PENNIES FROM KEVIN - Trump Mentality

Does size actually matter? Two top theme park companies seem to think so. Kevin looks at the latest battle in the Warriest War that ever Warred!

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: October 8, 2004 at 1:48 AM

Six Flags has recently announced that their Great Adventure park in New Jersey will be getting the tallest, fastest coaster in the world. Oh, and the could-I-care-lessingest coaster also!

Honestly, what is up with this stoopid war between Six Flags and Cedar Fair? As far as theme park chains go, they aren't in the same league as Disney, Universal or even Busch. This superlative frenzy is like two Olympians fighting over fourth place.

People say, Attendance will rise! Attendance would rise with the addition of ANY decent coaster. Duh! In fact, attendance would probably rise MORE if they built one more people would actually want to ride.

That's the problem with being so desperate to add that "est" to the end of your descriptions. Disney's biggest problems happen when it focuses too much on the competition and not on doing what they perfected long ago. Six Flags is still obsessed with Cedar Fair - well, let's be honest with ourselves and say Cedar Point - only now the obsession has switched from Magic Mountain's "mostest" to Great Adventure's "tallest, fastest, leastest originalest." Really, are those extra 36 feet going to be THAT noticeable? Will that extra 8 miles per hour make it THAT much more exciting?

This obsession is especially galling knowing how many problems Six Flags has had recently trying to beat Cedar Point. Magic Mountain quickly built two coasters to get that mostestest title - Deja Vu and X - and both had to eventually close down for extended periods because they wouldn't work properly. Cedar Point countered by building a Nuh-uh coaster - Top Thrill Dragster - that has had major problems from day one. And now we get Kingda Ka (a strange name but far better than the retardedly generic Maxxx that was proposed), which is basically Cedar Point's problematic coaster with a little extra track. Good luck with that one.

So not only are these parks irritating the small group of guests excited by these superlative-laden coasters by not building reliable attractions, but they are annoying a much larger group that isn't interested in highest or fastest or scariest. When did Cedar Point last build a quality family attraction? How about Magic Mountain? Whatever happened to funnest?

Great Adventure gets a Get out of Jail Free card for making their new behemoth part of a new land, which DOES focus on family entertainment. Magic Mountain, on the other hand, hasn't mentioned its 2005 plans, and seems torn between yet ANOTHER coaster or MAYBE a flat ride. Try SEVERAL flat rides, SF! Cedar Point is going to sit out this battle, for once, and instead plans on a flat ride or two in 2005. Though there are rumors of a B&M Flyer going in the park in 2006, and another rumor they may add Dueling Flyers! Wow!

Of course that would still be an "est": "Firstest." Hey, firstest works for me, as long as the actual ride works, and Flyers have been fairly reliable additions. Innovation is a great thing, but it simply cannot compare to a ride that you can actually ride. Staring at a ride from its queue isn't all that exciting, you know. Hear that, Six Flags? How about you, Cedar Fair?

My two pennies... Gimme yours!

Readers' Opinions

From David Franzen on October 8, 2004 at 5:58 AM
I think we could apply a generalized version of the Peter Principle that I found:

in evolution, systems tend to develop up to the limit of their adaptive competence

This industry, like many others, are running out of original ideas. However, this does not mean that there are not original ideas out there waiting to be developed. What I am saying is that we're getting to the point where nearly everyone can say "been there, done that".

In order to come up with the next "killer application" or "mostest, fastest coaster" companies are going to have to invest more time, money and energy into the process. Since investors have so much (too much in my opinion) control over the finances, the result is what we see... thirty-odd feet of track added to a pre-existing design!

Kevin, you hinted very loudly in the past that what management should do, and I have to agree.

Accept that new, original ideas are few and far in-between, and spend money on increasing customer satisfaction and following the original mission... to entertain people.

From steve lee on October 8, 2004 at 9:28 AM
Wow. I had the exact same response to the news about SF's coaster - I just never thought I could post it and find someone else who would agree with me.

Kevin's absolutely right here. The world doesn't need too many more Top Thrill Dragsters. I'm sure it's an exhillerating 17 seconds, but it hardly sounds like entertainment (unless you really enjoy standing in line, which is what you'll do for a couple of hours). I'll take a good dark ride over 50 Dragsters any day of the week.

