Are licensed characters crucial to the bottom line of regional parks?

The "new" kid's area at CP got me thinking about the whole characters and licensing today. I'm wondering if the licenses are really worth it to the parks. Jeff mentioned the parks have to pay "royalties" on Nick merchandise, and I know they have to pay for the license of the characters to use their likeness on the rides, etc...

I can see the merchandise, because they sell that at an inflated price and make profit off of it. So, it makes some sense to me to offer popular characters because they'd sell better than something kids weren't familiar with.

But, my question is in regards to the "theme" of the kids areas. I'm wondering if Snoopy/Spongebob/Thomas/Wiggles are really all that important to the bottom line of the park.

I know the best example of characters and their draw is Disney. But, I think that's an extreme case. Disney is known worldwide and kids want to see these characters in person. Plus, Disney isn't just a regional park. They need to draw people from all over the world, so obviously the characters are important there.

So let's take Sea World as another example. Obviously Shamu is the draw there. Yes, Shamu is a "character", but it's way more than that. People go to Sea World to see Shamu, not a stuffed Shamu walking around the park. The kids area at Sea World (Ohio) was Capt'n Kids World when I was growing up. Shamu got us to the park, and we didn't really care what the character was on the play structure. It was fun and we loved it. I really don't think anyone flocked to Sea World Ohio for the kid's play area and its "branding".

Cedar Point has Snoopy. But, is that the DRAW for families at Cedar Point? Or, is it just that there are a bunch of things for the kids to do? Is it relevant to the kids and getting to the park in the first place if it is Snoopy or Spongebob?

Holiday World only has Holidog as far as I'm aware. But, they are very popular with the families and their attendance just keeps going up. So, obviously licensed characters like Snoopy or Spongebob are not crucial to their success.

So, my question here is would a park like Cedar Point be hurt at all if they got rid of their paid licensing of characters? Since the park is regional, I'm guessing families don't go there because of a beagle or a sponge. They go for the experience, right? For the most part, they're not saving up for five years to make a trek to see Snoopy (like they do for Mickey).

Obviously Cedar Point has a bunch of talented people working for them. After seeing what they can do with Halloweekends and their new parade, it's obvious they have some creativity there. So, why doesn't Cedar Point come up with their own character or characters? It would create a unique area just for their park and I would think be cheaper than paying for a Snoopy or Spongebob license. But, it wouldn't prohibit them from selling Snoopy or Spongebob merchandise. It would just be the theme of their kids areas.

So, what does everyone think? If you have kids, do they want to go to Cedar Point (or whatever park) because of the characters on the rides? Or, do they want to go to the park because of how much fun they have? If Snoopy and/or Spongebob was eliminated from the park and replaced with some other character (that was created by CP), would the kids still have fun and obtain your business? Granted, the character has to be cool and fun! I mean, we went to Cedar Point every year growing up and all they had was Kid Arthur's Court. We went because we had tons of fun, not because of Kid Arthur.

By the way, I'm not trying to start a debate on "is Snoopy in or out". That's why I created a new thread. I was hoping for some discussion on the impact of licensed characters on REGIONAL parks and if it really is worth the ongoing licensing costs.

Well, my experience was when my daughter was around 5 years old and I took her to SFGAm for her first time.

Her eyes lit up when she saw all the Looney Tunes characters walking around along with the rides that were themed to them. She wouldn't call it Great America, but she would call it the place where Bugs Bunny lives.

I think it is crucial to have this.

My favorite MJ tune: "Billie Jean" which I have been listening to alot now. RIP MJ.

Silver Dollar City and Dollywood are almost licensed character free. Both of those parks simply came up with their own themes for children areas (Geyser Gultch and Dreamland Forest) and in the end they came out just as appealing to kids as anything that Nickelodeon, Bugs, or Snoopy is involved in.

Busch Gardens didn't have any name brand characters for years as well, though now it seems Sesame Street is slowly being fazed in.

It's my understanding from people who know these things, that the CF marketing and advertising people are far too busy doing other things like naming roller coasters to get involved with creating new characters, naming them and dressing them.
Just ask yourself: "How did Cedar Point do before Camp Snoopy was added in 1999?"

The only reason Cedar Fair had any access to the Peanuts characters in the first place was because they acquired Knott's Berry Farm.

Although I will have to admit Knott's is relatively popular with families because of its original Camp Snoopy area.

I think the advantage of a well-known character license is that it simplifies your marketing efforts---you get a "hook" more or less right out of the bag. So, you can spend less time getting a potential customer's attention in the first place (hey, look! Spongebob!) and more explaining why you provide the best entertainment opportunity for the dollar/time spent.

Add that the idea that, as RGB points out, you've got limited marketing dollars. You can spend them on an already-created character, or you can spend them creating a character. Which one is better depends a lot on your creative people.

