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You're the new CEO of Six Flags


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I've seen nearly every thread that has to do with Six Flags contain complaints about the new corporate management and how all the decisions being made are "wrong" and how the new policies "won't work" and how the company is going to go to hell in a handbasket because of it.

 

So. You're the CEO now. What do you do? What policies are you going to implement in the next couple of years to make the parks more successful?

Do you close any parks? Change operating procedures? Price changes?

 

Discuss.

 

 

I'll start by saying that I'd reduce parking rates by 50%. Premium parking would be at whatever price regular parking is now, or $10, whichever is cheaper. Under no circumstances should someone have to pay more than $10 to park a car. It's a very, VERY bad first impression for the guest.

 

Disposable single-sheet maps available at entrance turnstyles that list today's shows and times. The back would list height requirements for the rides.

 

Coasters and other rides with multiple vehicles would run at full capacity. If you OWN two trains, then you RUN two trains. Period. If those trains are only half full, then so be it.

 

Every major ride will have a "single riders queue".

 

Get out of the foodservice business. Rent out your food stalls to name-brand restaurants and charge them a premium rental. You get the money without having to hire the staff or mess with the hassle. Also, if the food is lousy and overpriced, the customer blames the restaurant, not the park.

 

Free drinks. If a little park like Holiday World can do it, anyone can. Having to pay $5 for a large Coke is another very, very bad impression left on the customer. Continue to make it ungodly expensive to bring your family here, and families won't come at all.

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Under no circumstances should someone have to pay more than $10 to park a car. It's a very, VERY bad first impression for the guest.

Even Disney is over $10 now. I don't think you'll see many theme parks that have parking under $10 anymore. At least not many major corporate parks.

 

Last time I went to a sporting event parking was $20. Last concert I went to it was $40. Last time I was in a major city public parking was around $30.

 

And that was for just a few hours each. $10 to $15 for all day parking at a theme park is looking like a steal compared to parking at other venues.

 

Even the LA County Fairgrounds was $10!

 

--Robb

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Even though $10 is "cheap" compared to other places, it's still IMHO a bad first impression.

 

Think about a family of four without season passes and the amount of money it takes for a day at the park. Making them pay a lot just to put the car somewhere (particularly when there is no public transit to the park) is just insulting.

 

Not as insulting as paying two or three times that much to park at a sporting venue, but insulting nonetheless.

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Add more family rides. It seems like all they are adding is kiddie rides and coasters. For example at Great Adventure I would add antique cars and family flats. Flats also cost less than coasters. Why is Great Adventure getting a coaster (even if it's only a wild mouse) when in the past 10 years they have added Medusa, Nitro, SUF, KK and ET plus 2 family/kiddie coasters.

 

I would lower prices. Parking would be reduced to $10, bottled drinks would be reduced from $3.50 to $2.00.

 

I would add a free form of Flashpass like they and Universal used to have, it would be more limited than regular Flashpass but I think it would cause less people to get annoyed about the paid Flashpass.

 

Finally, I would change the admission pricing. $59.99 gate price is ridiculous but so are the half price days. I'd set admission at around $44.99 with constant $5 off coupons (since people like to think they are getting a deal) to a real price of $39.99. I'd also raise the price of season passes. Buy a day, get a year for free has got to go and $34.99 - $59.99 passes are ridiculous. I'd charge $79.99 for the smaller parks and $99.99 for the larger parks and charge $20 rather than $45 for a parking pass.

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You can see how much debt they are in with the prices the way theu are now... I don't think lowering them would do anything. Think about it. When you go to a movie theater, you know that you will pay tons for snacks and drinks... yet most people don't complain. (Or if they do... they get over it very fast.) It is just something that will never change, so I think that people should let it go.

 

-Andrew

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Think about a family of four without season passes and the amount of money it takes for a day at the park. Making them pay a lot just to put the car somewhere (particularly when there is no public transit to the park) is just insulting.

I guess I just look at it and think "the same family of four goes to a sporting event and parking is at least the same amount, if not almost double."

