Theme park watchers have long been waiting for Universal to announce plans for another Orlando park. While Thursday's comments don't amount to an official announcement, executives sure sound positive about the prospect.
The highly anticipated (but never confirmed) new theme park at Universal Orlando is finally moving from the rumor mill into almost-official territory.
During the second-quarter earnings call Thursday for Universal parent company Comcast, an analyst asked about a trademark application filed by a subsidiary last month for “Fantastic Worlds.”
“Is that an indication that you’re planning another gate in Orlando?” asked Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen, using an industry term. “Could you talk about plans and timing on that?”
Stephen Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, answered with more detail than executives have previously given.
“In terms of a new gate in Florida, we are looking at it,” he said. “We filed basically a name registration.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if he was referring to Fantastic Worlds or Universal’s Epic Universe, another name that the company filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Both have descriptions that include “theme park services.”
“We have a lot of great [intellectual property], we love the theme park business, it’s one of our best, most consistent businesses,” Burke said. “And we think we have a lot of very long runway and that another gate in Florida would have the advantage of turning Florida from a two-to-three-day destination to potentially a weeklong destination.”
A spokesman for Universal Orlando, Tom Schroder, declined to answer any questions about the timing, location, theme, or name of a potential new park.
“We’ve got nothing more to add beyond what was shared on the call,” he said in an email.
The comments came as Comcast reported that its theme park business had grown in the second quarter despite the negative impact of an earlier Easter holiday this year that shifted some spring break travel into the first quarter.
Revenue for the theme parks segment grew 3.6 percent to $1.4 billion, due in part to the opening of new attractions including a Fast & Furious-themed ride in Orlando. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization was up 3.4 percent to $569 million for the quarter.
For the first half of the year, theme park revenue increased 8.6 percent to $2.6 billion and adjusted earnings jumped 12.3 percent to $1.1 billion.
While they haven’t shared details about specific plans for a new park, Universal executives have not been quiet about their enthusiasm for the theme park business or their desire to continue investing. The company has been buying up land near the current resort complex in recent years, and announced plans to build Nintendo-themed lands in Orlando as well as other destinations. The investment comes as larger rival Disney continues to upgrade its Florida parks.
With partner Loews Hotels, Universal has also been significantly expanding its hotel options at the Orlando resort.
“Adding hotel rooms has also been a key driver in Orlando,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said during the call. “We’re excited to have the Aventura Hotel opening in a couple of weeks, bringing total on-site rooms to over 6,000, which is two-and-a-half times more when compared to 5 years ago, with still more capacity to grow.”
Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services, said Universal is working to continue to challenge Disney’s dominance in the market. He believes the company will announce its plans for a new park soon.
“They want to move into the level that Disney is with keeping people on property longer, so that’s the addition of the hotels that we’ve seen,” he said. “And the other thing is they want to increase the spend of the people. So keep them on property, increase the spend, and generate more revenues. And that’s done through an additional gate.”
This story has been updated to include comments from Universal Orlando and an industry observer.
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Photo credit: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley, which opened in 2014 at Universal Studios Florida, is pictured. Parent company Comcast is "looking at" building another theme park in Orlando, an executive confirmed Thursday. HarshLight / Flickr