Cedar Point closes roads for first time in history as the park reaches capacity

Posted Sunday, October 20, 2019 10:06 AM | Contributed by Jeff

For the first time in its history, Cedar Point turned away visitors Saturday afternoon because the park got so crowded. Just before 4 p.m., the park announced that the two roads leading into Cedar Point — Cedar Point Road and Cedar Point Drive — were temporarily closed due to standstill traffic.

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Monday, October 28, 2019 6:05 AM

Great post Joz. What is happening here seems rather similar to what you described with Village Roadshow. I knew Fisher was with them, but I didn't realize there was a second guy that came over from there to Cedar Fair. Zimmerman came from Paramount Parks too - and they weren't really known for building premium attractions before Cedar Fair bought them. The similarities are striking. Since the moment this gold pass was announced, I thought it flew in the face of everything they've been trying to do (I thought successfully) at Cedar Point for years. To me, this seems like something that is really hard to put back into the bag once it happens. I think there are going to be some struggles at Cedar Point around 2021. I notice they raised the price on Platinum last night, but still have the $99 gold available. It appears they're intent on doubling down on their questionable decision and our concerns have fallen on deaf ears thus far.

As far as denying admission to gold pass holders after labor day? I don't think that can/will happen or they'd open themselves up to valid lawsuits. The time to put blackout dates on the product would have been before selling it. They're likely going to have to offer even more free/cheap perks to try to get people to renew after what a mess next year is likely to become. Hope we are all wrong and it somehow works out that the place is still enjoyable and it works out financially too, but if this isn't on Ouimet or the board's radar at this point, they're not paying much attention.

Last edited by MDOmnis, Monday, October 28, 2019 6:10 AM

-Matt

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Monday, October 28, 2019 7:02 AM

Usually “gold goes away Memorial Day” I’m not talking about denying admission after Labor Day to gold passholders I’m talking about blocking “vanilla” passholders (not gold, not platinum) after Labor Day.


2020 Trips: Canceled by Corona

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Monday, October 28, 2019 7:38 AM

MDOmnis; Well put / I agree!

Last edited by Mforcebob, Monday, October 28, 2019 7:40 AM

There is no such thing as a terrible Coaster just ones that haven't been taken care of

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Monday, October 28, 2019 7:53 AM

Touchdown said:

Usually “gold goes away Memorial Day” I’m not talking about denying admission after Labor Day to gold passholders I’m talking about blocking “vanilla” passholders (not gold, not platinum) after Labor Day.

I think that will eliminate 5 or 10 people from the crowds. :) Seriously, the number of people that have taken advantage of this promotion has to be enormous and I doubt there will be a ton of people left buying vanilla passes next June. Our best hope for a sane season is that most people simply got their fill this fall and go one or twice next year and call it good.


-Matt

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Monday, October 28, 2019 10:30 AM

$64,000 question. How often will new gold pass holders visit. And a related one, how much will they spend. We don't know the answer to either at this point.

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Monday, October 28, 2019 12:17 PM

I'd imagine whatever that number, it'll go up next year. $20 each visit for parking was going to create an artificial cap on the number of times some people came to the park, and now that barrier has been removed it's open season. Two hours free? Let's go to CP!

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Monday, October 28, 2019 12:59 PM

GoBucks89 said:

$64,000 question. How often will new gold pass holders visit. And a related one, how much will they spend. We don't know the answer to either at this point.

Related, how many added on meal or drink passes?

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Monday, October 28, 2019 1:07 PM

Presumably the goal is for the visits number to go up. But that is incredibly oversimplified. Its not like each gold pass holder will go x number of times to the park next year. There will be ranges with some people visiting more than others. And the 2 hours free, lets go to CP approach becomes less attractive the further you live from the park.

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Monday, October 28, 2019 4:41 PM
Pagoda Gift Shop's avatar

Good (bad?) news, the gold pass low price offer has been extended through January. Now a cheap gold pass can be a Christmas gift!

I find it very ironic that Cedar Point seems to be taking a page out of Kings Island's book on this. I would expect heavy marketing of the meal plan next year.


Coasterbuzz - Coaster enthusiasts, but so much more. We're the good ones.

