Geauga Lake attendance down, underestimated animal attractions

Posted | Contributed by RollerCoasterGod

A year after Cedar Fair LP purchased Geauga Lake and invested millions in a promising new water park there, the property still isn't living up to expectations. CEO Dick Kinzel said he underestimated the attraction of the animals that Six Flags and Sea World had. The park's July attendance was, however, up 7% over last year.

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IMHO, The animal side was half the reason to visit. Why would I travel for a waterpark when there are two nearby and another being built?

Sure there are zoos but not many offer Tiger shows, Dolphin shows and a Killer whale.

Guess they are lucky they bought it so cheap cause IMHO they F^^^ed up.

Chuck, who still enjoyed Geauga this year but feel it was half the park it was. (The price was right anyway)

P.S. I also feel these are some things that are missing from CP. Your not just removing animals and their cost and liabilities. Your removing some of the parks personality.

I have some more insights that may or may not help. And I will admit from the start I am not a fan and hope Cf fails miserably, since I was one of those who were booted to the curb because of finances.

I was assistant manager of Security for Sea World of Ohio for the 10 years of A-B, and had another 12 years at the park as a security supervisor before that. At the time of the sale, A-B was hoping to get a yearly 7% return on investment, or ROI, from Sea World Ohio. I believe the last year it was only 3 %.

Also, Geauga Lake then Six Flags owned the lake and Sea World had an agreement that they could use the lake as long as they did not build rides. When Mission Bermuda Triangle was opened, Geauga Lake/Six Flags threatened to take away use of the lake. A deal was made at the last minute.

All of the other Sea World/Busch Garden parks have rides. I believe A-B knew they would never have rides in Ohio, therefore could not grow their attendance much beyond the 1.3 million -1.7 million a year.

But I was there in the meeting March 10, 2004 when it was announced that the park was being sold to Cedar Fair. An animal trainer stood up and asked Dick Kinzel what would happen with the animals. He replied that Cedar Fair did not wish to do animals, a mistake that has consequences to this day. But they could have done animals, because the structures and more importantly the staff and knowledge was already there.

And Six Flags would have sold the animals, because they needed the cash. It was only after Cedar Fair announced they did not want the animals that Six Flags either transferred them to other parks, or found homes for them outside of Six Flags. This was done in large part to avoid bad PR that would have resulted from animals being destroyed, neglected, etc.

Pay attention to the numbers. While the park has shown a modest rise of 7% in the month of July, as a whole it is down 5% from last year, which was down about 75% from the year before. And if next summer is wet and cold, watch numbers drop even more.

But hey, what do I know? I only worked in the amusement park industry for 25 years, so I may be taking a shot in the dark...

Oh, and don't judge attendance by the full parking lot on the rides side. We experienced that in 2003, only to be told each day that the attendance was lower than it seemed it could be. We even thought maybe they were fudging the numbers not to pay us a bonus for increased attendance!

Fun's avatar
Amen to that SW Security. I really can't get too excited when I see attendance is up 7 percen for July, and down 5% YTD. It seems like the park is just trying to break even with last year's attendance. And after 13 million spent on a new waterpark?!
*** This post was edited by Fun 8/5/2005 11:31:42 PM ***
Jeff's avatar

IMHO, The animal side was half the reason to visit. Why would I travel for a waterpark when there are two nearby and another being built?
Well, you wouldn't. Haven't we established that was the point?

Are we really going to have the discussion about the animals again? Two companies couldn't make it profitable. If Busch was essentially making single-day tickets into season passes, that seems a little desperate to get butts in the park.

Regardless of what any of us thinks makes the park a good or bad park, from a business standpoint they have two simple goals: Make it profitable with the margins they're accustomed to, and recover the cost of purchasing the property and improving it. With a warm and relatively dry August, they're well on their way.

Jeff, I think SW Securities point is there is more to it then your simplistic answer. His point was Sea World was unable to build rides due to the fact that the property across the lake had an agreement, which I will assume meant "Legal Agreement", with them not to build rides which in turn gave Sea World access to the lake. Shareholders only wanted properties that they could grow, AKA: build rides, and AB sold as they saw the park as a dead-end. So yup, AB could not make the park profitable but their hands were tied.

Now, I have no idea if this was the case or not but I clearly see his point. I wonder what could have happened if AB would have owned the entire site being a primarily animal oriented operation with rides or if they were able to build some decent ride attractions on their side of the lake?

I guess we are having this discussion again.

