handful of parks got new coasters in 2011... but in 2012 we started to see the beginning of a disturbing trend. Duplication... at every park.
Over the past five years, there have been some attractions which now are open almost all parks: The first was the arrival of the Star Flyer - known most commonly as SkyScreamer or variations therein - from the Funtime corporation. While these are good attractions, and draw their crowds, the fact that so many parks got them (or WILL get them...) was a bad sign. Bulk buying saves money... but lacks the originality SixFlags built into their product starting in the early 1960s.
Then a few years ago, it was the Larsen SuperLoop, which appeared again at almost every park in the country. This time, SF pulled one of the more 'novel' ideas in calling them coasters - and they were marketed as such. Again, though the theme/name was changed - the rides were not, and again they filled in so many spaces in the company's parks.
And now, its the Justice League attractions. Thus far, four have been opened, and if all the accounts and rumors are correct (Plus the numerous leaks from the various localities) we will see these at just about every SF park in the country - this time, with only a mild variation on each.
What's going on, SixFlags? Record profits, record turnstile numbers, record revenues & record spending in the parks should tell you that perhaps it's time to return to the roots and to the core values that Six Flags once stood for: Regional parks with a regional flair. The term Six Flags stood for something: Innovation and themes based upon the Six Flags that were raised above each park's home territory.
While this has been dilluted down with the addition of non-core parks over the past 40 years, so has the differentiation between the parks. So many parks are now beginning to look identical in ride offerings, show offerings and such. You can't throw a stone in many of the base SF parks without hitting a BatClone coaster (even in Texas) from B&M. And let's count the super-loops.
Now mind you, gentle readers, that other park chains do the same thing. Cedar Fair has their fair share of duplicates - such as the S&S Power Towers, and to a lesser extent Morgan Hypercoasters. At the same time: Every Cedar Fair park retains their own image, attractions & such. You won't find 'The Beast' at Cedar Point. And you won't find I-305 at World's of Fun. Nor will you find Montezooma's Revenge at Carowinds (well... you DID... but long before Carowinds became a Cedar Fair park.) They've retained their identity while maintaining a sense of brand, location and purpose. And thus, they have an individuality to them like none other.
Duplicating rides in parks has been a trade secret that was no secret for years. But when it came to key attractions - log flumes, coasters, etc. you always saw each park having it's own individual stars; ones that were unique to the park and to the chains they belong to.
Every chain does it... so why point out Six Flags?
Well, quite literally this: Every year, the company parades their latest attractions being added in a glitter-filled & dramatic presentation as part of the push for their next year's season pass sales. The issue is this: Look how many of these duplicate rides are promoted so heavily - marched out in such a bright, loud order as if they're the greatest thing since wonder bread. The push is to showcase what are ordinary rides being duplicated everywhere as the latest in technology.
It isn't working. While the GP go "Oooh, new!" for one season... the next year, they're asking for something different. They want originality. They want expression. They want something better.
Six Flags promotes one of the facets of their season pass is being able to visit most any park in the chain for the price of their pass. At what point will people go "Gee, this is like our own home Six Flags" when they go in and see the same BatClone coaster, the same Justice League dark ride, the same Larsen SuperLoop, the same Star Flyer, the same...everything. The novelty wears off quickly when all you see are the same attractions in every park everywhere you go.
And it also causes a bit of backlash: How long until park attendance begins to drop due to the facets of duplication - and the lack of hard-core investment in original rides, shows & attractions begins to take its toll? I can say that it won't be long, that's for sure. Six Flags has walked themselves into a corner - and it is going to be a long and expensive route to get out of.
Recently, Jim Reid Andersen's successor was interviewed, and said we can "Expect more of the same." as part of his plans for operating the company. Unfortunately, more of the same is not what the company needs. It is more of the different, more of the unique, more of the individual, and more of the custom for the chain to be something to look at again. Cedar Fair is raking in megabucks, while maintaining a sense of the individual park's spirit. Why can't Six Flags do the same thing?