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Monday, October 28, 2019 7:51 PM
Jeff's avatar

Ugh, this sounds so Six Flags, where the per cap spending hasn't compensated for lower gates, ever. It didn't work the first time (prior to bankruptcy), and it's not working now.

Strategically, my issue with this is that Cedar Point is in many ways the unicorn of the company. It's a minimum of an hour from the nearest city, they have 1,300+ rooms (plus the newly acquired Sawmill Creek), 156 cabins/cottages, 100+ RV sites, thousands of additional rooms in town. This is a resort facility and destination. You don't get more money out of people by asking them to pay less up front and make it up on the back end, you give them more stuff to spend money on over the course of several days. They've been enabling this for years... more beach activity, the sports complex, water park improvements, premium food and drinking, Fastlane (talk about diluting the value)... putting more people in the park is a quick hit that devalues all of the above. I live next door to such a place that makes separating you from money an art form.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Monday, October 28, 2019 8:57 PM

I think that is what is interesting about gold pass. There are a lot of contras involved. Its priced under the park's season pass (that doesn't have as many perks). One of the perks offered was to visit the rest of 2019 (with Halloweekends having become a very popular part of the season (growing in popularity even before this season) with staffing issues (losing a lot of employees for the season)). Compare that to the passes they offered at the beginning of the year (which has historically had smaller crowds) for that slow period of the season. They have done a lot recently with the beach and the hotel and other improvements to make it more resort like and upscale the experience.

None of that is rocket science. You don't need a Nobel Prize in economics to understand any of it. But they went ahead with gold pass in the face of all of that. With mountains of data on a whole host of metrics covering the gamut of guest experiences. What did they see in all of that data?

And today offered something of an off ramp. Lets assume they totally underestimated the popularity of the passes and/or issues they could or did or will create going forward (or are perceived to create -- there is a beating being administered which pretty much totally ignores the Halloweekends crowds/staffing issues/lines that existed prior to this season -- but to a large degree, perception is reality). Offering was stated to be for a limited time through yesterday (I think though definitely not through January 5th). They easily could have increased the price effective today. But they extended the $99 price (accounting type increase because no longer can you get the rest of 2019) presumably because one of two things is true: the program is going as they planned it would go (and the plan was to extend it to January with the season close date creating the common in marketing sense of urgency) or they actually thought they would sell more and extended it to get there. So despite all of the doom and gloom that has been seen online and in the media, the park presumably does not see an issue. Either they are totally wrong on this one or they view things differently with a ton more info than us.

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Monday, October 28, 2019 10:51 PM
Jeff's avatar

That great ticket deal they had for the early season made a lot of sense, presumably to try and draw some of the crowds out of the late season and into the early season. You might be able to argue that the Gold deal might stimulate the early season next year, but I imagine it will instead make Halloweekends exponentially worse, especially if they do it again.

Cedar Point has a finite attendance. They've pulled a lot of levers over the years, and the only ones that ever make a dent are big cap ex projects, which buy them one or two seasons at best (anecdotally, I'll tell you that PointBuzz traffic fluctuates almost the same way). Get them in cheap and hope they'll spend more won't work, per Six Flags. Think about that logically... people who shop at Walmart don't go there to buy expensive items.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Monday, October 28, 2019 11:01 PM

I find it interesting that I’ve made the same Six Flags comparisons elsewhere and it’s been totally poo-pooed, people mocked me for bitching about a deal. I’m glad Jeff (and hopefully others here) gets it. Good old CoasterBuzz, home of a higher level of enthusiasts.


But then again, what do I know?

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 9:24 AM
Jeff's avatar

I'll take it a step further... I was reading about some of the leading indicators that show us heading toward at least a mini-recession or significant market correction. Those without question adversely affect the theme park business, but they will sink anyone looking to work on volume instead of margin. I think that was a huge factor in Six Flags' bankruptcy. Compare that to Disney, which had three years of sliding revenue, two of those under 1%, the third 4.5%, but in a year that they grew attendance by 2%. If you look at the action of the company during that time, every discount and promotion seemed precise and limited in scope.

