Yesterday Six Flags announced their numbers for 2016 and after a record-breaking year in 2015 the numbers were down almost 2% for 2016. While this doesn't seem like a huge number, it could be a trend that after their 2016 announcements could continue into the future.
While we think Justice League will be amazing for the 3 parks that are getting it, the rest of the announcements signal more duplication. So today RD share's his thoughts on this trend as only RD can.
Written by RD Sussman-Dewberry
Yesterday SF Inc rolled out their prime numbers for the peak season of 2016, the time of year when they will make the hard profits to keep the company running and to keep the investors happy.
It was revealed that the chain as a whole had a strong drop in traffic - nearly 2% - during the summer months, as well as a rather stunning drop in per-guest spending and a nearly 1/3rd drop in profits for the quarter. The most damning part is the 4.4% drop in gate revenue - an indicator of people willing to shell out the money to come into the parks to play.
SF Inc. blames this on "Weather and other adverse conditions..." Yet, the other major competitor in the park industry - Cedar Fair - had a RECORD quarter for attendance, up 2%, and overall guest spend up 4% - combined with record gate take. Yet CF operates parks in many of the same markets in the USA that SF Inc. does....
So what gives, SF Inc? Why can't you simply tell the truth...before it is too late.
It appears you could duplicate everything in the parks, except repeat visitors - and for that matter, money. In theory, according to Jim Reid Anderson, people don't care if you duplicate the rides in all the parks. That they are a regional chain, and that building multiple examples will draw guests in. And that using VR to dress up an attraction will be a success at a new line of customers.
Well, there it is... You missed. MISERABLY. As in: Please play the fail horn from "The Price Is Right"
Guess what, SF Inc: PEOPLE WANT ORIGINALITY! People want a new, different and special coaster - not a record breaker, not a 29 inversion megamonster - but something - ANYTHING different. People don't want a clone of a clone of a clone shooter dark ride. People DO want something to experience that celebrates a park's history & heritage (Shout out for my peeps & home park of SFoG - y'all deserved better...) People DON'T want to be coralled into buying an overpriced fast lane device because the VR coaster can't load or dispatch fast enough. People DO want to experience an attraction that is special to their park.
In short: Y'all cheaped yourselves into a corner... and next year is going to be much worse.
While it does make sense to duplicate attractions for cost sake (CF did it with WindSeeker; Disney with their various attractions) where you end up with an issue is when ALL of your parks lose their originality. Thus far, with 2017, almost every park will have a SkyScreamer, a BatClone, A Justice League 4D, a Larsen SuperLoop... and at the current pace, soon will have a S&S 4D Free Fly or similar. All the parks are gaining or have a DC Universe theme area; some better than others. Congratulations! All your parks have nearly identical theme areas. Nearly identical coasters. Nearly identical lines. And nearly identical problems.
Cedar Fair on the other hand has been adding new and larger big-ticket coasters & attraction to their parks - while similar in build, all are custom - and nearly all are themed differently. Look for a second at Cedar Point, Kings Dominion, Carowinds & Canada's Wonderland. All four have Giga coasters - two from Intamin, two from Bolliger - Mabillard. All four are different in layout, feel & theme; all four are fingerprint rides for their parks. All four have more investment in one season than many of SF Inc's parks have received in a five year span. And guess what: Attendance is up, spending is up - and revenue is up.
And it isn't just big-ticket spend on E-ticket attractions: Cedar Fair has invested a small fortune into Knott's Berry Farm - overhauling their Ghost Rider coaster, revitalizing the original Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner, rebuilding & re-inventing the Ghost Town of Knott's Berry farm. They completely rebuilt Calico Mine Ride & the Log Flume, and overhauled their boardwalk area adding several family flat rides & a great family coaster. And... voila! Attendance is up, revenue is up, guest spending is up.
So what now, SF Inc? Is "More of the same" working out? Is duplicating your parks into oblivion a working solution?
The answer is, quite clearly, NO.
Guests who visit a SF park want a clean experience, good rides of all sizes, lines that move quickly & efficiently, good staff & good food. They want to experience something new and original - not just something they may have already ridden elsewhere in the chain. They want a safe & pleasant day in the park with few hassles & very few issues as possible.
Let's take a look at a few of the key issues:
VR Coasters - DUMP THIS NOW. While it was a great idea, like Marxism it worked in theory, not in practice. Long, slow & painful lines, pitiful dispatch times, a lackluster experience, and countless other headaches have reduced the novelty of this concept down to nothing. While it is original... it also has been an abject failure on an epic scale. A good example of this: SFoG's own Dare Devil Dive VR - where dispatches during peak summer season were a STUNNING 10 minutes due to VR's slow loading & dispatch problems. And this on a ride not built to handle the low capacity of VR no less. Similar issues at other parks with the VR system on higher-capacity coasters have not alleviated the long wait times & mess that is involved with this system. It's time to (In the words of Disney...) "LET IT GO!"
Overduplication - Again, it worked in theory, not in practice, and your numbers now show this clearly. Originality sells... and with the past three years, this has vanished quickly.
Lack of appropriate ticket pricing & yield management - This too is another area where the depressing state of attendance & gate take is visible. While your competitors all have MUCH higher prices on season passes & gate prices, yours have been lacking for years now. Yes, it's a great value to advertise... but without great attractions & good operations, the value is gone. For me, somebody who visits multiple SF parks in a season, the value is nearly nothing -as the parks I tend to inhabit are looking mightly similar nowadays - while CF's parks (And to a lesser extent Herschend's parks) all look like places I want to visit. And I am willing to pay more for these experiences - though few of their parks are within my circle of distance, because they are different, unique places to visit.
No major investment in each park for custom or individual new experiences - Again, let's look at major new coaster installations and other e-ticket investments over the past five years: 5 RMC rebuilds of existing coasters, one new RMC build coaster, two Premier launch coasters, a revitalization of a historic coaster... and not much else beyond it. No major custom dark rides or water rides at any park. And a hell of a lot of duplication of existing attractions. This is a HUGE mistake, one that is now pointing out the obvious: It doesn't work. In the words of Walt Disney: You can't beat pigs with pigs. Duplication only works if you have some form of originality in between, of things that are designed to draw in guests in quantity, and something that makes your park stand out in a very crowded market. VR didn't work. Duplication didn't work.
It's time to throw out the "More of the same" attitude - and to retire the SF Inc. Xerox machine. It is time to go through everything in quantity, and start looking more closely at guest experience & value over the cheap duplication practice and poor yield management that is now plaguing the company. While you're still profitable, and that's a good thing, it is time to look to what your competitors are doing - and doing well - and start learning a thing or two. Instead of enacting policies that inconvienience guests, aim to improve their experence. Instead of duplicating attractions to save money & bland the parks into a single brand, diversify and build new and custom rides to fit the feel of each park's home region. Raise your prices & stop being a babysitting service for the masses, and turn the extra revenue into improving the parks overall, and raise the guests experience with better rides, shows, food & entertainment.
And stop being a bunch of wusses and blame it on the weather. Not a single person would believe that sorry excuse in the first place.