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Six Flags CEO sees a 'breakout year' ahead
By ANDREA AHLES
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
STAR-TELEGRAM ARCHIVES/BRUCE MAXWELL
Six Flags Chief Executive Mark Shapiro says he expects tremendous growth in performance this year at the chain's Texas parks.
More photosAUSTIN -- Surrounded by dancers and Looney Tunes characters, Six Flags Chief Executive Mark Shapiro told state and local tourism officials that the theme-park chain can be a "regional Disney."
Six Flags' parks in Texas draw about half a million out-of-state visitors to Texas annually, he said. And the chain's new emphasis on family-friendly entertainment is creating the emotional memories that Shapiro hopes will bring repeat visitors.
"If we don't move you at Six Flags, you won't come back," Shapiro told the audience at the annual Texas Travel Industry Association Unity on Tuesday night in Austin.
Recently, the company signed partnership deals with the Wiggles and Nintendo's Wii division to attract families with young children.
Shapiro is relying on these types of deals to help boost flagging attendance at Six Flags, which was down companywide almost 14 percent last year. At the Six Flags Over Texas park in Arlington, attendance has dropped 16 percent over the past decade, Shapiro said in his speech.
Afterward, Shapiro sat down with the Star-Telegram to talk about the upcoming season and how he's doing in turning around the struggling theme-park chain.
Q: Do you feel more pressure this year as Wall Street is focusing on your management's turnaround plan?
A: We're confident in our ability, and we're confident with the team we have in place; and we're optimistic for what's ahead given the preparation and the changes we put in place over the last 14 months.
Q: How do your Texas parks fit into the chain's long-term operating plans?
A: Six Flags Fiesta Texas (in San Antonio) and Six Flags Over Texas will be two of our stalwarts in 2007. We're expecting tremendous growth in performance for those parks. And we're setting the table properly by giving them the investment they need to take care of that deferred maintenance that they've had for so many years and giving them new capital that will draw more and more guests. We'll be spending more on advertising for those two parks, virtually more than we've ever spent before.
Q: How do you feel about the Cowboys building their new stadium down the road from Six Flags Over Texas?
A: (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones is going to be a terrific partner. (Washington Redskins owner and Six Flags Chairman) Dan Snyder and Jerry are very close through their NFL dealings. I have a relationship that dates back with Jerry to my ESPN years, always known him to be a very good businessman and very straightforward and very selfless. Sure he wants to win, but he wants others to win around him as well. And that means Six Flags.
Q: Are you concerned that road construction in Arlington's entertainment district over the next few years may hurt attendance at Six Flags Over Texas?
A: We're working very closely with the city of Arlington, the mayor's office and the Glorypark reps (the planned town center development near Ameriquest Field in Arlington), and we'll figure out a way to make it work so that our business isn't interrupted. We're very much supporters of the expansion and the economic growth of this area because at the end of the day, it's going to mean more and more business to Six Flags.
Q: How do you see gas prices and weather affecting park operations and Six Flags' bottom line this year?
A: I'm not sure how much gas prices hurt us given that we're a regional destination. I think it had a bigger impact on people who were looking to travel on a plane, given the rising cost of airline tickets and the fact that their dollars have been stretched further than ever before. Weather is always going to be a factor. Always. But I can't control that. We like to focus on what we can control. We're spending 30 percent more on marketing than we spent last year. We're spending a good 15 percent more than we've ever spent before. I'm totally excited about our marketing campaign. I'm thrilled with the park presidents we have in place. Early on in a tour right now, I'm touring all the parks. I was in Dallas Monday, I'll be in San Antonio tomorrow. I'll be in Chicago Thursday. In the next 20 days, I'll finish seeing all of our parks that will be in our portfolio for 2007. I'm optimistic at our chances. We've done a good job of cleaning up our image, cleaning up our parks. We're in the process of selling some assets to pare down our debt. Our guest satisfaction scores were at all-time highs last year. Our guest spending was at an all-time high last year. The table is set for us to have a breakout year. We're not going to turn the whole company around this year, but we're going to have a breakout year that will demonstrate significant progress.
DRAWING IN NON-TEXANS
Six Flags' parks in Texas draw about 500,000 visitors annually from outside the state.
200,000 from Oklahoma
150,000 from Louisiana
100,000 from Arkansas
50,000 from New Mexico
*** Edited 2/23/2007 8:46:30 PM UTC by Ajrides***
I don't necessarily think this will be THE year we see the big turnaround at SF, but it will be a better indicator than last year on how the changes really affected the parks.
Still a long way to go.
I don't see this as being a great year for the chain but it will be a good opportunity for the new regime to get some decent footing. They've had a chance to look back at 2006- see what works, what didn't, ect.- and hopefully that will give them a little bit of an educated direction.
Quite honestly, I don't see much.
Indicators to me would be how much profit was used to pay down the debt. Attendance and Net profit over years prior.
The only six flags park that I have been to in the past year, was sfmm(in nov). If this is any sign of things to come....well, they are going to fail bad.
Rob Ascough said:
Well, what's he going to say? "We're expecting things to suck this year"? ;)
6 months from now:
WE SUCK THIS YEAR BECAUSE OF THE WEATHER
Right now the increase is due to the two recent refinery fires.
Sharpiro really has a way to go to turn this place around, but I think he can do it, and no, it won't be overnight. I'd say their debt will be gone by 2020 and Cedar Fairs debt gone by 2012 (not including rotating debt)
I can't say that the $3.00 gas affected my travel to parks last year but I've heard comments from others that it did affect their travel.
I don't think 2007 will be a "breakout year" to the extent that Shapiro does though. I think it will take 2 full seasons before we'll know if the "formula" is working.
No, it doesn't affect single trips but by a few bucks but yearly it's a killer.
Chuck, who's kinda used to 2.50 but 3.19 like last year was a 8 dollar a tank difference.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Six Flags Over Texas will be two of our stalwarts in 2007...we're setting the table properly by giving them the investment they need to take care of that deferred maintenance that they've had for so many years
Please please please let that mean that TX Giant will receive the proper attention that it so badly needs, and so rightly deserves. It hurts so much to ride it now I know of no one who will take it for a spin again.
How do you feel about the Cowboys building their new stadium down the road from Six Flags Over Texas?
They should be on cloud nine-it can only help to bring this area of the Metroplex back to where it was years ago. At present this whole area in Arlington is quite a bit seedy and run down-along the east side of 360 from SFOT is a line of strip joints, boarded up businesses and warehouses. On the west side of the park is the Rangers stadium with a slew of restaurants around its edge, then more seedy establishments, and then the currently open pit which will become the Cowboys new home. I can only see the entire area rebuilding with Jerry Jones influence with the Arlington City Council.
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