Thursday, February 20, 2020

Heard On... Cedar Fair's 2019 Full Year Earnings Call

© Cedar Fair
Cedar Fair has announced their 2019 full year results, and had very good news to share pretty much all around.  As always, they hosted a conference call to discuss their results and here are some tidbits from that event:

• Including their two new Schlitterbahn parks, overall revenues for the year increased $126 million or 9% to $1.47 billion.  That came from an increase in attendance of 8% or 2 million visits to a total of 27.9 million.  The company also saw a 1% increase in per-capita spending and an 11% or $16 million increase in out of park revenues for a record amount of $169 million.

• Excluding the Schlitterbahn parks the numbers were still good.  Revenues were up 6%, attendance was up 1.3 million or 5%, per capita spending was up 1% and out of park revenues were up 8% or $12 million.

© Cedar Point
• The company has seen an amazing 40% increase in season pass sales right now over last season.  In 2019 season pass visits totaled 53% of their attendance, up from 50% in 2018.  The increase has led to deferred revenues being up $40 million at year end.  We all know that Cedar Point is killing it with their season pass sales, but sales are up double digits this year at almost every park as well.

• In 2019 the number of unique visits, aka not season pass visits, were up almost 1 million.  The company knows the benefit of growing season pass sales but also sees unique visitor count as critical to sustained long term growth.  They credit the rise in unique tickets to events like Grand Carnivale and Monster Jam.  The company plans to continue these limited run events in the future, adding more like Grand Carnivale and Summer Nights.

© Cedar Fair
• The out of park revenue segment continues to shine, and they see that fact as an item that differentiates them from other regional companies.  Out of park revenues now represent 10% of overall yearly revenue totals, which is significant.  They're currently renovating both the Knott's Hotel and Castaway Bay and hope for significant returns like they saw with Hotel Breakers.

• Food and Beverage per capita spending was up 5% in 2019, which they credit to their culinary chefs and new efficient and immsersive dining establishments.  They also see their food program as something that differentiates them from competitors in the industry.

• 2019 saw both strong consumer spending trends as well as very nice weather through the summer and fall, both of which led to the record results.  You often hear parks talk of bad weather affecting their results, it is nice to hear about good weather for a change.

© Canada's Wonderland
• Canada's Wonderland just finished their first Winterfest event and it was a success.  They had two thirds of their visitors purchase single day tickets, meaning they were probably new visitors to the park.  That's different than the chain's other Winterfest events where 60-70% of guests are pass holders.

• The Pass Perks loyalty program is rolling out to all parks (except Schlitterbahn which they hope to add in 2021) this year.  The test parks last year helped gather data to improve the program.  They use Pass Perks not only to build loyalty but also to drive more visits through limited time offers and specials.

• Cedar Fair has set a new goal of reaching $600 million in EBITDA by 2024.  This year they hit $505 million, which was up $37 million.  Without the Schlitterbahn parks it was up $21 million, meaning those two parks contributed $16 million.

© Kings Island
• There was a lot of chatter about capital expenditures, which are ride-lovers best friend.  They're still planning to move toward more OpEx oriented and CapEx efficient additions, which are more like the limited events and such.  They will also continue to spread out the major thrill ride additions at individual parks by an additional one or two years.  So if it used to be 4 years between big rides at park X, now it will be 5 or 6 (as an example, they did not give specific data).  This allows them to have something new at each park, each year.

• More on capital spending - they want to get overall spending closer to 9% of revenues by the 2021 season.  In 2020 they're spending around $190 million, for comparison 9% of the 2019 revenues would be around $132 million.  By 2021 and 2022 their large spending on hotel renovations and bringing the Schlitterbahn parks up to speed should be over, allowing them to spend less overall.

© Carowinds
• A couple final tidbits.  Two more parks will be adding a parade during Winterfest in 2020, similar to the parade that Carowinds added this year.  They confirmed no new park will add Winterfest in 2020, which we knew already.  Lastly, they did remark on how they removed two roller coasters from Kings Island in order to make operating costs balance for the addition of Orion - so they're not afraid to remove old rides to add new ones in the future... at least that's what I gather.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Apex Parks Group to Permanently Close Both Indiana Beach and Fantasy Island Amusement Parks

Sad news for the amusement park industry - Apex Parks Group has announced the permanent closure of both Indiana Beach (Monticello, Indiana) and Fantasy Island (Grand Island, New York).

