As it prepares to launch its second season — this one Halloween-flavored — at its 11 amusement parks across the United States, Sandusky-based Cedar Fair LP has had a pretty good month by its standards.
Earlier this month the firm, which operates Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, announced that revenues for its regular May-August summer season that ended on Labor Day rose 5 percent in 2012 to $881 million. The firm also experienced a 4 percent rise — to $41.74 — in average in-park spending by customers.
The company continues to add to its awards list. For the 15th consecutive time, Cedar Point was named the “Best Amusement Park in the World” last week by industry magazine Amusement Today. Cedar Point’s Millennium Force roller coaster was named the “Best Steel Coaster in the World” by the magazine, and eight coasters at Cedar Fair parks were listed among the world’s top 22 coasters.
Overall, attendance at its amusement parks and seven water parks rose 1 percent through Labor Day to 19.4 million.
“What happened was, through the end of July attendance was relatively flat, so we saw a 1 percent uptick essentially in just August. We are very pleased with that 1 percent increase,” said Cedar Fair spokesman Stacy Frole.
But Rick Munarriz, an analyst for the Motley Fool investor Web site, said Cedar Fair’s summer performance was tepid.
“An increase in attendance of 1 percent is pretty weak by most standards. The summer was pretty agreeable weatherwise and with gas prices not that high, they probably should have done better,” he said. “As far as this year’s drought goes, the weather is always going to play an issue for amusement parks, and you can cherry-pick park attendance anywhere based on good weather or bad weather.
“Still, an increase in attendance is better than a decrease in attendance,” Mr. Munarriz said. And Cedar Fair probably is happy with that 1 percent increase given that the new attraction at its flagship Cedar Point park this summer was its $1 million animatronic Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit.
“It wasn’t the kind of attraction where they’d get the big bump in attendance like they will next year with the GateKeeper [roller coaster],” he said.
Last month Cedar Fair announced it will build GateKeeper, a $26 million “winged” roller coaster, at Cedar Point for the 2013 season. This month the firm has been unveiling its $90 million capital expenditures budget, with a new wooden roller coaster planned for its California’s Great Adventure park in Santa Clara, the development of Dinosaurs Alive at its ValleyFair park near Minneapolis, and a seven-acre expansion of its Planet Snoopy children’s section at Kings Dominion park in Virginia.
Ms. Frole said Cedar Fair will unveil the rest of its capital expenditures at the end of October.
Mr. Munarriz said he expects the firm still has a few big surprises to announce.
“With Islands of Adventure’s Harry Potter World and the new Disney Fantasyland expansion, even the big boys are realizing that you have to keep expanding things often to keep things fresh. That puts the pressure even more on the regional operators like Cedar Fair to keep things fresh because freshness means whether or not someone is going to renew their season pass,” Mr. Munarriz said.
Season passes were a big contributor this summer to Cedar Fair’s increased revenues. Ms. Frole said the firm had record season-pass sales this year after it created a plan that spreads season-pass costs over six payments. “We definitely think that also played a role in increasing our attendance,” she said.
The company also benefitted from a new ecommerce platform that gave it a consistent message among its parks and enabled it to offer visitors premium options, such as closer parking or no waiting in long lines for popular rides. It also took greater advantage of social media.
“The video of Cedar Point’s [Space Spiral] being torn down went viral when they put it out this year,” Mr. Munarriz said. “Social media is becoming very important, and the company has begun to realize that.
“The company was always kind of backwards technologically speaking, but getting that Disney influence with [new chief executive officer and former Disney Co. executive] Matt Ouimet, they’ve really come into the 21st century,” he added.
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