Saturday, February 18, 2017

Heard On... Cedar Fair's 4th Quarter and 2016 Year End Conference Call

Cedar Fair had their earnings announcement this past week for the 4th quarter of 2016, along with the full results of the year.  In short, it was a very good one, with the company posting its 7th consecutive year of record results.

Full year revenues were up 4% to $1.29 billion and EBITDA was up 5% to $481 million.  Overall attendance was up 3% to a record 25.1 million, and per cap spending was up 2% to $46.90.  The company still plans to achieve its goal of hitting $500 million in EBITDA by the end of 2017, a year earlier then their goal.

The company held their usual conference call for the earnings, and here are some interesting facts from it:

• The company continues to do brand positioning studies on all their parks, seeing great success.  The studies are done for six of the 11 parks - several of which that were completed first (Knott's, CP, Canada's Wonderland) were the largest contributors to the company's 2016 success.  The remaining parks will be completed in the near future.

• The studies have resulted in major successes like Knott's Boysenberry Festival, which second only to Haunt in attendance now, a big deal, and also the popular Taste of the Carolinas event at Carowinds.

• Full year out-of-park revenues, which is mostly from accommodations, was a record $146 million, up 6%.  Cedar Fair will continue to "strategically invest in this area" over the next several years.  Cedar Point will add 20% more rooms by 2018 with a new Hotel Breakers tower and additional rooms at the Express hotel, sustained by the new Cedar Point Sports Complex.  The company has also had conversations with major hotel chains for possible resorts at several other parks, along with possibly high-end campgrounds as well.

• Capital expenditures for 2016 came in at around $160 million, and there's about $135 planned for 2017.  However, that $135 could grow by $30-40 million if they pull the trigger on several accommodation and sports complex additions that are being planned.

• Cedar Fair's overall attendance is now 45% season pass holders, 20-25% group business and the rest independent day visitors.  Also, right now about two thirds of all visitors pre-purchase tickets before arriving at the park.

• Cedar Fair also continues to beef up their catering facilities, opening brand new facilities in 2017 at Worlds of Fun and Dorney Park.  These new areas will have modern kitchen facilities, free Wifi and self-service refreshment centers.  Executive chefs at the park can make customized meals to lead to higher guest spending levels via premium food offerings.

• Winterfest at California's Great America sounds like a smash hit.  Revenues in the 4th quarter were up $25 million, which is NOT just from Winterfest, but probably a large chunk of it.  Executives were proud of the quality of the event, noting that it took the chain's Halloween events 4 to 5 seasons to ramp up to the quality of offerings done in the first year of Winterfest.  The event, coming online at three more parks in 2017, bring 20 to 25 additional operating days, per park, to the company.

• The company is watching labor costs by utilizing more self-serve food locations, especially for this year's beverage refill program.  They will also adding more kiosk ordering to food outlets across the chain.

• The Battle for Cedar Point augmented reality app was a success at Cedar Point last year, and will return in 2017.  It is also being expanded to Kings Dominion in 2017.  Knott's will add a new virtual reality "Showdown at Ghost Town" experience, but no other details on it were given.

• California's Great America receive several shout-outs by executives, congratulating them on their recent zoning approval.  This will let the company focus on the park's "long-term master plan" as research has shown the potential for the park to grow in attendance significantly.  Matt Ouimet even stated that it could be one of their "top-tier" parks when they are done, and he has very "high expectations" for it.  A question was asked if the expansion will be as big as Carowinds, and it sounds like perhaps not quite as big, but they will go in an update infrastructure, add capacity to the park, and build "significant new rides, a la Fury, et cetera."  They plan to talk more about the expansion in 3 to 6 months.

• It was also asked if the plan to expand Valleyfair significantly was still on the table, and they replied that that is still "a little further out."  They just lost the park's General Manager to the Minneapolis Zoo, so this year will be one of transition and study of the marketplace to understand it more.