In April, then-CEO of Six Flags Entertainment John Duffey said the company was about to roll out its “best and most innovative lineup of new rides and events ever,” additions that had been announced the previous year.
Now the regional theme park operator, which has 20 theme and water parks across North America, is trying to raise the bar again. Last week, Six Flags announced its lineup of new rides for 2018, including roller coasters, pendulum rides, water attractions, and spinning rides. The superlatives flowed.
“This is our most impressive and ambitious new capital rollout ever,” new Six Flags Entertainment Chairman, President, and CEO Jim Reid-Anderson said in the announcement. “Many of the rides and attractions we are introducing next year are ‘world’s firsts’ and record breakers as we deliver fun-packed innovation at the highest level.”
Reid-Anderson was named to his current position unexpectedly in July after Duffey retired suddenly. Reid-Anderson was previously the company’s CEO from August 2010 to early 2016, and has served as executive chairman since February of 2016.
Six Flags spokesperson Sandra Daniels said that in his prior role, Reid-Anderson was involved the planning for the new additions.
“The development process for large rides can span up to several years, and we have a rolling five-year spending plan for each park,” she said in an email. “As executive chairman, Jim participated in the decision-making process and approved all capital plans, and these rides were all under development when he assumed the additional role of CEO.”
The latest announcement fits into one of the operator’s key strategies of giving visitors new reasons to return each year to each park.
For 2018 — most rides are expected to be open by Memorial Day — the array of new attractions includes the world’s largest loop coaster in Illinois; a new kind of inverted looping coaster in Northern California; the world’s tallest pendulum ride in Southern California; and the world’s first single rail coaster in Texas.
“Our goal is to keep innovation at the forefront of everything we do,” Daniels said.
The company is also keeping intellectual property, or IP, high on the priority list for new rides. Six of the new attractions are themed after DC Entertainment characters Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, or Cyborg.
Daniels said those characters resonate especially with tweens, teens, and young adults.
Larger theme park companies are also investing significantly in intellectual property. Disney opened its new area based on “Avatar” this year, and has lands built around the Toy Story and Star Wars franchises coming up. And Harry Potter-themed expansions have been wildly successful for Universal Parks and Resorts.
“I think the DC Comics angle pays for [Six Flags],” Martin Lewison, an assistant professor of business management at Farmingdale State College who studies theme parks, said in an email. “Park guests enjoy interacting with IP that they know and love. Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn are super popular characters right now.”
Lewison said that while roller coaster enthusiasts would have wanted to see more of that type of ride with the latest announcement, it’s a smart move for the company to offer a variety of rides and attractions.
“Not everyone likes every kind of ride, and there is empirical research that shows ride and attraction assortment impacts guest experience and satisfaction,” he said.
Bob Boyd, an analyst at Pacific Asset Management who follows theme parks, called this year’s new-ride news “somewhat more ambitious than we’ve seen in recent years.”
He doesn’t think that has anything to do with a new CEO being in place, since so little time has passed since the switch.
“It does suggest continued confidence in the economy and additional opportunity to leverage the initiatives started in recent years such as all season dining and VIP experiences,” Boyd said.
The company did not say how much it would spend on the next batch of rides, but Daniels said the company generally spends 5-6 percent of revenue on new rides and attractions, adding that “this allows us to put something newsworthy in every park, every year.” In 2016, Six Flags reported $1.3 billion in revenue.
Results for the first half of this year have been somewhat disappointing, forcing the company to warn analysts in July that reaching a financial goal it had set for this year was no longer “probable.” For the first six months, revenues fell a bit to $522 million and profits dropped from $33 million to $14 million. The second quarter was worse than expected because of bad weather, executives said.
Reid-Anderson said the company’s current strategy — which includes investing in new capital every year — will help Six Flags reach future goals.
“I think we need to continue driving the news in every park approach that has worked so well for us and that our guests love,” the said. “So getting these new rides, attractions in every park, every year.”