Season pass pricing strategy key for Cedar Fair parks

Posted Sunday, May 4, 2008 10:15 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Officials in the amusement park industry ride a fine line when attracting guests. Entice too few season pass holders, and attendance could drop substantially. But bring in too many regulars, and guests no longer have a reason to stay for the day, making them far less likely to spend their money once they're at the park. This is the Catch-22 scenario Cedar Fair officials are grappling with in the aftermath of an acquisition.

Read more from The Sandusky Register.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008 10:18 AM
Jeff's avatar What is Speigel smoking? He's suggesting KI's attendance was down by 2 million? That'd be two-thirds of their attendance. I think not.

This article does however illustrate my frustration with the execs at Cedar Fair. They went in and tried to do what they do at Cedar Point at all of the new parks regardless of what the market conditions were. It ain't a one-size-fits-all situation, which is something I thought they learned with Knott's, which is culturally quite different from the other parks.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008 4:50 PM
On top of what Speigel said, I also don't believe that season pass attendance is only 10% at Cedar Point. I know it's more destination type of a park then most, but 10% seems low.
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Sunday, May 4, 2008 8:22 PM
Jeff's avatar No, that's a real number, I've heard it before. That, and they can't lie about it, being a public company and all.
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Sunday, May 4, 2008 9:00 PM
The article makes it sound like the idea is to attract as many day customers as possible, and then use the season pass holders to inflate the attendance. If that's the attitude, then what's needed is an attitude adjustment.

It seems to me that if a park is getting 40% of its customers from repeat, season-pass visitors, then the answer isn't to make the season pass less attractive, the answer is to leverage those passes and take advantage of the fact that you've got customers who want to come back again and again and again. I think a lot of parks could learn some important lessons from Kennywood, which does not sell season passes, but which lives and dies on repeat visits from local customers. With that in mind, they aren't afraid to allow the park to change through the season (gasp! Imagine Cedar Point not offering the same experience every single day of the season!) through special events, their fall parade, and their Halloween event.

Okay, so let's say Kings Island has 40% season pass attendance on a 3M year. If each season pass gets uses on average four times per season, then that means they sold 300,000 season passes. That's 300,000 people who live close enough to the park that they plan to come more than once, and they are already predisposed to visit the park. The challenge is to give these people incentives to come to the park more often, to stay longer when they visit, and to spend more money when they visit. One of the complaints that the park has is that the season pass holders don't spend their money when they visit. Have they figured out why? Where is the season pass holder's money going? And instead of complaining about it, why can't the park figure out how to get a piece of it?

Why is it a good thing for the park to extract more coin out of a dwindling customer base, when they have this pool of customers who have money to spend, but aren't spending it in the park? Why not figure out why they aren't spending it in the park, and solve THAT problem? What limits the length of a season pass holder's visit, and what can the park do to extend that visit?

(Hint: As an experiment, try instituting a season-pass discount on food and drink. What happens to revenue from season pass holders if a pass holder can get a meal in the park for the same price as a meal down the road at a burger joint?)

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008 10:39 PM
kpjb's avatar This article does however illustrate my frustration with the execs at Cedar Fair. They went in and tried to do what they do at Cedar Point at all of the new parks regardless of what the market conditions were.

I overwhelmingly agree. It's one thing to go in to a park like Geauga Lake and try to salvage what was once a steady earning park. It's another to go in to a 3 Million + attendance park like King's Island and try to screw with it. If it's working fine, why mess around? Are you that arrogant that you think that there's no possible way to run a business successfully other than your own? Did you learn nothing from Geauga Lake that your way is not necessarily always the best way?

*** This post was edited by kpjb 5/4/2008 10:39:49 PM ***

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Sunday, May 4, 2008 10:40 PM
Why just stop at food and drink? Give them a discount on all in-park spending so they can see where money is, and isn't, being spent, all with the swipe of the pass. The more data available, the better, right?

-Tambo

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Monday, May 5, 2008 8:08 AM
Agree completely on the food discounts, look at Disney, ever since they instituted the Dining Plan, all their restaurants have been booked weeks in advance, Busch gives discounts on food too, and they don't seem to be hurting either. It just has to be a little thing, like 10%, you would see SP spending shoot through the roof.
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Monday, May 5, 2008 10:07 AM
At Wonderland this year, reps told us on Media day that season pass sales were "through the roof" and they were very pleased.

This year, like all other years, there are discounts available to all season pass holders. 15% off all major food outlets and 20% off all merchandise at all stores. The strategy is to get people to eat and shop while there.