News had just started to break that the amusement operator, which owns many family entertainment centers under the brands of Boomers and SpeedZone, no longer had the resources to invest in and operate the two longstanding amusement parks and now they've confirmed that the parks are indeed closed for good.

Apex did released a statement regarding the closures for both parks, using almost the same wording for both:  "Despite significant effort and a great deal of investment in infrastructure and rides, we have not seen an improvement in operating results. As such, we made the difficult decision to cease operations. This was not a decision entered into lightly. Team members are being assisted by their supervisors and the company is working to minimize impact to those affected."

It is said in several new stories that Apex tried to find a buyer for both of the parks, with no success.

Indiana Beach © Google Maps
At the same time that the parks were announced as closing, Apex is also shopping the rides from the parks to other operators.  They plan to keep some of them, but many are up for sale or being retired.  According to this post from ACE, all of the steel roller coasters at the parks are for sale, but the only wooden coaster listed is the Silver Comet from Fantasy Island.  That leaves the three wooden rides at Indiana Beach seemingly destined for destruction.

Interestingly, all four of the wooden roller coasters between the two parks were built by Custom Coasters International.

Fantasy Island © Google Maps
Indiana Beach first opened in 1926 and was a longtime family-owned favorite vacation spot for people as it sat nearly in the middle of Lake Shafer.  Scott & Carol have shared a great deal of wonderful stores about the park through the years, you can scroll through them at this link to learn much more about the park.

Fantasy Island, which was for a long time known as Martin's Fantasy Island, opened in 1961 and was also family owned park that was run privately under a handful of owners for many years.  It was just purchased by Apex near the start of the 2016 season.

The news of the parks closing has hit many fans, both inside and outside the amusement industry, as a punch in the gut.  Sadly it seems the time for possibly saving these parks is over, especially since Apex already tried to find new owners.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Six Flags Over Texas Quickly Installing New Aquaman: Power Wave Water Coaster

© Six Flags Over Texas
Six Flags Over Texas will debut Aquaman: Power Wave in 2020, North America's first Mack Power Splash attraction.  The ride combines a splash boat ride with the launch elements found on modern roller coasters, making for a unique and thrilling experience.

Six Flags Over Texas has been sharing photos of the ride's construction, which just kicked into high gear recently as the parts of the ride were moved to the work site to be installed.  That can be seen up top, and also in this video from the park.

© Six Flags Over Texas
Just this week the park has started to show off how much of Aquaman: Power Wave is already installed in a fun interactive image on social media.  You can scroll around and take a look at the work site, part of which can be seen above.  That end of the track isn't yet complete, but over on the other end...

© Six Flags Over Texas
Things are much bigger!  The backside of the ride is starting to tower over the park - this will be the totally vertical side of the U shaped track that the boats launch up.  Each of the towers will stand 148 feet tall, though the other will feature a bit of a level-off near the top.  The ride launches the boats both forward and backward several times - hitting a top speed of 63 miles per hour which is super fast for a water ride.  After the final launch up one of the towers the boats come down to the splash lagoon and naturally a huge wave covers all.

© Six Flags Over Texas
Just as a reminder, here is how Aquaman: Power Wave will look when it is complete.  Right now the park is working on the tower on the left of this image, with much of the middle section of track also installed. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Hersheypark Places Final Track Piece for New Candymonium Hyper Coaster

© Hersheypark
Another of North America's new for 2020 roller coasters is now complete as Hersheypark just recently placed the final track piece for Candymonium.  The park's new hyper coaster, fabricated by B&M, now has a completed 4,636 foot long course.  The final track piece, seen above, was located just before the brake run at the end of the ride.

Candymonium is the biggest ride in the park's new Chocolatetown entrance area, which is all new for 2020 as well.

© Hersheypark
Less recently than the instillation of the final track piece, Hersheypark also shared photos of the coaster's three shiny new B&M trains.  There will be three color schemes for the trains, the blue one above represents the famous Hershey's Kisses.  There will be a red train as well, representing Twizzlers.