From Ben Mills on October 8, 2004 at 10:59 AM
Which is all well and good. I can see why you're all getting in a fuss about this; it's wrong and innovation needs to return, blahblahblah. One by one, people are turning round to the companies with a collective "So?"

But with every new addition, the rides are getting higher, faster. Okay, excitement may well be decreasing as riders think "been there, done that," but at least they're getting a little bit better.

Here's a really, crazy, stupid idea: why doesn't a company try building the same Dragster style ride, but make it smaller, slower, and the victim of longer queues. Hell, why not throw in some crappy cement-flavoured *theming* while you're at it? Drop a McDonalds next door, and you've got a ride that is even suckier and complaint-worthy than each successive Dragster clone! What sort of dumbass company would even think of pulling such a ridiculous feat of stupidity?

On a completely unrelated note, guess what Alton Towers AND Thorpe Park are adding in the next two years!

Yup. England officially sucks ass.

From Robert OGrosky on October 8, 2004 at 12:18 PM
I also agree with Kevin!!!
I think SF and Cedar Point have to get away from the bigger/faster attitude.
This may help repeat visits from season passholders/teenegers which might help inflate youe attendance stats but doesnt put alot of extra money in the cash registers.
You need to develop rides/shows that most of the family can ride together. The parks will make much more money from getting families visiting/spending money than getting rollar coaster fanatics/teenagers visiting the parks often and creating long lines but not bringing in alot of money with them.
You can build a ride a excellant ride that isnt so extreme so as to scae off alot of your guests or have height limits that prevent them from riding it.
Disney/Universal/Busch parks havent gotten into this race and a small park like Holiday World has increased attendance greatly the last several years by adding attractions the whole family can enjoy and by creating a great environment, not by trying to be the biggest/fastest on the block.
From Derek Potter on October 8, 2004 at 3:47 PM
From a Cedar Point superfan's point of view.....

The biggest fastest thing is getting to the point of ridiculousness. What I have always loved about Cedar Point is not necessarily that they build the tallest fastest, but that they have built them so well. Magnum and Millennium Force were not only record breakers, but are two of the greatest steel coasters ever built. Top Thrill Dragster was indeed a "no way" coaster, and is a great ride itself, but it remains an unreliable machine. It has way more uptime than it used to, but nonetheless breakdowns are frequent. Cedar Point has always done well with roller coasters, and has always been the envy of Six Flags, but there comes a time when one needs to focus on "balancing the attractions" Cedar Point is currently putting the finishing touches on a new indoor waterpark resort called Castaway Bay that opens in November, and the word for next year is flat rides. While they will continue to cater to the thrillseekeers, I'm glad to see something coming along for the kids. I wouldn't expect to see the 500 footer for a while, but we will probably see another great coaster in 2006.

As for Six Flags new coaster, building a copy of Dragster with a higher top hat and a bunny hill is a bit on the cheap and lame side. I'll give them credit for building up around it, but if CP can't keep Dragster up, than how am I supposed to believe that Six Flags, the worst ride maintainers in the world, can keep up Kingda Ka. While I have my doubts about that, I am glad to see Six Flags paying attention to a park other than Magic Mountain.

In regards to the coaster wars and the comment about Olympians fighting over fourth place....I have an answer for you Kevin. Amusement parks are just that..amusement parks. They don't have deep pockets or big budgets, or the backing of giant businesses like Disney, Universal, or Busch do. They operate on their own two legs. Roller Coasters are the bread and butter of amusement parks...have been for 100 years. They bring in the bacon. So it stands to reason that the park with the best and biggest collection will get the most bacon. At this time it is Cedar Point, who drew 3.5 million guests last year in about 5 months. To say the coaster wars are "stoopid" (as you so intellegently put it) is clearly an indication that you either still have no idea of how things go outside of happy themeland, or you consider a 50 million dollar piece of eyecandy with a 5 year popularity shelflife above a coaster like Millennium Force. Cedar Point has spent almost 15 years fighting the war, and they've made a lot of money and a legion of fans in the process. Six Flags has lost their shirt fighting it, and alienated parkgoers in the process. I would even say that Busch Gardens Tampa Bay would have a few more coasters by now if it wasn't for their wildlife.
Because of the good financial turnaround, popularity, and attendance boost that a well designed coaster brings, I don't ever expect to see regional parks stop building coasters on a consistant basis. The only thing that will change will be the coaster trend.