As Tim points out, CP's creative folks have gotten much better over the years. This has largely been through imports, though: the parade designer was listed as being from California in the "graveyard". I assume s/he came from Knott's. The ice show (easily the best show in the park) was also an import. But, the other shows have gotten better too---they are less "change clothes a dozen times and sing snippets of 18 unrelated songs" and more of "change clothes a dozen times and sing snippets of 18 songs related by a story."


Is a well-established set of characters crucial? Probably not. Does it make things easier? Almost certainly, as all of the "major players" have some sort of deal.

And, don't kid yourself about Dollywood not having a licensed character. What do you think Dolly Parton is there for?

Jeff's avatar
Peanuts, classic comic book characters and Loony Tunes are more of what I'd consider "flavor" than a "draw," because there's a certain amount of timelessness to them. Nickelodeon properties evolve every couple of years (though Spongebob has the staying power of a teenage boy and a bottle of Viagara), and these other things like Wiggles or whatever I suspect won't last. The risk in that is you need to evolve with the rise and fall of these other brands.

And truth be told, the flavors cost less. UFS would be crazy not to make the best deal possible because the Peanuts don't demand the kind of pricing that Nick properties do.

Paramount Parks spent a lot on properties they already had access to when they were part of Viacom, and they had contracts that extended access when they were branched off as CBS, but I don't know the return on investment will be justifiable for Cedar Fair. My gut tells me that the whole Nick Universe thing at KI, for example, was a draw, but I'm not sure if that's really the case or it was just a really solid execution on a kids area.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

I don't consider anything but Disney and Nickelodeon characters to be a draw. Everything else seems like a flavor to me, even stuff like Batman, Superman and Spiderman. I don't envision many people going to a Six Flags or Universal park because there are superheroes, I see those as more of quick, comparitively-inexpensive ways to name and theme rides... to create an identity.

People go nuts over Mickey Mouse, the cast of Finding Nemo and Spongebob. Everything else is pretty much fluff.

*** Edited 11/7/2007 1:10:45 AM UTC by Rob Ascough***

Lord Gonchar's avatar

halltd said:
I'm not trying to start a debate on "is Snoopy in or out". That's why I created a new thread. I was hoping for some discussion on the impact of licensed characters on REGIONAL parks and if it really is worth the ongoing licensing costs.

But here's the thing - to me the answer requires the "in or out" discussion.

I agree with what Rob said in his above post - for certain characters it is most certainly an added draw and for others it is merely a 'flavoring' of sorts.

So which is which?

The "in" licenses draw and the "out" licenses flavor. Simple as that.

I'll spare further elaboration on the who's, what's and why's as that's not the discussion you wanted here. :)

Raven-Phile's avatar
Don't fall for it. This is just a re-hash of Tim's chain restaurant debate. He is trying to blind us all with his hatred for all things "corporate". ;)


^^ Your comment is fair. What I really meant by my comment was I didn't want to rehash the argument/speculation regarding the former Peanut's Playground area at CP. Ya know, like, "Oh I think it's in" versus, "there's no way Snoopy is still around."

But, saying some characters actually DO draw people to the park is what I was curious about. I didn't realize the theming of the kid sections actually drew people JUST for the character set.

I fully realize kids (of all ages) love characters and getting their pictures taken with them. What I was curious about was if the character itself was important or just the fact that the park HAD characters.

I was going to draw a parallel with team mascots, but then I thought there really wasn't one. Of course most kids like hugging them, and adults act goofy around them just like park characters.

But then mascots are identified exclusively with their teams and their fans. Peanuts characters don't necessarily make people think of Cedar Fair, for example. For most people, Snoopy's just a DVD away.

I guess having some sort of character IS an expectation for many people now, even if it's a huge Peanut Butter Cup. Do you think chains like CF and SF are expected to have more famous characters? That if they did have "homemade" creations, people would think of it as a cheap attempt?

I think it's important to really have characters when the rides are really themed great to characters. People say that Disney needs characters, and Finding Nemo is a hit at Disney. Maybe, it's because they have a big dark ride themed Nemo, Submarines themed Nemo, and a stage show themed Nemo.

The rides aren't just 8 planes that go up and down, and you put the Thomas the train character to the plane. They are are bigger, and have more a story like Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, and so on. With that HUGE of a kids ride (A lot of Disney rides aren't smaller types of kids rides like Dumbo.), you are expecting the park to actually have characters walking around representing.

Is it a necessity for SF, or CF to have characters in there park? I don't think it is. However, I think it's going to get more kids over there than if the park didn't have well-known characters.

As for Holiday World, that park is I think mostly a kids park. A lot of those rides are for kids. Yes, they have roller coasters that are adult friendly, but they have a lot of kids rides there. Parents probably would rather go there than to a SF park because they believe that's a teen park with ONLY thrilling roller coasters. Again, I think that park would get even more kids if that park had Spongebob especially considering that it's more of a kid park.

