Monday, November 9, 2015

SeaWorld Entertainment Gives a Look at the Company's Future Rides, Expansions, Changes

Today SeaWorld Entertainment held an investors day which aimed at giving everyone an update of where the company is now, and some major changes they have planned as they move into the future.  There were a lot of details shared, so I thought we'd take a look at some of the highlights.  The company shared a set of slides that went along with the presentation, which is where these images come from.

SeaWorld Entertainment has set out a roadmap to show how they plan to 'quiet the storm' that they are currently moving through, and grow in the future.  This 5 part plan starts with creating Experiences That Matter for guests, meaning a much larger focus on what SeaWorld does for animals and the environment, along with the goal of inspiring visitors to take action.  A new focus will also begin for the company's ambassadors, formerly known as team members, to help visitors learn more than ever before during visits to the parks.

To further strengthen this goal, the company has also announced that two of their network television shows, The Wildlife Docs and Sea Rescue, have been renewed through 2018.  Both brands will soon be playing a larger role in the theme parks as well.

The next part of the plan is to create distinct guest experiences, like the concept shown here for a SeaWorld Rescue ride.  This appears to be a rollercoaster that is similar to one operating in Sea World Australia, which is a launched ride that stays super close to the ground and water beneath it.  The company's designers note that the ride will feature an overall Sea Rescue theme, including clips in the queue and at the end a story of which animal you saved while on your jet ski journey. 

More Animal Care Center-like attractions will also be a focus in the future so that visitors to the parks can more easily see the animal care that is provided.

The presentation also showed off these two concept art pieces for dark ride attractions, but gave almost zero detail on them.  From the design it would appear as though the rides are meant to interact with animals through their passenger systems, though on what scale remains to be seen.  I'm all for more dark rides in the parks, though, so bring them on!

Seasonal events, such as Howl-O-Scream and various Christmas events will also continued and beefed up in the future.  Christmas at all the parks will get an extra lift next year when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer comes to all Busch Gardens and SeaWorld events.  The company has licensed the characters for use in their celebrations, bringing a focus character to the already popular events.

Already announced, Mako at SeaWorld Orlando and Cobra's Curse at Busch Gardens Tampa are also major 2016 additions.

Revenue Growth is the third piece of the future puzzle for SeaWorld Entertainment, and they have several plans now in place to address this.

First, the company plans to make many of their parks - especially in Orlando - the market value leaders.  The need to stay price competitive with the Universals and Disneys of the world no longer fits for the company.  Ticket sales will also be streamlined, offering a simpler approach to seeing what is offered, with less choices and less confusion.  Like all other major chains right now, increasing season pass holders will be a focus, along with upselling in park food, tours and programs.

The above graph shows how SeaWorld Entertainment is viewing their growth plans right now, with a focus on expanding resort options and improving the current parks.  However, they did note that they are still working on a partnership for a park in the middle east, a Village Roadshow partnership for parks in Asia, and looking at if there are other parts of the U.S. where a Discovery Cove would work.

CEO Joel Manby is pretty big on adding resorts to the parks if possible, to the point where they had a slide showing the layout and available land at all their big parks.  They see partnerships with developers as the way to go with these, or outright acquisition (mentioned specifically for Orlando).  In San Diego, SeaWorld has already signed a letter of agreement with Evans Hotel group to build a hotel on property.  It sounds like a fairly big push on resorts will be coming sooner than later, as they see this as a major way to grow earnings at a reasonable cost.

Panasonic has also signed on as the company's official Techonology Partner, a fairly big deal for the company who's fighting a reputation battle - hopefully the first of more partnerships to come.

The 4th part of the company's plan is to continue to repair their reputation as they have been for nearly all of 2015.  They went into great detail of how they've seen progress made in general opinion, and have learned a lot on what works and what doesn't as they try to disseminate only facts.

Financial discipline is the last piece of the plan, which includes rethinking how capital has been spent in previous years.  2016 will see Mako added to SeaWorld Orlando, but the company already has a board-approved 5 year plan for the park that will have something added each year - in a big addition, small addition, big addition type of pattern.  The park will also use more existing indoor spaces to better keep guests cool and weather protected (the dark rides seen earlier?) and expand their festivals and special events.

SeaWorld San Diego is changing things in light of the recent Coastal Commission's attempt at banning Orca breeding as part of Blue World's approval.  That said, up to one half of the cash set aside for that project has been reallocated to a different, highly marketable attraction for the property in 2018.  This does not mean that Blue World will never happen, but a lot is up in the air right now and heading to the court system - which means years of possible delays.  It is smart of the park to have a plan B in place as soon as possible, which it sounds like they have.

More capital will also show up in 2017 to help the park, though nothing specific was announced yet.  The headlines of most stories about this presentation today is that by 2017 the park in San Diego (only) will have a new Orca experience that is not theatrical in any way, meaning that the 'killer whale shows' will be history at that park.

Capital will also be allocated to SeaWorld San Antonio in 2017, though CEO Joel Manby pointed out that while the launched Sea Rescue coaster is under design right now there is a chance it may not be for the Texas park, it could actually end up at San Diego.  However, considering San Diego has a low to the ground launched ride already, Manta, that would make zero sense.  That said, I would bet that the Sea Rescue coaster will be Sea World San Antonio's 2017 or '18 ride.

For all parks, the company will focus on marketing to visitors within 300 miles of their parks, with much less focus on national advertising.  In the future as things change they may focus on that some more.

The financial section also had this interesting slide, showing the company's geographic breakdown of revenue and EBITDA.  If one thing is clear from this it is that the state of Florida is extremely important to SeaWorld Entertainment - with well over half of each figure coming from there. 

The presentation also had a long question and answer session, with mostly detailed financial questions being asked.  However, more resort talk came up with a question being asked about if the parks even need hotels - it seems the company is looking to go after more of a long-weekend market than anything else, aligning better with what they currently have to offer.

It sounds like the new executive team is focused on trying to "play where they can win," a strategy that could pay off for them over time.

All images © SeaWorld Entertainment