From Ronald Scott on October 8, 2004 at 11:07 PM
Go to Knotts Berry Farm and see where Cedar stuck it's latest monstrosity!! The Silver Bullet, it is right above the Wild West Stunt Show, which is a staple of Knotts. It just looks like they squeezed it where they could.
From Kevin Baxter on October 9, 2004 at 12:31 AM
Wow, I thought this would be a lot more controversial than it is turning out to be. I'm losing my touch.

Anyhow, I must disagree with Derek, which I don't often do. I don't think Six Flags has much to envy in the coaster department. They build a lot of B&M coasters, which is easily the best coaster developer in existence. Maybe Goliath isn't as good as Millenium Force, but I have heard many say Magnum is overrated. But beyond the hypers, where is CF's X? CF's Flyer? CF's floorless? Their only inventive coaster lately was Wicked Twister, which already existed at nearby Six Flags Worlds of Adventure as Superman Ultimate Escape!

While Cedar Point was focusing on their THIRD highest coaster, SF was focusing on variety. Cedar Point may be a better experience right now than SFMM, but their variety and innovation are seriously lacking in comparison.

From TH Creative on October 10, 2004 at 8:57 AM
If a park wants to get bigger and draw a crowd they should just build a water park. Water parks are cheaper to build, easier to maintain and they draw big numbers.

Early this year, Motely Fool reported that Holiday World experienced a big jump in attendance by adding a WP to it's facility.

As I have said here before, Disney would have been wiser to have built an enclosed WP instead of DCA.

From Tony V on October 10, 2004 at 5:50 PM
"REALM" - A new theme park opening around 2007/8 , that will be something the public has never seen before , offering the latest technology in theme park attraction being put together by ex-disney imagineers and design teams.
From Derek Potter on October 10, 2004 at 8:42 PM
Agreed that CP lacks some of the B&M variety that a few Six Flags park has. Since CF bought Worlds of Adventure, I highly doubt that we will see a floorless model, as Geauga Lake has one of the best around. B&M flyers have only been around a short time, so if rumors are true about flyers at CP, than we will probably see the best Beemer flyer there, as technology will have probably reached it's peak for that particular model by that time.

In regards to the coaster wars, all we have to do is look at the difference between Six Flags and Cedar Point's operations. Cedar Point rakes in the money and popularity, Six Flags loses money consistently. That just goes to show that there is more to a park than a great coaster (or a wide variety). It may bring the crowds and garner reputation, but what keeps the people coming back is customer service, atmosphere...etc etc etc.

From TH Creative on October 11, 2004 at 2:00 AM
Tony V.

'Realm' sounds ambitious, but if you visit the site's news and info section the most recent update is from more than two years ago.

What gives?

From Kevin Baxter on October 11, 2004 at 1:10 PM
While I agree there is more to a park than its coasters - hence this article! - there are factual errors in your comments, Derek. SF most certainly does not "lose money consistently." Having profits down is not losing money, else they'd be facing the types of problems Euro Disney is facing. Cedar Point has also had its share of bad years AND has recently reported that attendance is DOWN this year. (So people don't get their panties in a wad, Cedar Fair's overall attendance is up a mere 3% when Geuaga Lake is included, but down when the newly acquired park is excluded.) It's especially sad that Cedar Point's attendance is always bragged about when it only bagged 100K more people than PKI last year, 200K more than SFGAdv and 300K more than SFMM, which is a park in a total tailspin. Those are good numbers for a regional park, but Disney and Universal aren't sweating it.
From Derek Potter on October 11, 2004 at 3:29 PM
Attendance is slightly down this year at Cedar Point this year, probably due to the absence of a new ride this year. In regards to attendance, let's look at the marketplace. SFMM is in the Los Angeles area, which has about 10 million more people than Sandusky and the surrounding area. To me the fact that can't be ignored is this. Magic Mountain will be open for 256 days this year. Cedar Point will be open for 146. That's all that the Sandusky weather will allow for. When it comes to attendance, MM has everything in it's corner...population, weather, more open days...yet the park that is considered CP's rival in the coaster wars still can't beat the point. GAdv is one of the better parks in the chain, and has a calendar more comparable to CP. It's an hour from Philly and an hour from NYC. Not the worst position to be in. When it comes to King's Island, the park is really that good. Nobody pays much attention to PKI because everybody talks about Cedar Point. People may say "big deal" about their attendance, but they don't realize that the location of Cedar Point, as beautiful as it is, is also a disadvantage because of the weather.