I think there could be some room to work on getting people to stay longer into the day though. A parade around dinner time, and a night time show would be good things for Wonderland. When they used to do "Eruption" at night (where they use pyro to blow up Wonder Mountain into a Volcano) people would stay to see it at 10.

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Monday, May 5, 2008 10:58 AM
"Helbig said officials also tried to bring back value to Gold passes by allowing pass holders to bring a friend to the park for $9.99 after the park eliminated a day allowing them to bring a friend for free."Just wondering, is this discount good at Cedar Point and for the Platinum pass. Looking through Cedar Point's site I could not see anything that mentioned a gold pass, or anything with this info.
*** This post was edited by 5/5/2008 10:59:14 AM ***
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Monday, May 5, 2008 11:36 AM
Jeff, Speigel was misquoted by the paper. He estimated that CF was down 2 million - chain wide. Not just KI. Reporter had that quote incorrect. I'd estimate KI at 2.5 attendance for 2007.
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Monday, May 5, 2008 1:21 PM
Pagoda Gift Shop's avatar NoName,

The bring a friend free day was a perk exclusive to Kings Island. It was incredibly popular, thus they are trying to bring it back while still making some money.

From a business standpoint, it probably wasn't a great idea. Say 100,000 pass holders bring someone...that's 100,000 free tickets. I wonder if that was part of the count of free tickets CF didn't give away last year.

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Monday, May 5, 2008 4:15 PM
Bring a Friend for Free was a perk at Kings Island on particular days, and it was a spectacular disaster in many ways. Remember my estimated 300,000 season passes? Given the pass sales blitz in the fall, let's estimate (and I am pulling numbers here from where the sun doesn't shine...) that a third of those are gold passes. That's 100,000 people with gold passes. Now imagine ALL of them trying to bring their friends to the park on the designated BAFFF day. Yeah. That's 200,000 people in the park. 3M customers in a 120-day season is an average daily attendance of 25,000 people per day. The old BAFFF promotion was a great way to cram a lot of tight-walleted people into the park and convince them beyond a shadow of a doubt that the park is too crowded, too expensive, and has lines that are way too long for not nearly enough stuff. It's a program that appeared to be designed to attract a lot of potential customers and turn them immediately into people who will never visit the park again.

That's a promotion that Six Flags has a much better idea for. In fact, Six Flags does something very interesting with it. When you buy a Six Flags season pass, you get a coupon book which contains (among other things) two very interesting coupons. One allows you to bring a friend for free to the park where you bought your pass. One friend, one day, but ANY day of the season. The other, more interesting coupon is the one that entitles you to bring a friend for free (again, one friend, one day, any day of the season) to any Six Flags park OTHER THAN the one where you bought the pass. Now there's a neat idea: now we encourage the local pass holder to go to one of our other properties, where it is not his home park, so he's more likely to stay longer and maybe even buy a T-shirt. And he'll even take a friend along!

Discounts for season pass holders throughout the park...or how about this: instead of discounts on merchandise, establish a point system where your purchases of merchandise add up to some other benefit: spend $10 in the gift shop and get a free box of popcorn out on the midway or something. It doesn't matter what. The point is, get the season pass holders to present their passes *every time they make a purchase in the park*. Then you can get an idea of what they buy, when they buy it, how much they spend, and so on. Without that data, you're only guessing. Okay, you know that on days that the park population is 60% season pass holders you don't sell many $8 hamburgers. But you still don't really know what the passholders are up to, and you don't know what they are...and are not...buying.

Heck, you really want interesting data? Put an anonymous RFID transponder in the pass and find out where the pass holders are *looking at* the merchandise. That's about as close as you'll come to finding out how many customers are saying, "I'm not paying that much for a shot glass". The technology is there, why can't the modern GM play "Roller Coaster Tycoon" in real time?

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Monday, May 5, 2008 5:20 PM
Jeff's avatar Ironically enough, PP GM's could with Gate Central.
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Wednesday, May 7, 2008 11:14 AM
Pagoda Gift Shop's avatar Funny that RideMan mentions RCT at the end of his post. I've been thinking of it while reading this thread. Clicking on a person and watching what they spend their money on...and better yet...what they are thinking!

"The food at Fry Stall 2 is too expensive."

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008 5:14 PM
Well, yes...and that's the really cool thing about the kind of technology that is available NOW. You can't QUITE get to the level of detail that RCT gives you, but you can come pretty darned close, in real time. It's the kind of information that a savvy park GM would KILL for, and yet parks that have the ability to get it..apparently just don't get it.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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