 

So when that family of four gets to the theme park, it's no where near as much money as the parking at that sports venue.

 

--Robb "Perhaps I'm just trying to find a glass is half full perspective on it..." Alvey

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Safety is always #1... but

 

INTEGRITY (see Holidayworld, Busch parks, Indiana Beach, Kennywood, Kiddieland (IL), etc...)

 

I mean, I know it is a big business, but come on. The now very popular "come to our park for 1/2 off and bring your friend for free" crap has got to stop. And of course the continued 'separation of classes' thanks to FAST PASS...

 

Just plain wrong the way those parks are being run.

 

It's not that easy, I know that much. But I would sure set those goals.

 

FAST PASS would be gone so fast if I was in control. Either that, OR FAST PASS would be like $300 and 75% of that would go to charity. See, a good cause, and you wouldn't get many fast pass buyers....

 

Lower pop prices (GOAL: pop 'included with admission')

 

Stop giving away passes and tickets NOW!!!

 

If it's a 'family park' then get rid of cheap, boring, not even funny crap like shirts that say "I'm HUGE in Japan" and the like.

 

GOAL: take care of woodies so people will at LEAST not get hurt on them (Georgia Cyclone, Texas Giant, etc.) *GEEZ... American Eagle is a PRINCE compared to those... (well, the steel track helps!)*

 

Teach employees the importance of kindness, forgiveness, etc., and to BE FASTER! Holidayworld and Dollywood have the best ride ops... Oh yeah, and the Germany fairs

 

Oh yeah, we need DONKEYS.

 

 

(Gee, I'm new here, have no idea what all this Donkey stuff is, and really hate myself for trying to fit in. But if it entertains one soul, it's worth it...)

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I agree that the gate price/season pass price ratio is way out of line. It makes no sense to charge $60 for a day or $80 for the year. I actually think that if Six Flags were to lower the gate price substantially......say, to $40, you would get a lot more people actually paying the full admission price.

 

I know at Great Adventure NOBODY pays full price to get in. It would be absurd since there are so many deals out there. Now, what if they got rid of all these deals and instead advertised heavily that they are reducing admissions prices by $20. I think you would get all those people that got lured in with the promotions, and make more money by having a vast majority of people actually just pay the full price admission. $40 per guest is better than a buy-one get-one $60 ticket.

 

Just my thoughts on the subject

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Here's the thing with Gate prices: its PERCEIVED value. Paying full price at $40 is different than using a $20 off coupon off the $60 price. (kinda like how many stores sell thing 2 for $1 instead of $0.50 each.) If anyone pays the $60 full gate price at a Six Flags is an idiot.

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I think people often forget that parks are trying to make money.

 

Also, I totally agree with the ticket problem. Six Flags has worked themselves into a hole. If they were to stop with all the discounts, they would probably sell way less tickets. I think that $60 is a very fair amount to spend for admission for a larger park. Also, a season pass should at least cost two times what a ticket costs.

 

-Andrew

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Get out of the foodservice business. Rent out your food stalls to name-brand restaurants and charge them a premium rental. You get the money without having to hire the staff or mess with the hassle. Also, if the food is lousy and overpriced, the customer blames the restaurant, not the park.

 

Eh, I don't know about that part. Going by personal feelings (not trying to represent the public as a whole 'cause I'm probably wrong), I can't stand when parks bring in name-brand restaurants. First off, it takes away originality. A lot of the little stands or restaurants that I used to actually fork out ridiculous sums of money for because I liked the food are being removed in favor of fast food chains I can get down the street. It takes away from the park's uniqueness and experience to me. And anymore, I just leave the park for half an hour and go to the fast food chain across the highway 'cause there's no sense in paying twice as much for the same food inside the park.

 

Second, I DO blame the park. Am I right? Probably not, but I'm also ignorant. If I go to a park that is filled with McDonald's, Panda Express, and Papa John's, I'm definitely going to blame the park if the food is lousy because the park is the one that lured them in there, and it's still the park's responsibility to make sure they have a good product. And I'm going to blame the park when these fast food chains cost twice as much as they do in the real world, because it's the park that is the root of the price jacking. Again, I may not be correct, but that's my ignorant mentality.

