Brooks Barnes of the NY Times has another great story with some interesting insight into the recent large investments Comcast has been making in its Universal theme park chain.
The theme parks were almost literally an after thought when Comcast bought the NBC/Universal brand four years ago, but now they’re one of the company’s growth engines and becoming a central part of the brand value.
This has led to billions of dollars of investment in Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood with great brands like Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Transformers, and, soon, King Kong, Fast and Furious, and Jimmy Fallon. Each of those have helped the company increase its market share, not the mention the cash flow.
But don’t be fooled. Universal is a long way behind Disney. It’s not even 2nd in line as far as theme park attendance (Merlin Entertainments has that honor). In Orlando, Universal has increased its attendance significantly, growing by a larger percentage than Disney since the great recession started (of course, the early growth is easier).
Universal Orlando was also helped that it grew capacity while Orlando tourism continued to grow. The metro area went from 46.5 million visitors a year in 2008 to almost 60 million in 2014. The Orlando International Airport is making improvements so that number can climb even further. Universal Orlando took a larger share of those new visitors than Disney did and has a greater chance of attracting them as repeat customers. This will greatly help build their long term base.
I don’t think Disney is too worried about Universal. They may spare a glance in the rear view mirror every now and then, but for the most part, if Orlando is better known as a world class vacation destination, then Disney will prosper. Comcast will recoup its investments in its theme parks, but they have a very long way to go to catch up with the mouse.