Skift Take

With confirmation that it bought another 475 acres adjacent to an existing theme park, Universal's parent company showed that it's not content to depend just on a magic wand.

After wielding the Harry Potter franchise to make tourism magic, Universal is eyeing major growth in the competitive Orlando market.

During its fourth-quarter earnings call Wednesday, parent company Comcast confirmed that it had acquired 475 acres of land adjacent to an existing theme park for $130 million.

Executives did not reveal where exactly the land was located or when it would make use of the site, but local media outlets in Orlando have been reporting since December that a Universal-affiliated company bought property near the Central Florida resort that matches the description disclosed Wednesday.

Stephen Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, said during the call that the company has some ideas but no firm plans for the land.

“One of the great things about Universal theme parks, and we’ve seen this now in different geographies, there’s a long lead time, a lot of smart planning, understanding what attractions work,” said Comcast Cable president and CEO Neil Smit. “But it all starts by having the ability to do that. And so this plan we think is really a wonderful, strategic acquisition and it’s long term down the road.”

The company has theme parks in Hollywood, Orlando, Japan, and Singapore, and plans to build one in Beijing.

Adjusted revenues for the theme park segment increased more than 15 percent to about $1 billion for the quarter and jumped nearly 21 percent to $3.3 billion for the full year.

The company said that even though the newest part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley, opened in 2014, the Orlando resort was still showing healthy growth. That includes Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, both which include Wizarding World sections (and require separate admission). A Potter-themed area is opening this year in Hollywood, and the Orlando resort is getting a new water park as well as more hotel rooms.

Disney remains the main player in the theme park world overall and in Orlando, but Universal has positioned itself as a major competitor over the past several years. Experts who watch the industry say the latest move in Florida shows that the company is making a serious play to keep customers within its universe for more of their vacations.

“Disney has had the lock on that for really the last 40 years since they opened, and now Universal has gotten into that game heavily the last few years with their expansion of their hotels,” said Dennis Speigel, president of Cincinnati-based consulting group International Theme Park Services.

Speigel said he would expect to see another theme park, more hotels, more retail and other amenities on the recently acquired land.

While he said Universal will likely always be a runner-up to Disney, the company’s investments are leading to significant growth.

“They’re formidable,” he said.


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Tags: theme parks, universal orlando

Photo credit: Guests explore Hogshead at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Orlando Resort

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