SeaWorld leaving Six Flags Fiesta Texas in Shamu's wake
The results are in and it wasn't close. In 2005, Shamu helped attract hundreds of thousands more visitors to SeaWorld San Antonio than Mr. Six did to Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
That disparity in attendance here is one example of why a new Six Flags management team is scrambling to give its parks the broader family-friendly appeal SeaWorld and other competitors have captured.
International Theme Park Services Inc. President Dennis Speigel is one of the industry experts who believes changes are overdue at Six Flags. Speigel says the company was once "the icon of the industry" but that it has "lost its luster."
It may be losing some ground, too -- at least in San Antonio.
Two years ago, SeaWorld San Antonio and Fiesta Texas shared the 36th spot in Amusement Business' ranking of the top 50 theme parks in the nation based on attendance. But much has changed over the last 48 months.
According to new turnstile figures provided by Amusement Business and Economics Research Associates (ERA), SeaWorld San Antonio moved up to the 30th spot in 2005. Fiesta Texas, headed in an opposite direction -- dropping to 39th.
A record 2.1 million people visited SeaWorld San Antonio in 2005 -- an impressive 17.3 percent more than in 2004. That increase was second highest among the nation's top 50 parks.
Fiesta Texas increased its park attendance by 3 percent in 2005. But its 1.4 million visitor count falls far short of SeaWorld San Antonio's turnstile numbers. It's also well below the nearly 6 percent bump in attendance registered by Six Flags parks overall last year.Repositioning
More than 176 million people visited the nation's theme parks in 2005. That's 4.2 percent more than the number who passed through the gates in 2004.
"It was a year in which the industry fired on all cylinders thanks to the economy, real estate values, capital expenditures and good weather," ERA Senior Vice President John Robinett told industry experts recently.
Six Flags' new president and CEO, Mark Shapiro, has been critical of the direction prior management was taking the company's parks in recent years. Among the problems Shapiro has promised to address is a Six Flags culture that was heavy on thrill rides and light on more family oriented attractions.
That's changing. For starters, new management is creating an entertainment and marketing department that will be headed by a number of entertainment industry veterans, including former ESPN executive Mike Antinoro.
"Our mission," Shapiro says, "is to surround the best rides in the world with entertainment from the fields of music, theater, sports, film and television. We want to be about more than rides.
"Six Flags must be about a wider, more fulfilling experience," Shapiro adds.
At the same time, Six Flags has decided to put its multimillion-dollar ad agency contract under review. That move has heightened industry speculation that Six Flags may be looking to end its relationship with the elder Mr. Six character that has been used to market its parks.
One thing Shapiro says he does want to see is a recharged relationship with Looney Tunes and DC Comics characters.Making a splash
Fiesta Texas drew roughly 700,000 fewer visitors in 2005 than SeaWorld San Antonio, and nearly 900,000 fewer than Six Flags Over Texas, which is located in Arlington.
The San Antonio Six Flags property did see its turnstiles flip some 112,000 more times than those at Astroworld in 2005. But Astroworld got no help from previous Six Flags bosses, when they announced in September that the Houston park would be permanently shuttered at the end of the 2005 season.
Fiesta Texas is wasting no time in seeking a larger slice of the family-oriented market. Officials there announced on Jan. 17 an expansion and improvements plan for one of the park's major attractions -- Armadillo Beach Waterpark. The plan calls for a new name and new water rides, along with some aesthetic enhancements.
But SeaWorld has some tricks up its sleeves, too. One of them is a revamped show featuring the theme park's star attraction -- Shamu.
Paul Serff, president of the Texas Travel Industry Association, says Fiesta Texas is "a great park with a great reputation." He says it could get an attendance boost from the closing of Astroworld.
At least one industry source familiar with both parks, however, says any such boost may be marginal at best because so much of Astroworld's attendance was of the local passholder variety.
One thing that a number of industry officials do agree on is that the cost of filling a gas tank could have an important impact on theme park attendance in many markets.
"Had it not been for high gas prices," Robinett explains, "it (overall 2005 theme park industry performance) would have been even stronger."
In March, AAA Texas indicated in its Monthly Fuel Gauge Report that Texas had recorded the highest monthly average price for self-serve regular gas ever at $1.95 per gallon. One month later, the Lone Star State set a new record at nearly $2.16 per gallon.
In September, those prices finally began to stabilize somewhat after inching toward the $3 per gallon mark. They have since dropped sharply but have begun to rise again in recent weeks.
Source : San Antonio Business Journal