I suppose that Six Flags doesn't lose money, but they sure don't have much. Their stock is at 5 bucks (used to be forty) and they have about 2 billion dollars in debt right now....most of it spent fighting the war we are talking about. Even the old dancing dude couldn't boost attendance for them this year. Also, when was the last piece of good news for Six Flags printed anywhere before the new coaster announcement. Roller coasters bring people, but if everything else sucks, than the park sucks. I guess we can call CP the Red Sox and MM the Angels. There's no contest. Disney will always be ok, because they have deep pockets and have been labeled an American institution...even though they aren't nearly what they used to be.

From Kevin Baxter on October 11, 2004 at 4:20 PM
I would be totally happy if the "Not a Year-Round Park" argument was never mentioned again. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is opened fewer days than the Ohio parks yet it gets 3M people annually. More than SF Marine World and Paramount's Great America, the other two NorCal parks, both of which are located within the populated Bay Area. And the same as SFMM and a mere 300K less than CP.

Morey's Piers in NJ has a severely restricted schedule, moreso than even SCBB, and it gets 3.2M! The same as PKI and a measly 100K less than CP.

And don't give me that marketplace crap either. Ohio has 11.5M potential customers, and CP's location makes it within reach of populous states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, not to mention its nearness to the Canadian border. SFMM's customer radius is about 350 miles - which includes Vegas, the Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento - and the same seems to be true for CP. That puts a lot of people within range of both parks.

Anyhow, we have gone on and on and on about SFMM's allegedly year-round schedule. Go on a weekday in December and tell me how that's padding their attendance. Many people have stated here that if a park like SFMM or even Disneyland were open fewer days, then people would just go when it was open. If people plan on going to a theme park during the year, they will do it according to the park's schedule.

I don't understand why Pointyheads have such a problem with accepting their attendance. There is a definite ceiling for regional parks outside tourist meccas. While parks in SoCal can fluctuate wildly due to the whims of tourists, parks in Ohio will never alter their attendance levels that much because people don't tend to plan major trips to Ohio.

If CP were to trade places with Knotts, it would probably kick Knotts' ass, but it still wouldn't approach Disney numbers. USH's new lowered numbers maybe, but not Disneyland. If it were where SFMM is, it would still probably do well, but not as well as it would do in the more tourist-friendly area where Knotts is.

From Derek Potter on October 11, 2004 at 7:13 PM
You mean to say that 110 extra days of operation makes little difference? I understand that off summer months would be slower outside of holidays, but for God sakes somebody has to show up on those days. If people weren't showing up, than the park wouldn't open. SCBB?? If I'm not mistaken, isn't admission free??? of course people will show up for nothing and spend a few bucks here and there. (haven't we talked about this before??)

You are right about Ohio parks and their attendance (by the way, Cedar Point markets to a 250 mile radius). Let's face it, Ohio ain't exactly the place to be. The parks around here will never get the numbers that Disney and Universal get because it's Ohio. If it were California or Florida, than it would be different because they are tourist spots. That I can agree with. That being said, would it also be fair to say that park attendance numbers in SoCal and Florida are somewhat "helped" by the fact that they are heavy tourist spots? I find it hard to believe that tourists would fly into Cali just to go to Disneyland or Universal Studios? Do they go??? yes, but they also go for the other billion or so tourist spots. People do go to Florida for Disney World, but that would probably be the only real exception. The point is that attendance figures do matter, but to draw comparison between two parks that are 2000 miles apart, have large differences in climate, culture, socioeconomic structure, population, and immediate marketplace....and base it solely on attendance numbers, doesn't fairly judge the park's quality. As for Cedar Point and Magic Mountain, those of us who have been to both for the most part know who the clear winner is. Cedar Point aside, there are plenty of parks in the east with lower attendance numbers than DCA, Magic Mountain, or the five pseudo-parks at Disney World that are just as good or better in terms of quality.

