SeaWorld Entertainment appears to overcome slump with new rides

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

After nearly five years of declining attendance and revenue following accusations that it mistreated orcas and their trainers, SeaWorld Entertainment is gaining ground with new attractions and rides that have nothing to do with the black-and-white sea creatures that defined its identity for decades.

Read more from USA Today.

Jeff's avatar

I will concede that the faux-documentary impacted attendance, but only to a limited extent. I still think the biggest error they made is that they just didn't build anything new while hiking the gate in Orlando. There was nothing to talk about until Mako, which helped stopped the bleeding. The rest of the chain is more regional in nature, and the investments there have been weak compared to those that CF and SF made.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

Have to agree with that. I talk to a lot of people who complain about Sea World and Blackfish, but very few admit they've ever been to the park in the first place, so it's not like they suddenly stopped going.

Manta was, what? 2009? 2010? Then Mako six or seven years later? Yeah, that's a long stretch without anything big added to the park, especially in the Orlando market.

And while I love Mako (quickly becoming one of my favorite rides), it's easy to see it's not as immersive as Manta. The latter features a beautiful queuing area (likely much too long and detailed, but still) and a separate aquarium, while the former is much more a roller coaster and not much else. Maybe they'll get back to competing more with Universal than Six Flags (if one existed in the area).

The shark silhouettes on the ceiling of Mako’s station are pretty slick. But you’re right, it’s nowhere near what Manta has. And Kraken just looks fun down and stripped of any theme. How great were the baby Krakens at the exit?!?

But then again, what do I know?

In my view SeaWorld got hit by a perfect storm of issues:

  1. Blackfish
    There is no question this hurt the brand, attendance and revenue. The lesson: your biggest asset is often your biggest liability.

  2. Lack of diversification
    SeaWorld initially differentiated itself from competition solely by offering marine mammals on display. In the immediate aftermath there was nothing else there to emphasize in their marketing. The lesson: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Safety and animal welfare aside, trends can change in an instant. Disney is great at this. The Busch Gardens parks were strong too back in the day (rides, animals, beer, shows, landscaping). Universal is a mixed bag but getting better (good: hotels, waterparks, bad: redundant screen rides). Heck, look at Cedar Fair building out those hotels and Six Flags developing seasonal events. Smart.

  3. Getting boxed out by competition
    Disney's smart pricing strategy and airport transportation has successfully kept guests on their property while Harry Potter became the default "second" experience in Orlando. Even without Blackfish, this hurt them dearly. Maybe the most of all. The lesson: Your product doesn't exist in isolation. Sometimes you need to play the part you have been assigned. They seem to be learning this now.

  4. Bad bets
    SeaWorld allegedly spent crazy amounts of money on that penguin ride and it's been a total flop for them. They were smart to respond to Potter but clearly they didn't have the creative chops to go against Disney and Universal. Nobody went home raving about the hockey puck ride. The lesson: Experience matters.

  5. Underinvestment - Yes, I agree with Jeff that the product offerings at the SeaWorld parks is poor, especially outside Orlando. A Morgan hyper from the '90s isn't going to cut it for more than a few years. So now I guess the path forward now is they're going to put in a bunch of cheap rides faster? The lesson: You need to constantly invest in your product.


I once heard Disney imagineer Joe Rhode defend the cheap dinosaur carnival rides at Animal Kingdom as important marketing vehicles that helped Disney position the park as more than a zoo in the minds of their guests at a time when public sentiment thought otherwise. My snarky side responded, "great, now you're a carnival too!"

The enthusiast geek in me (who only wants big E-ticket attractions) hates that, but the more I think about it, the more I buy it from a business perspective, and it seems to be the course SeaWorld is taking now. Of course, the difference is that Disney should always position itself as premium fun and immersive storytelling which Everest and Pandora do more effectively.

The new stuff might stop the bleeding and keep them afloat but I agree with other comments here that the SeaWorld parks will remain a minor player going forward if they continue this strategy. But perhaps that's just capitalism digesting this product and I'm being too emotional about it. If nothing else, interesting to think about.

The real tell will be when the whales are gone. Then what does SeaWorld become? While I think they have the best coaster collection in Orlando, that alone wouldn’t justify the near $100/day price tag. As much negative press as they may garner, the whales are still an attraction. To mirror what Jetsetter said, your biggest liability can be your biggest asset.

But then again, what do I know?

Jeff's avatar

Part of the diversification problem is that they're so dependent on Orlando. Williamsburg seems under marketed, and Tampa would be a draw if they invested more in it.

I would also add that in terms of competition, around 2013, they decided to match pricing in Orlando while adding... the swirling hockey pucks to penguin land. While Disney opened a new land and Universal x2'd Potter. That was delusional.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

You hit the nail on the head about BGW Jeff. It's an exceptional park, and one of our favorites. They under market and under sell themselves.

I've been getting the 2 park fun pass for the price of a days admission for the last 7 years. This year it went up a little bit. I bought them under their Black Friday sale Thursday for $148 for my wife and I.

Its interesting though. I noticed a shift this year that I haven't seen in regional amusement parks. Hersheypark has effectively done away with my favorite weekends and their slow periods by offering us passholders up to 4 guests on each season pass for $20.50 anyday in the off season until the seasonal events.

We went the first Sunday of Hersheypark after Dark, and walked on everything. That Monday I had the same offer to bring up to 4 friends. Rest of the season was packed.

We are Diamond members at Six Flags and its crazy the amount of bring a friend free offers(and a bunch of dining discounts etc that our offered.) There's a definite shift of getting people into the park for cheap hoping they spend more once inside.

Disney has always remained the leader and all the other parks follow them. They just adapt it to their business model.

Last edited by Coasterfantom2,

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