“We’re doubling down on theme parks,” Comcast Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts told analysts during a conference in Las Vegas that was broadcast online. “We think that there is a lot of ‘there’ there in the theme-park business for many years to come and that we have a low market share — and only one way to go.”
Comcast’s Universal Parks & Resorts operates the third-busiest collection of theme parks in the world, with combined attendance of more than 36 million a year, according to estimates compiled by the Themed Entertainment Association and consulting company AECOM. But it remains far behind the global leader, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, which draws more than 126 million theme-park visits per year.
(United Kingdom-based Merlin Entertainments Group, whose attractions include Legoland parks and Madame Tussauds wax museums, is No. 2, with about 54 million visitors.)
NBCUniversal’s U.S. theme parks — Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, both at Universal Orlando, and Universal Studios Hollywood in Southern California — rank behind only parks at Walt Disney World and Disneyland in attendance.
One reason Comcast is bullish: the impending launch of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley, a new land expected to open by summer in Universal Studios Florida. It is a follow-up to the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which has delivered record attendance and profit growth since opening in mid-2010.
Comcast also will open its fourth and largest on-site hotel at Universal Orlando, the 1,800-room Cabana Bay Beach Resort, within weeks. Roberts called the hotel, a joint venture with Loews Hotels, the largest hotel under construction in North America, and noted that “we’re so underinvested in hotels right now.”
With Cabana Bay, Universal Orlando will have about 4,200 on-site hotel rooms, compared with about 26,000 rooms and time-share suites at Disney World. Comcast has said it could have 10,000 to 15,000 rooms in Orlando.
Disney would not comment on Roberts’ remarks.
Industry watchers once expected that Comcast would try to shed the theme parks after it acquired a majority stake in NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. in 2009. But the Philadelphia-based cable giant — which bought out the rest of GE’s stake last year — has since come to view the business as an untapped growth engine, thanks primarily to the financial success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Comcast has since begun construction on a Wizarding World clone at Universal Studios Hollywood.
“The big surprise has been the theme-park business,” Roberts said.
(c)2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.