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Six Flags Wants Some Disney Magic

It’s been ten years since Time Warner sold off Six Flags Theme Parks to Premier Parks, which subsequently adopted the Six Flags name. Six Flags parks have used Warner Brothers characters since, just as they did before Time Warner bought the company. Now it looks like Six Flags could get involved in producing content, possibly becoming competitor with Time Warner in some areas and a partner in others – and doing likewise in regards to Disney. This comes from an Associated Press article.

Theme park operator Six Flags Inc. is aiming to become an entertainment company with its own characters to entice thrill-seekers to its parks much like The Walt Disney, its chief executive said Tuesday.

Mark Shapiro, a former ESPN [note: ESPN is owned by Disney – Ken] executive who took the helm of money-losing Six Flags in December 2005, made the comments in a keynote speech at the gathering of the National Association of Broadcasters.

He said Six Flags’ previous strategy was based on its roller-coaster hardware, but now it would focus on building anticipation to its rides through stories and characters, while upgrading the attractions.

Building a thrill ride with minimal theming and no show building is usually a lot less expensive than building the average Disney-style theme park ride-through attraction. Six Flags parks are more regional in their focus, while Disney parks are part of a destination resort strategy, so I wouldn’t expect Disney-style attractions to become commonplace at Six Flags parks.

“Approaching Six Flags is like building Disney, backward,” he said. “The focus and the root of all and everything we do is the storytelling itself.”

The strategy was to “build the characters, build the story around it, build the emotion, the drama … as opposed to just putting rides up on cement.”

Six Flags has made some moves that could make them more an entertainment company as opposed to just an amusement/theme park company:

Since becoming chief executive, Shapiro said the New York-based company has invested $100 million in revamping its business model, including purchasing half of Dick Clark Productions Inc., producer of such events as the Golden Globes, last year.

The production company’s archived footage will be used to promote the park and entertain guests while they wait in lines for rides and food, while providing a vehicle for advertisers.

Hmmmm. It sounds like Six Flags parks may be treated more as an advertising vehicle, rather than encouraging visits to Six Flags based on media produced by the company.

“We have 25 million-plus (visitors) spending up to 10 hours a day in our parks every summer,” Shapiro said. “That’s a captive audience like no other.”

Like just about every studio or theme park company other than Disney, Six Flags has also announced a deal for a Six Flags park in Dubai. I’ll be interested in seeing how things progress overall with the company. When they were deciding which parks to close or sell off not too long ago, their Valencia property, in Los Angeles County, was rumored to be on the chopping block, because housing development was a very hot business at the time and real estate prices were sky high. Selling the property could have brought in a tidy sum. Things have changed since then, though, and it is good to see that Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor were not shut down only to sit vacant as the housing market declined.