Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Six Flags Hosts First Blogger Call of 2010

Six Flags President and CEO Mark Shapiro reaffirmed his commitment to maintaining an open dialogue with industry bloggers by hosting the first blogger conference call of the New Year this afternoon. He was candid as always, giving us some interesting tidbits to chew on as we trudge our way through the long, cold off-season. We are continually grateful for such opportunities!

A Light at the End of the Financial Tunnel
First things first. As you probably know by now, Six Flags is nearing the end of its bankruptcy proceedings--hopefully. A confirmation hearing is scheduled for March 8, at which time the company will present its proposed reorganization plan for approval. While one group of junior creditors has yet to come to an agreement with Six Flags, Mark remains confident that these issues will be resolved in a timely manner that will allow the company to exit bankruptcy by the end of March. Regardless, he assured us that neither the outcome of this hearing nor the debt restructuring process itself will have any impact on park operations this year.

The Early Bird Gets the Cheaper Season Pass
There's certainly a lot in store for the Six Flags parks in 2010--Thomas Town at Six Flags America, the return of the Glow in the Park Parade at Six Flags New England, and the opening of the recently purchased Little Dipper (which, by the way, will retain its original name) at Six Flags Great America, just to name a few. But fortunately for you, me, and the rest of America, enjoying these fabulous new rides and attractions won't break the bank.

In an effort to reward their most loyal park patrons and help those families who are feeling the economic crunch, Six Flags has dropped admission prices to their lowest levels in years. So low, in fact, that Mark went so far as to describe them as "once in a lifetime" prices. At many of the parks, you can now purchase a Play Pass (which grants you unlimited visits to all parks in the chain) for the same price as a one-day admission. And a Season Pass won't cost you much more! The Play Pass program has also been expanded. Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom will be selling this type of pass for the first time in 2010.

One more tip regarding those Play Passes: While you will reap the same benefits regardless of where you purchase it, you will not necessarily pay the same price. Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom easily boasts the best deal, with Play Passes selling for just $29.99. If you purchase your pass at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, on the other hand, you will pay $49.99. Not that $49.99 is a bad deal, mind you--far from it! I paid more than twice that much for a pass with similar benefits at a certain other well-known park chain last year.

But if you want to take advantage of these great offers, you better act now. Provided that the economy begins the slow but steady rebound that everyone is anticipating, prices for Season Passes and Play Passes will gradually increase as summer approaches and throughout the season. Six Flags will certainly adjust this strategy as needed if the economy takes a turn for the worse, but the goal is to slowly introduce moderate increases until prices reach the point where they are commensurate with the quality of the product being offered.

The Road to Pristine
Speaking of quality, did you know that Six Flags painted 19 major rides this past year? And did you also know that this is a company record? Me either, until today! While this accomplishment serves as a haunting reminder of the previous management team's neglect, finishing the job is certainly a point of pride for the new team. As Mark and company continue to whittle down that deferred maintenance to-do list, the fruits of their labors are already evident throughout the chain in the form of clean midways, better landscaping, and--of course--fresh paint! Six Flags has dedicated nearly $100 million to deferred maintenance over the past three years. Impressive? Yes. But Mark won't be satisfied until "these parks are literally pristine."

A Golden Anniversary Gala
The Six Flags brand will be 50 years young in 2011, and Mark spoke with obvious enthusiasm about the impending celebration. The way he sees it, Six Flags has become part of the fabric of American culture and this anniversary is an opportunity to honor that legacy of family fun and togetherness. While he didn't reveal exactly what they have up their sleeves, he stressed that the excitement will be tangible from the moment you step through the gates.

We already know that each park in the chain will be getting a brand new ride or attraction to mark the occasion, but the magic won't end there. The chain as a whole will be taking a cue from Six Flags Fiesta Texas and ramping up their entertainment offerings in a big way. "This celebration will be very show-oriented," Mark said. He was, however, unable to comment on the notion of a mysterious "5D" attraction that's been circulating around the enthusiast rumor mills. I guess that one will have to wait for a future call!

Beyond These Borders
It's a tough investor market to be sure. But Six Flags is staying the course with its previously announced projects in Dubai and Nigeria, and has even engaged in "casual conversations" with other undisclosed parties regarding possible future projects. While the economic times have not been kind to many Dubai partnerships forged over the past several years, Mark assured us that Six Flags' partners are still very much on board. The opening of the planned Six Flags park has simply been pushed back, to 2013 at the earliest.

Nigeria is a different story altogether, as Six Flags has only committed to conceptual design work at this point. They have been working with Jack Rouse & Associates to put together a plan for a park which could potentially be built in that region, but whether or not that plan becomes reality remains to be seen. In any event, the project as it stands today is on target and on time.

Getting Their Priorities Straight
Enhancing and improving the guest experience has always been a top priority for the new management team, but it's not their only priority. Mark noted that there are three assets in particular on which they plan to focus in the near term: their people, their content (i.e., developing their own intellectual property and brand extensions), and their information technology infrastructure. Their progress in the third area is already evident in the form of upgraded systems and point-of-sale terminals in many of the parks, which they hope have translated into a smoother experience for park patrons.

Once again, we sincerely thank Mark Shapiro and all the Six Flags employees who make these calls possible. There's nothing like getting information straight from the source, and Mark's willingness to make himself available to our community in this manner is unprecedented and most definitely appreciated. Till next time...That's all, folks!


xzerojab said...

This is really just fantastic news for the entire amusement industry. I always have more fun at six flags parks and will continue to be even more loyal to the parks... only thing is if we could get the parking fees to go down.... but can't complain about the fantastic prices and the nice strives the company is making