Why does that matter? If I can take away anything from working for investor-funded companies, when you're facing uncertainty or looking to sell, you don't carry things on the books long-term because you can't predict the environment. Maybe that means not putting more salary or loans on the books if you can avoid it, but in the case of theme parks, it means not having this pass deal. We've mentioned that it can mean deferred recognition of revenue and attendance, but that accounting magic is a liability if it comes with thin margins because those folks don't spend any money. And like I said, we've seen the pattern before... it doesn't work out. "Attendance is up, per capita spending is down." It was the quarterly refrain for years until Six Flags filed Chapter 11.

I'll say it again, we've seen this movie before.

I'd love to be wrong, but unlike most of America, I tend to lean on history and avoid making the same mistakes over and over. Extending the offer seems like a terrible idea that might boost the unit price in the near term, but cause long-term pain for the company.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 11:03 AM

In business there are different paths to success. That which works for one company may well not work for others. Maybe Cedar Fair and Six Flags are not taking the right approach. But its also not clear taking the Disney approach will lead to success for them. Walmart is successful and there are a lot of high(er) end retailers struggling (and others that have gone out of business).

Without the financial meltdown, Six Flags refinances its debt and doesn't file for bankruptcy. Seems like that is an important part of the movie.

Cedar Fair has done well (even in the recession if I remember correctly). Long streak of record years. All with every park in the chain having a pass that is priced very similarly to the Cedar Point gold pass. Yet the gold pass is evidence they are on the sure path to financial ruin?

A lot of Cedar Point's issues stem from the fact that the region from which they primarily draw customers has little to no population growth. Creates problems that otherwise just don't exist. And I am not sure pulling a lot of levers with only large capex projects making a dent for a year or two (at best) is sustainable in terms of long term growth.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 12:32 PM

there was an article on CNBC yesterday that basically said (erroneously) that CF should have taken the deal with SF. See my response in this thread on 10/22, maybe not so far fetched after all.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 1:04 PM

You do raise a good point about the lack of population growth in CP's closest markets and some of your other points would make more sense if Cedar Point had been struggling for the last several years, but nothing we've seen indicates that aside from a shift in attendance from May/June into the fall. Also, the last financial downturn wasn't a once in a lifetime event. It's going to happen again and it might be worse than the last one. It's just a question of when. A big reason these things keep happening is because so may companies/people/governments don't learn from history and don't think about long term consequences of the decisions they make. It's all about some short term gain and making false assumptions that things will only get better and never get worse. Then when they do, they end up like Six Flags did and Cedar Fair almost did. Bankrupt or being sold for pennies on the dollar to someone who was smart enough to have the cash on hand for a buying opportunity.

I think Jeff hit the nail on the head when he said CP is the unicorn of the company. For that reason alone, it ought to be worth treating it differently than most of their other parks which sit next to a large metro areas and are heavily populated with locals. For as much as Cedar Fair screwed up when they tried to apply the Cedar Point approach to the Paramount parks after they bought that chain, they're doing it in reverse now. For better or worse, CP is not like most other parks. It's a destination park for people across the midwest. It doesn't compare to Disney in terms of country wide and international reach, but the place has done quite well for a long time even if it's not going to be a huge source of growth at this point. They should look to Carowinds of the Schlitterbahn parks they just bought for growth or why not spend some money at Dorney and see if you can take advantage of the tens of millions of people living close to that place. CP's appeal is far broader than your local Six Flags or any of Cedar Fair's other parks and people have historically parted with a lot more money to make a trip there. Multiple days in the park or at least an overnight stay is the norm. If building a new big ride every couple years is not sustainable, why have they continued it this long? Do the new decision makers know better than 30 years of history? Have those capital outlays from Magnum to Steel Vengeance and everything in between been a mistake? Was creating a beautiful beach resort in Hotel Breakers a waste of money? Why did they buy Sawmill if the population of their markets is in decline and they intend to stuff CP full of people from Cleveland and Toledo that drive in for the day and use their Gold pass and go home at night?