But how many people don't go to a park because it either doesn't have characters, or it doesn't have the "right" characters?

RGB, who rode the submarine @ Disneyland when it was named after a Captain, not a fish. :)

^The only way to truly know is to count the kids at two parks with about the same type of rides. One has characters, and one doesn't. I say choose a Nick park with kids, and choose some other park that doesn't have characters which would be.. That's a good question.

I don't know two parks that are apples to apples in regards to they have the same kids rides at the park (One park has characters, and the other doesn't.).

Lord Gonchar's avatar

RatherGoodBear said:
But how many people don't go to a park because it either doesn't have characters, or it doesn't have the "right" characters?


But how many do because it has the right characters?

I guess that's the $64 question, huh?

In markets where there's a crossover in advertising - I'd rather be on the side that can run commercials of kids hugging Spongebob while a voice-over brags of an entire "Nickelodeon Universe" than on the side that runs commericals with a guy in a random animal suit waving to the camera while the voice-over touts "affordable family fun" :)

Could the parks survive without the characters? Yes, but at a price. Having popular characters easily drives up sales of merchandise, food, and even games (assuming each has the character tie in like nemo shaped chicken fingers). The characters are very marketable in park and drive up that in park revenue. Attendance also will be affected to a degree.

The next large factor is recognition. Popular characters really help with people relating to and/or remembering exciting experiences. Take IOA for example, that park has been fairly popular (by no means as much as it should be) and every now and then you can run into someone that has been there. I guarantee that one of the things they mention when talking about the park is the Incredible Hulk ride or Spider Man. Satisfactory rides no doubt but the recognition of these characters helps them remember the enjoyable experience. Look at the other side of the park where you have Dueling Dragons. This ride seems to be more forgotten among your average visitor as it has no previous recognition with them. If they do try to talk about the ride, most likly they will stumble with the name and perhaps not be able to remember it at all.

If you do have a largely popular character it is going to bring in guests. A huge example is back at IOA. Like I said above I don't believe that IOA has been anywhere near as successful as it should be being the amazing park that it is. It does well but its just a smaller name in all the other parks it has to compete with down there. I think it should easily draw more then USF does but thats just not the case. When Harry Potter opens however, business will explode at the park, and I hope they are ready to deal with the crowds. When Harry Potter was announced you couldn't find someone that hadn't heard about it. Theres already tons of people excited to visit this new area that opens in multiple years, that aren't even enthusiasts. Its going to be difficult for families to stay away at a Disney location when they visit Orlando once that has opened.

I understand the topic is regional parks but I still think that is a good example to show the drive a great character can bring. The final place that will help is the in park experience. When you go to a park and you have a lot of characters interacting and you see themed rides about them you are more likely to be excited to go back in the future. This is a good hook and also helps with the word of mouth for the parks. This will drive repeat attendance as well as season pass sales. Characters are an interaction with the park forming more of a relationship between the park and the guest. Without them you loose that bond.

In the end I don't think that regionally most characters will draw people to the park, but I do 100% believe that they increase revenue and repeat attendance.

As for draw vs. flavor, there are some characters that are drawing people to the park. Unfortunately most are just a minor amount of people and in the end you need to consider if that attendance increase from that draw is worth the licensing. Over the recent years with certain additions I believe what we have seen as characters to draw attendance would be sponge bob, and Thomas the Tank Engine (many underestimate the huge driving force behind Thomas but it is a gold mine!)

IntaminHater said:

If you do have a largely popular character it is going to bring in guests. A huge example is back at IOA.

You make some truly excellent points but I'm not sure about this one. IOA has Spiderman, The Hulk and Jurassic Park but the rest is comprised of Popeye, Dudley Do-Right, Sinbad and Dr. Suess- not exactly the stuff that most people of any age can relate to on a significant level. Hell, one of the park's most popular attractions is Dueling Dragons, and that's an entirely unique IP that has no meaning whatsoever outside of IOA.

If anything, IOA proves that a park can be successful without a plethora of licensed characters and associated IPs because Bilge Rat Rapids and Riposaw Falls would be just as popular if they were themed to something entirely unique. The only benefit I see to using their current themes is to keep the park from having to spend the time and money necessary to come up with something on their own.

Jeff's avatar
While Toon Lagoon isn't filled with popular licenses, you've got to be kidding that you don't think the Marvel and Seuss brands, and to a lesser degree Jurassic Park, aren't huge draws. I mean, there's a new Marvel-based movie every year, and Seuss is on TV every holiday (yay for Grinchmas!).

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

What's more, if you have pre-school kids, speak English, and own more than 10 books total, chances are good that one of those books was written by a certain Theodor Seuss Geisel...

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