 

I'd rather pay $10 for fresh cut chili cheese fries and a stale churro than I would $10 for a quarter pounder meal. At least the fries and the churro are something you don't easily find in every town across the nation. But yeah, that's me, and I'm sure your way would probably be more profitable and that's all anybody cares about anymore.

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Alright here is my idea of how to change it. First, Robb, I have been an Angels season ticket holder for 5 years now, going on 6, parking at most, during World Series was $22. There are small lots all around the stadium that are cheaper, but thats besides the point.

 

First thing I would do is work on staff friendliness. I have not been to the park since December, so I am not sure how much it has changed but it still needs to improve.

 

Parking should be $10 at most still, I dont care if NFL cames are $30, it should be less.

 

Season Prices should be raised. $100 for basic, $130 for premium. Each go up $30 with parking.

 

Regular tickets should be cheaper. A park like SFMM needs to compete with KBF and DLR, it needs to offer cheaper tickets, to attract families.

 

Water Parks need to be same admission price if it were like SFMM and SFHH, then it is justified having $65 tickets easily.

 

Flat rides for the family. Drop Towers, Huss Giant Frisbee's work, as well as bumper cars, Ferris Wheel's, and small other flats. Flat's are more time consuming than coasters, and give a nice break.

 

An interactive dark ride. Not Disney level, but not corny. Something everyone can easily enjoy.

 

Nightly parades, fireworks, shows all year around. Switch them up during the offseason but give the guests something to look forward to at night.

 

Lower the prices to eat in the park to still expensive but not unbearable, its terrible to see a meal of a cheeseburger, small fry and small drink be $11.

 

Misters!! Shade! Queue entertainment! All more money, but it will increase guest satisfaction.

 

Thats all I could really think of right now.

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EDIT AT BOTTOM

 

INTEGRITY (see Holidayworld, Busch parks, Indiana Beach, Kennywood, Kiddieland (IL), etc...)

 

I mean, I know it is a big business, but come on. The now very popular "come to our park for 1/2 off and bring your friend for free" crap has got to stop.

Ok, I think it's time for a little bit 'eye opening' here.

 

I really do think a lot of these are very good ideas, but I do want to point out a few things as far as admission prices go....

 

In all fairness, most of the parks you listed don't even have one single "major" steel coaster (not counting Busch and not even sure why you listed it because Busch parks are VERY expensive). Maintenance on these BIG rides cost a lot of money. And sure a park like Holiday World and Indiana Beach may have a couple of big woodies in their line up, so do most Six Flags parks in ADDITION to several major steel coasters.

 

Take even one of the smaller Six Flags parks like America or Kentucky Kingdom. They've got 2 woodies each plus some major steel to take care of every year.

 

Small parks can charge smaller dollars. But are they REALLY charging smaller dollars?

 

Let's take a look shall we....

 

In 2008 a one-day admission to Holiday World is $39.95. Ok. That's a pretty good deal with the water park, soft drinks, and parking included.

 

Let's take a look at some of the smaller Six Flags parks (it wouldn't be fair to compare against Great Adventure, Magic Mountain, etc)

 

A one day admission to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom is...oh... $39.99 What about Six Flags America? Hmm.... $39.99. Gee, what about Six Flags St. Louis? Oh, ALSO $39.99. And all of those parks include admission to the water park for free.

 

While yes, Holiday World does offer free parking and free soft drinks, they also DO NOT offer Chang, Batman, Mr. Freeze, Superman: Ride of Steel, and several other major coasters.

 

Now you may very well choose a day at Holiday World and their coasters over some of those Six Flags parks and that's a whole other topic of personal preference, but it when it comes down to discussing if a Six Flags park is too much money compared to some of these "smaller parks" do some research. I think you'll find that in many cases the prices are VERY comperable and it's just a matter of personal opinion over which you choose.

 

Do you see my point?