From Kevin Baxter on October 14, 2004 at 1:28 AM
Lord, where the hell is this boring crap coming from??? You made a moronic remark that Cedar Point's roller coasters have "always been the envy of Six Flags" and I corrected it. What the living hell does that have to do with attendance or any of that other bullcrap you're selling???

Six Flags has a hell of a lot more parks, and therefore has a hell of a lot more coasters than Cedar Point. Take CP's 15 or so coasters and then take your pick of Six Flags' best 15 coasters. Who would win? Six Flags envies NO ONE in their coaster selection.

Deal with it.

From Derek Potter on October 18, 2004 at 8:48 PM
Deal with what??...Six Flags sucks, some of their coasters are good, (surely not all of them) but their customer service sucks, their food sucks, their maintenance sucks, their capacity sucks, and their management sucks. Roller coasters are pretty much the only thing paying the bills right now for Six Flags (barely I might add)...hence the attendance spiel, which holds water no matter what you want to believe. In case you haven't realized yet, the coaster war isn't really about roller coasters, it's about attendance and revenue. Roller coasters are the big cannons, but to draw an analogy, you can't win a war with one gun. You need more weapons...customer service, PR...etc etc and blah blah.

If I weed out all of the crap, the clones, the SBNO coasters, the once great but now neutered coasters, the coasters that don't kill people, and the coasters that actually run on an consistant basis, then I probably would find 15 coasters that the 30 or so Six Flags parks have between them to rival a 15 coaster lineup from the lone Cedar Point. For a chain that is supposed to be "fighting the war", that's pretty lame. That's my opinion. You don't have to get all pissed off and start hating because I extended the debate with you.

By the way, have you ever even been to Cedar Point??

From Carrie Hood on October 23, 2004 at 8:59 AM
I never understood the coaster wars until I moved back into the North East area. To many in that area this is almost religion, they take it seriously. It becomes football for ride freaks, as always one person will always have a devotion to one said park. You'll always want YOUR park to be the one with the biggest and baddest toys, this all began with CP and SF.

The biggest thing you have to realize that Out-side of Orlando (and probably California, I can't say as I've never been there) people honestly don't give a crap, they want a ride. You don't get to SF and CP the same way you do Disney, you don't spend a week at SF or CP. You go to ride, you want a rollercoaster that is going to have the same rush on your body as sex/fear/drugs. The weight of parks is shifting as more and more people want the big bad coasters (and I'm not exception to this) over theming. The day they mix Disney Theme Flare with Giga-coaster is the day I'll die a happy woman, but that leads into my whole "SF in Florida" agurement, but I digress.

Let me try this a diffrent way, if you (example) live in Central Pennsylvania you have unlimited options. Your surrounds by some of the grested ride parks around, naturally you shift each year in where you go. But the biggest draw is something new! "Hey they got a new ride, looks spiffy.. lets go!"

The bigger the toys the more it can and will attract, perhaps not in first time customers (lets face it, this is Jersey we're talking about) but more repetitive returns. Now while you may not makes as much al a admission your F&B sales may rise, as well as MDSE.

A lot began with CP claiming "We have the frist **** in the US!".. well SF just couldn't allow that could they? So they built a ride bigger and it's just gotten out of hand, more so now with the Top Speed addition to CP. SF stood there like "Oh yeah? Watch this!".
It's the endless "Mine is bigger then yours!" problem, your general public doesen't look at down-times, technical problems and operation falure.. they look at who has the biggest toy to play with. At least those of us who are coaster junkies have died and gone to heaven! ;)

Two Cents,

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