Jeff's avatar
I don't doubt that SeaWorld's inability to build rides was a problem. That's obviously why they did the simulator and the 4D theater. But it was what it was. Six Flags could, and did, build rides along side of an animal park, and went from a combined 3 million guests from the separate gates to a combined 1.1 million. Granted, the company generally sucks at running parks, but it didn't work. It still doesn't make a lot of sense financially to have a park where you have to feed the animals year-round from five months of gate receipts.

It's a different era. The park will be successful in the long run, but it will be a totally different product from what it was. In the long run, it will be a park like the old Funtime Geauga Lake, not a SeaWorld, Six Flags or Cedar Point.

I hope I'm not straying too far off topic, more of a sub-topic, but this goes with your point of, "feeding the animals year-round from five months of gate receipts,"...Anyone know if any of the various owners looked in to keeping the aminal attractions opened year-round as a way to keep money flowing in all seasons?

I suppose if you use the Cleveland Zoo as an example it's most likely not a sound idea as I've never seen a large crowd in February. Just curious if anyone looked in to the possibilty. You ever catch wind of something like this SW Security?

While I'm so far off-topic, does anyone have a successful winter zoo operation in the country? And I mean winter as in snow, not SoCal or Florida.

Zoo's have strong admissions during the 'school years', with class trips and such. Are Zoo's busy on hot days? No. Rainy days? No. School days? Yes. Weekends? Yes.

San Diego Zoo, LA Zoo, Miami Zoo, andBronx Zoo for example are all strong earners. Even small zoo's like Pittsburgh draw 750,000-1,000,000 with strong group efforts.

They took a gamble to break the ohio market and it failed, Not because of planning. Because of customer service period.


I think SW Security sums it up quite well. I couldn't of said it better. People need to wait and see what happens with phase 2. I can see much more than just phase 2 happening to bring in an audience and people to the park.
I have heard nothing but good things about Wildwater Kingdom from the general public this whole summer.

I was sitting at Pizza Pier in the water park and overheard a guy telling the group he was with that WWK was a much nicer water park, better than CP's Soak City. As Jeff has said word is getting out and I think attendance will jump much higher next year since they will have a full-sized water park to promote.

X Factor

We've established that...

1. AB hands were tied by not being able to build rides
2. Six flags usually sucks at running parks

I'm not sure it is fair to look at #1 and #2 and conclude there was no way the combined concept could work in this market. Apperently AB made 3% in a crappy year without the rides...? We'll never know if this concept could have worked because nobody ever gave it a good effort and provided fair resources for it to succeed.

I might also add that even though Six Flags initially kept the two-park concept, they pissed people off by getting rid of the whales right from the start! I could go on and on, but it seems we all agree with #2, so no need to rehash their dismal efforts in running the 2-park concept!

This is the reason I put the qualifying words "done right" in my suggestion that the combined park could have been special!

I agree (and have stated prior) that CF will turn this around with the waterpark emphasis and regional concept! I just don't think this is as exciting as "what could have been" had it been "done right!"

P.S. I still think this was a smart move. They could close the park today and it would not change my mind (Gonch read my mind with his post above). They made, at worst, a strong DEFENSIVE business decision. At best, they can turn this into a thriving regional park (which I think will happen)! CF's stockholders should be happy!

Ride enthusiasts who like diversity in choice should not be too excited... :-)

Jeff's avatar
You're right... we'll never know if someone could've done it right, but I'd still be skeptical. We have Cedar Point here, and we have a pretty good zoo (to say nothing of movie theaters, pro sports teams, theaters, concerts, and whatever else you can throw away money on). I would've liked to have seen it work it out, but Six Flags is a suffering brand even among non-enthusiasts. What a shame.
I might add a few more comments:

1. Six Flags did not get rid of the whales. Killer whales a protected by the US government, which is why Sea World has started an extensive breeding program, since no "new" Killer whales can be captured and brought into captivity.

2. Six Flags did get Shouka on a "breeding" loan from France, I believe. She was supposed to mate with "Pepe" from Brazil or Argentina, but they kept dragging their feet on his release. That is why he is still not at a Sux Flags park. Who knows if he will ever make it.

These matters were out of Six Flags control. This was under their control:

1. Because of their poor finances, after the first season there were times that I as a Sea World employee of 22 years at that point, wondered why Six Flags had bought the Sea World side, since it seemed like they were doing everything they could to run it terribly and keep it closed. They kept the animal side gates closed except for weekends and big events, due to the budget to staff it. They did the same with the animal exhibits, by not keeping narrators on duty there into the evening hours. Therefore, the animal department had a policy that without narrators at an exhibit, the exhibit would close. So you had people who only wanted to see the animals being forced to walk a mile to the animals from the ride side parking lot, then having them close about 6-7PM. even though the park was open until 11PM.. Not a good business move.