 

--Robb

 

EDIT - Wow, I just looked at both Six Flags Magic Mountain and Great Adventure's website and their online ticket deal is $39 each park! No offense to Holiday World, but all of a sudden their entrance fee doesn't look like that much of a "deal" does it?

 

Regular tickets should be cheaper. A park like SFMM needs to compete with KBF and DLR, it needs to offer cheaper tickets, to attract families.

Do your research before you post.

 

If I wanted to go to Disneyland tomorrow the online ticket price is $56.

If I wanted to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain tomorrow the online ticket price is $39.

 

That's $17 cheaper. How much lower would you like them to go?

 

References:

http://www.sixflags.com/magicMountain/tickets/index.aspx

http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disneyland/en_US/reserve/ticketListing?name=TicketListingPage

 

--Robb

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As CEO..

 

1.) Keep advertising costs in check. They spent 30 million more on advertising in 2007 than 2006, got nowhere. 30 million spent on new attractions, waterslides, etc., flats - will drive attendance over the years vs. 1 summer long ad campaign. Re: capital expansion, doesn't mean 20 million coasters, chain wide, every season. They need an intelligent master plan, and each park faces unique competitors, and a cookie cutter plan doesn't cut it chain wide.

 

2.) Relevant retail - treat SF as a "mall" - lease out storefronts. This would have to be regional retailers, but making the shopping part of the theme park experience can only help. For example, they want to be family friendly, and there really isn't family friendly shopping there. Just generic park merchandise. They should recruit stores that mean something to kids - Build A Bear, Club Libby Lu, etc.

 

3.) Bringing in known low cost food brands is a problem. Everyone knows how much McDonalds, Johnny Rockets, and Panda Express costs. When they see a gouge on price, it leaves a very negative impression. I would kill any expansion of established fast food brands into the park, and only target those chains that are known to be higher priced.

 

Outback, Rainforest Cafe, Olive Garden, and so on. I would also focus on bringing in themed cafes - as just one example, Planet Hollywood for the "Movie District" or any variation of the studio theme.

 

Of course, food quality needs to be overhauled for the SF run food vendors.

 

4.) Parking - match, but don't exceed local competition. Have parking go on "sale" - to drive attendance on slow days. $5 buck Teusdays for example.

 

5.) Season Passes - raise price by $25, but enable a rewards program on every card. Earn gift certificates, 10% off on in-park purchases. Drive spending in the park by giving an incentive to shop/eat there.

 

And that's just off the top of my head. Basically, it isn't rocket science on how to turn the chain around. The most succesful business model for the park business exists in the US. Also, I think the upper management needs to attend the park and roleplay as a family on a budget, and not as the millionaires they are to really understand their customer base.

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I don't envy Shapiro's job at all. He's got a huge mess to correct. A few things I would try to do if I were him:

 

1) Improve the quality of the food. Busch Gardens serves edible fare and Six Flags should as well.

 

2) Continue to revamp the kiddie sections. Even crappy Kings Island has a really nice kiddie section.

 

3) Get a bulk order of Sally shooting dark rides and put them into as many parks as possible.

 

4) Partner with a major hotel chain like Loews or Hilton to build a resort hotel at Great Adventure. Offer perks like night time ERT on El Toro and the B&Ms to attract guests to the hotel.

 

5) Continue to expand the water parks. Bulk order Deluges and put them into as many parks as possible.

 

6) SFMM, SFoG, SFGAm, and SFOT all get Intamin woodies.

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As Im usually at SFoT mostly during the Spring, Fall and occasional summer evening, I think theres alot of ways this park, as well as the chain, could improve.

 

1) As a former employee in my HS and college years (during the TW era), we were focused on guest service first are foremost. During the Premier era of ownership, that changed to barely servicing the customer and avoiding assistance of any need. In addition, the quality of people hired for non-supervisory positions slipped dramatically. I would do things to bring those folks in: A) Increase base pay to a liveable wage(9-10/hr) for these persons (usually HS/College Kids) and B) Highly invest in proper training on not just the technical skills, but the human skills as well.