I'm seeing conflicting messages coming from the place this fall and it's disturbing both as a guest and someone who is semi-interested in the financial side of it. It's like all that "A Place Like No Other" stuff was thrown out and they decided to go a different route all of a sudden. If nothing else, it's very risky. Many people suddenly buying at $99 aren't likely to buy at $139 or $149 the following year when they realize it was a mistake. Similarly, people that have historically bought platinum passes at $200 x 4 for their families, bought multiple meal and drink plans recently or at least spent money on similar in the past, and spent multiple nights per season in CP hotels are not going to continue spending multiple thousands of dollars each year doing so if they go and have a bad time next season. Next year is going to be a big test for CP for a lot of people - both those new customers maybe getting their first taste or revisiting after a long absence and old ones that have not already been scared off this fall. They better be ready to be on top of their game every day of the season or it's going to be very ugly come next fall when it's time for people to pony up again for 2021.


-Matt

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 1:38 PM

It's been mentioned before, but Cedar Point has a much smaller "local" base than other Cedar Fair parks that offer Gold passes. My definition of "local" for the sake of this post is less where guests are located and more about how much time they spend in the parks.

Kings Island is my home park, although I've been to every Cedar Fair park except for Gilroy Gardens. It seems as though each of the non-Cedar Point parks has a local season passholder base that comes in waves. Wave one visits right at opening, and they'll usually stay for five or six hours and then leave. Wave two visits shortly after the workday ends around 4 or 5, and then stay until closing. I think that's one of the reasons that Kings Island very rarely feels congested on weekdays because most of the guests aren't staying all day. There's very little overlap between waves so you're essentially only dealing with half of the days attendance.

Cedar Point is very different in that regard. The vast majority of the guests are getting there early (before noon) and staying for the majority of the day. There just don't seem to be very many guests there that are staying for 4 or 5 hours and then leave, particularly if they're arriving early in the day. The net effect is that Cedar Point, despite having very similar attendance numbers to Kings Island, always feels much more busy despite having more attractions than Kings Island.

My point here is that the impact of adding more visitors to Cedar Point is going to be much more pronounced than adding visitors to any other Cedar Fair park. To me, there are two major impacts that will be felt as a result of this Gold Pass:

First, there will be a lot more families coming to the park now. A family of four that wanted season passes to the park before would have to spend at least $548 ($137 regular season pass X 4 people), not to mention having to shell out additional funds for parking each visit. Now, that same family only spends $396 AND gets free parking and 30 minutes of early entry included. If that same family dropped from Platinum passes (approx. $800) down to Gold, they're seeing a $400 reduction in price. It's pretty clear from this who this is promotion is really aimed towards.

Second, early entry next year just got devalued. I think it's a foregone conclusion that the number of Platinum passholders at Cedar Point is going to decrease next year because of the Gold pass introduction. The first half hour of early entry next year is likely going to see a decrease in numbers because there won't be as many Platinum passholders next year. The last half hour of early entry is going to see a lot more people (i.e., Gold passholders), and therefore won't be as valuable as it has been in years past.

I still think Cedar Point should have waited until the next recession hit to introduce the Gold Pass. Introduce the lower cost pass so as to provide additional incentive when money gets tight and this would help keep their attendance numbers up. Is it possible that Cedar Fair is predicting such a downturn and is just trying to get ahead of this? It'll be interesting to see how this turns out next year for sure.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 2:00 PM
Jeff's avatar

If they're predicting a downturn with the market being as optimistic as it is, I'd love to get some investing tips.

GoBucks89 said:

Cedar Fair has done well (even in the recession if I remember correctly).

You mean when the units were worth $7 and they tried to sell to Apollo? We have different definitions of "done well."


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 2:59 PM

Gary Dowdell said:

Wave one visits right at opening, and they'll usually stay for five or six hours and then leave. Wave two visits shortly after the workday ends around 4 or 5, and then stay until closing. I think that's one of the reasons that Kings Island very rarely feels congested on weekdays because most of the guests aren't staying all day. There's very little overlap between waves so you're essentially only dealing with half of the days attendance.

I'd say it's because, as a local park, most people are working during the day. In my experience with weekdays at parks, the only reason you see a "wave" in the morning is because people are concentrated in one area (the entrance) waiting for the park to open.

While the non-CP parks have their share of non-pass attendance, it's much smaller than Cedar Point. Cedar Point is a destination park, so you see A LOT more one- or two-day guests. You are correct, though, that the crowd is more steady there - because people are getting the most they can out of their one-day ticket.

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