2. And the parks should have been split, with seperate admissions or a one big price for all. The park may have been able to maintain the close to 3 million attendance the 2 seperate parks maintained. The reason above in #1 is why they didn't come close to achieving that. It was the lack of finances that caused Six Flags to make what I believe were self-defeating choices. And a lack of a clear vision.

This was under Cedar Fair's control:

1. They could have kept the animals, and dedicated themselves to making it work. I think their experiences with the dolphins at Oceania at Cedar Point caused them to become gunshy.

I merely point out that they have also made some choices that are questionable. I agree with the points above in the posts. I think they got rid of a close competitor. They can move rides, sell off the land, and still be ahead. And I still think this will happen eventually.

I don't see the sense of pinning your hopes on a water park that you can't use the entire operating season, while attendance barely climbs. Even if it climbs to a million, does that make a profit for Cedar Fair? If they achieve 1 million and sustain it for a few years, I still think that park is gonna look like a ghost town on many days on both sides. Especially when you factor in the cost of building the waterpark, demolishing the old Sea World stadiums, and the cost of buying the park. I believe they will still lose money, and we will see how long the stockholders put up with that.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

Mark Brown

Thanks for the info SW...I follow this stuff and I was not aware the killer whale issue was out of SF's control! Anyhow, there were still a lot of people upset that they did not have the whales, whether fair or not...
Jeff's avatar
I never understood why Six Flags didn't keep the parks as separate gates either.

Let's say it again... they bought the park for $145 million. Getting return on the investment is not going take forever once the park turns that corner.

If they can do Dorney-like attendance (1.4 million last year) I'd be happy as a clam. That's what the old Geauga Lake used to do with half the land and a lesser water park.

Not to mention that, as a local, the advertising campaigns may have something to do with attendance: I would like to happen a guess-ta-mete that the ratio of Cedar Point commercials seen in the Cleveland area vs. Geauga Lake is about 10 to 1; seems every commercial break begins with, "nah-nah-nah, it's the BEST!".

Additionally, CP's campaign has a large variety of the "World's best ..." slogans and park footage, as well as taunting an animated Snoopy dancing across the screen. Geauga Lake, on the other hand, has had 2 versions of it's commercial this season- one early in the season with "stock" footage, and a newer one with current stock footage, and an easily forgetable, "2 parks..." jingle.

The same can be said for local print media as well- CP usually gets the full outside back of the weekly Entertainment suppliment in Cleveland's only newspaper, while Geauga gets a small quarter page ad inside, if at all.

How is the advertising blitz in other close markets to Cleveland?

We've established that...

1. AB hands were tied by not being able to build rides
2. Six flags usually sucks at running parks

I'm not sure it is fair to look at #1 and #2 and conclude there was no way the combined concept could work in this market.

I agree. I think it could of worked. Being from Pittsburgh my family would take a trip once a summer up to Sea World. Very rarely did we go 2 GL unless it was a group trip. Sea World was much different from the other parks/zoo's in the was the main draw for my family and I'm sure many others. Sea Worlds lack of room to grow was starting to show and we didn't attend their last couple seasons. We decided to go back after the Six Flags takeover. Making a long story short...we had a horrible time. Now there is no draw for us. We have Kennywood at our doorstep and though GL is advertising around here like crazy, I wouldn't waste a trip.

I do agree the CF made a poor choice. They are competing with themselves. The park it too big to be sustained by just the local economy, and too small to be a heavy draw away from the other ohio parks.

Down here in Pittsburgh advertising is the opposite than cleveland...though I don't watch that much tv I haven't seen a CP commercials all summer, but tons of GL especially on the radio..."2 parks of fun in 1" as well as loads of billboards.

I just attended G-lake for the first time in 10 years- wow have things changed! The rides were fantastic however I've got a list of needed inprovements:

-Parking is $9- the park needs to show more value here by giving a nominal Souvenir (I felt ripped off and almost parked at the stores across the way and walked over)

-Attendance was non-esistence (good for me bad for the park) it was a beutiful day and no lines for anything!

-The use of the exit was poor- give me a coupon for returning again and I might come back.... no attempt to get me back in

-Overall the parked lacked excitment- and the staff looked miserable-

-I suggest the use of corporate sponsor for rides- (Generate more rev for park and give local big business a reason to come)

-Each week might need to incoprate a demo group- 4th grade week- 5th grad week, college week and so on-

- Cedar Fair you'e got your work cut out- I sugest building stronger local ties and less of a focus on advertising-


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