 

2) Food quality is quite frankly, piss-poor. The last time I ate at SF, I was physically sick for three days. As some of you (like fatty patch jacket robb and ACE'rs ) may or may not know, Your typical in-park food usually is prepped and left to sit for hours at a time. So the fries you ordered at 4p usually have been out since noon, which is atrocious. One possible fix for this is to get out of the food business altogether and outsource to chains or local restaurants, similar to whats done in professional sports. All restautant hiring, pay, ect would be handled by said parties. Another option would be to do something radical: Hire professional chefs, similar to what is done in other industries, to create a decent menu that uses higher quality product and serve the product in the parks. Good example of this is Dollywood and their selections.

 

3) SF has slid down hill when it comes to the "thug" element that has infiltrated the parks(why I dont go in summer). I know SFOT, as well as SFMM has been a hotbed for these little punks. One thing id do is start enforcing a "park curfew" (i.e. No minors under 18 after 7p unless accompanied by adult(s)) at all times, plain and simple. Unless they're with a sponsored youth/civic/school group, they go home.

 

4) Lastly, one thing with that has gotten me is that I have to purchase two passes (locally) if I wanted to access the theme and water park. One idea is to consolidate this and allow me to purchase the water park as an "Add-On". for the season. Also, something along the lines of a "rewards" program when you use your season pass (i.e. swiped at the gate, win a front of line pass or discount, ect..) to enter the park or use it throughout the day.

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Improve the parks image/reputation...born and raised in NJ, I know that even though the park has great rides, it is still not a place I would take children.

 

Outside of enforcing a no thug/south jersey'ian policy...that one is hard to enforce.

 

I would "improve" on is the prizes that are given away for the games and only give away stuffed animals.

 

No more basketballs, football, etc. Until people learn how to play with there balls properly!!!

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Games - basketballs won as prizes are deflated. Open the games later in the day and offer discounted prices on the games the last 90 minutes the park is open to encourage people to play later in the day (creating less clutter on ride platforms during the day.

 

Admission - Whatever your single day cost is the season pass should be 2 1/2 times that cost. If your day ticket is $40 the season pass is $100. Also, like Cedar Fair have 2 levels of season passes. One option for your home park only and $150 if you want a chain wide season pass. Each single day ticket gets you a coupon for a free soft drink in the park.

 

Discounting tickets would be considered on weekdays since that would help draw people in.

 

Parking - leave it as it at $15, but paying $15 gets you a coupon to play a game for free

 

Coupon books - I have no problem with the coupon books for season pass holders at the higher prices.

 

Coupons with marketing partners - 50% discounts have to go.

 

An additional limited Flash Pass option - for $20 you get front of line privilege for one-time use on 3 rides at the park.

 

Food - While I do like like food at Busch I'm not always in the mood to spend a lot. I don't mind the chains at a premium price versus outside the park as you generally know what you are getting. Sure I could leave a park and drive down the road and save money, but to me time is money so having the food nearby works for me. So I offer no advice on the food, if bringing in Papa John's benefits the bottom line, stick with it.

 

Drinks - Keep the prices as is. Sure paying $3 for a bottled water is expensive, but I personally think $1 for a bottled water excessive, also. Use the water fountain, except when in New Jersey.

 

Upcharge rides - If people are not riding on a particular day, have a manager in charge of the attraction offer discounts by placing a placard on the midway for limited times throughout the day. Of course this will have to be used sparingly or else people will expect it.

 

Security - give them real power to do their jobs at the thug infested parks

 

Finally - finish plans for an on site Hotel at SFGAdv. It would not work for every SF park, but the SFGAdv hotel wouldn't have any competition within 20 miles. Do it like CP with guests allowed to ride two coasters an hour before the public and it think we have a winner. Even if as CEO I determine that SF doesn't want to build its own hotel do it through a license agreement like the Radisson at KBF.