© Hersheypark
The third train is orange, signifying Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which can be seen above.  The trains have both milk and dark chocolate color schemes as well, seen on the beautiful B&M clam shell design above.  Candymonium starts with a 210 foot tall lift hill and the three trains will hit a top speed of 76 miles per hour as they race out into the newly developed land the park is utilizing.

© Hersheypark
The entire Chocolatetown area is a massive renovation of the entire entrance area to Hersheypark, and this recent photo shows that much progress has been made on the area.  You can see Candymonium in the background, along with all the new buildings that fill up this part of the land.  There's even a Hershey's Kiss shaped planter that can be seen here, a fitting way to welcome guests to the land of chocolate!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Updates on Six Flags + SeaWorld's Past and Present Investor Legal Troubles

© SeaWorld Entertainment
SeaWorld Entertainment has finally seen a resolution to the investor lawsuit that alleged the company covered up the real effects of the Blackfish documentary for much longer than they should have, which caused investors to lose money as the company's stock price plummeted.

The company issued notice that they have agreed to pay $65 million to settle the dispute, which is still subject to final approvals.  The lawsuit had been going on for so long that a jury trial was finally set to start in a week's time, so instead of that route it looks like all parties decided the $65 million figure was sufficient.

The agreement means that SeaWorld has to admit no wrongdoing, and also luckily for them they had insurance for this type of situation, as most companies do, which will cover $45.5 million of the settlement.

Considering the company is run by totally different individuals at this point that had nothing to do with the Blackfish era, it's nice to see the books closed on that debacle.

© Six Flags Entertainment
Six Flags however is just at the start of a new investor lawsuit which claims they did not tell the whole truth about the shaky footing that Riverside Investment Group, which was to build up to 11 Six Flags branded park in China, was actually on.

Riverside Investment Group has since forced Six Flags to send out notice that the Chinese parks are in grave jeopardy with a good chance of never opening.

The lawsuit claims that Six Flags made false or inflated statements about the abilities of Riverside to get through tough economic times in China, which cause inflated stock prices.  However they do note that Six Flags did release some information on the partnership with Riverside, and each time they did the stock price dropped at least 10% - but their sticking point seems to be the sunny-side representation of the future of the Chinese parks while Riverside was falling apart.

I'm not a lawyer so the fact that Six Flags did give updates makes me think they were being up front, but I guess not upfront enough to accurately reflect how bad the situation was?

Either way it's more not so good news for Six Flags, who's stock price is about half of what it was not long ago.  It certainly seems their grand international licensing expansion idea has ended before it ever really began.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Six Flags Great Adventure Shares Devilish Photos of Jersey Devil Cars + Construction

© Six Flags Great Adventure
Six Flags Great Adventure has shared some amazing new photos of the Jersey Devil Coaster's lead cars, which as shown in the preview animation feature the character himself.  They say the devil is in the details, and that's quite literally true of these lead cars, which have an amazing amount of detail baked into them!

© Six Flags Great Adventure
The Jersey Devil Coaster will feature several trains with these fantastic lead cars, which appear to be swallowing the track as they move through the course.  The ride will be one of Rocky Mountain Construction's new Raptor designs, the largest that they've done to date.  It will use a single rail for the trains to ride on, giving passengers a low center of gravity and a thrilling experience.  The ride will stand 130 feet tall, feature 3,000 feet of track and top speeds of 58 miles per hour via an 87 degree first drop.  The devil will no doubt make sure that there's plenty of air time on that drop!

© Six Flags Great Adventure
Six Flags Great Adventure has been making great progress on the ride during this winter, keeping us wonderfully updated as they go.  Above are some of the supports for the ride that have already arrived at the park - several truckloads worth are already on site.  No track has appeared just yet, but I'm sure that's not far off!

© Six Flags Great Adventure
The park's update also notes that they have now poured the ride's final 12 pier caps, which means that the process of creating the ride's foundations is nearly complete.  We all know that means that vertical construction isn't too far off, which is quite an exciting time for the park.

If you haven't seen Great Adventure's most recent Jersey Devil Coaster video update, make sure to check it out below!