Six Flags Entertainment is finding success by investing more in scares and merrymaking at the end of the year.
The regional theme park chain said during an earnings call Thursday that its Fright Fest and Holiday in the Park events helped drive a 22 percent increase in attendance over the previous year during the fourth quarter.
Revenues increased 18 percent to $217 million for the quarter, while profits jumped to $2.2 million from a $34 million loss the year before.
Executives said they have been seeing growth trends for the traditionally slow quarter over the past several years as they “innovated and invested more each year into both of these special brands to make Fright Fest bigger and scarier to make Holiday in the Park more merry and special,” said James Reid-Anderson, who until Friday was the company’s chairman, president, and CEO.
Holiday in the Park, which features multitudes of lights, seasonal food, entertainment and appearances from Santa, was added to two parks — which would have either been closed altogether or operating on a more limited schedule — in 2014 and one in 2015. Two more parks will add the event in 2016 for a total of nine. Fright Fest takes place in 13 parks during the Halloween season.
John Duffey, who was chief financial officer until Friday, said in-park revenues in the quarter increased $12 million, or 17 percent, in part because of the themed opportunities.
“It’s all about creating the special atmosphere for our guests, so we bring in a lot of new merchandise, new food offerings that are really tailored around that special event,” he said. “And there are a lot of things that we up-charge for — for example, pictures with Santa.”
The special events extended operating hours for the parks, but also helped increase the number of people who hold season passes or belonged to membership programs, Duffey said.
“That gives them multiple reasons to come,” he said. “And when they do that, they see the tremendous value associated with season pass and membership.”
Last year, 56 percent of attendees had either a season pass or a membership, up from 50 percent the year before. Total attendance increased more than 11 percent to 28.6 million. Full-year revenue increased 7 percent to $1.3 billion and net income jumped to $193 million from $114 million.
Also Thursday, the Texas-based company said that its board of directors had decided to split executive leadership roles. Reid-Anderson was named executive chairman and Duffey was promoted to president and CEO, effective Friday.
“Many CEOs stay in their roles too long, becoming overly confident and rigid in thinking,” Reid-Anderson said. “I don’t ever want to become that person taking things for granted and potentially blocking the opportunity for great leaders with innovative ideas from progressing within the organization.”