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3) SF has slid down hill when it comes to the "thug" element that has infiltrated the parks(why I dont go in summer). I know SFOT, as well as SFMM has been a hotbed for these little punks. One thing id do is start enforcing a "park curfew" (i.e. No minors under 18 after 7p unless accompanied by adult(s)) at all times, plain and simple. Unless they're with a sponsored youth/civic/school group, they go home.

 

While I agree with the fact that gangs can be a big hassle in theme parks, I don't think a curfew will solve the problem. If someone is planning to cause trouble in the park, then they will. Gang fights happen in the day time too, so making people go home earlier might not help. Now, perhaps if they banned alcohol, that might solve some problems. But it's the people that are causing the violence and vandalism.

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For food, I would move to an honest pricing scheme.

 

Bring in outside vendors who will list the price of the food at the usual cost, ie. $4.95 for extra value meal on the left side of the board before "taxes" and then the final price on the right side of the board after "taxes".

 

On the bottom of the menu board, I would list the taxes to include a 20% park convience surcharge.

 

That way, customers know exactly how much extra they are paying to have the themepark experience. 20% in profit on all sales should be more than sufficient for the books, while not letting the customers feel abused.

 

If I knew that I was buying food with an explicit and reasonable price upcharge, I would be happy. I don't care about paying extra, I care about being charged $4 for a bottle of water.

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While I agree with the fact that gangs can be a big hassle in theme parks, I don't think a curfew will solve the problem. If someone is planning to cause trouble in the park, then they will. Gang fights happen in the day time too, so making people go home earlier might not help. Now, perhaps if they banned alcohol, that might solve some problems. But it's the people that are causing the violence and vandalism.

 

honestly, I really don't think there is any easy solution to get rid of the undesirable clientele that some of these parks attract. Also I think that it would take a while for some families to come back even after some of these troublemakers have stopped coming. In the meantime, Six Flags will have lost attendance from these people but not yet gained back the families. I sort of have a feeling this is one of the reasons attendance hasn't been strong the last 2 years.

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Admission - Whatever your single day cost is the season pass should be 2 1/2 times that cost. If your day ticket is $40 the season pass is $100. Also, like Cedar Fair have 2 levels of season passes. One option for your home park only and $150 if you want a chain wide season pass. Each single day ticket gets you a coupon for a free soft drink in the park.

 

I have got to say that I do agree with this. My fiance and I are planning a trip in August to SFMM, and I'm decently sure that the way I'm going to go about the trip is to get myself a season pass, and get her in with the coupon book. I'm nowhere near another Six Flags park (well 6 hours) so it'll be a one time use but it is less then buying tickets.

 

As for the poster who commented on having nicer restaurants (Olive Garden, Planet Hollywood, and so forth), I just don't think there would much of a return on investment. While it would be nice to have a slightly better place to eat, at most Six Flags park I just don't see it working. People going to a Six Flags park by and large are just fine with fast food style. A lot of families I know eat elsewhere after they leave the park to avoid the markup inside.

 

If I was CEO of Six Flags I think the first thing I would do is simply sit back for a year or two and watch, see what parks are profitable, and which ones hurt. I would sell/close a lot of the parks that were not bringing in money. My company is in debt, and the best way to fix that debt is by eliminating the source of the debt. Make Six Flags a substantially smaller chain and focus on a handful of "destination parks."

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The source of the debt was the aquistion of the premier parks.

 

Six Flags used to be a small and very profitable chain of wait for it, six parks.

 

The debt was not created by the parks losing money, however, if some of the parks are not cash flow positive in that their revenue does not exceed the carrying charges of the debt there are troubles to be found.

 

Problem is no one will buy the problematic parks unless it is at a substantial discount which is probably less cost effective than just continue to operate them while improving economies of scale.

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If I was CEO, I would deffenently see which parks are profitable and ones that aren't and sell the ones that aren't. Then once I got the parks that are bringing in the money and let that happen for a few years. Then, once I got a good amount of it. I would focus on one park at a time, basically give the park a big make over with food, rides, entertainment, and family attraction. Then, over the span of years that it took to get around to all of the parks that have been given the make-over, go from their. Maybe start working my way back up to where I was, but this time with a lot of money behind it.

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