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Herschend coming into play


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Herschend has been mostly seen as the smaller chain in the industry operating just three theme parks in addition to resorts, aquariums and other attractions. Though they are smaller compared to chains like Cedar Fair, Six Flags, and Sea World, they seem to have a strong presence in the southern market. This presence will be even greater with the addition of Kentucky Kingdom. 

Lets look at what Herschend has been doing to their amusement parks these past few years:

  • Expanded Dollywood in 2019 with Wildwood Grove
  • Added a total of 6 coasters to their 3 parks in the 2010s
  • Introduced us to the B&M wing coaster, the Mack extreme spinner, and the world's 1st launched wooden coaster (last one is controversial)
  • Added a ton of additional attractions
  • Might RMC Cheetah which would put Wild Adventures on the map

I honestly think Herschend might become a major player in the industry. With the Kentucky Kingdom being just two hours away from Kings Island, Herschend is bordering Cedar Fair territory. Will Kentucky Kingdom overtake Kings Island? No, but they can hurt KI's attendance numbers with more Kentucky families opting to go local to save money. Additionally they have Silver Dollar City which competes with Worlds of Fun as well as Six Flags St. Louis.

Also think of this: what if Kentucky Kingdom is only the beginning? What if later down the road they acquire more independent parks like Adventureland, Holiday World, and so on? 

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I'm very interested to hear @Shaggy's take on this, but in the meantime here are my thoughts...

Culture, industry, geopolitics, economics, and entertainment trends have changed A LOT since the "heyday" of Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom—an era when SIX was truly invested in that park and its potential. A time back when there were talks of big-budget investments that forced then-Paramount's Kings Island to respond in kind (i.e. SFKK's plans for a "Gotham City" that allegedly led to the creation of "Action Zone" up north). Since then, KI flourished and SFKK, well, we know how SIX treated that park. One of the reasons that I've always heard from industry folks about why SIX backed off so much from KK was that the park always had a strong season pass base. Essentially, even if the new additions were paltry compared to other similarly sized parks, the season pass holders kept coming. A strategy that might work for a short time, but certainly doesn't work in the long term (especially if you keep cutting and are under the corporate umbrella of a debt-ridden Six Flags corporation). At the same time, (P)KI has also always relied on a very strong season pass base, but also attracted (and presumably still does) a good amount of travelers, particularly regional travelers. 

So, all that being said, is there a "threat" (not implying that this is Baconator's word, but I mean this from a competition standpoint) from a rejuvenated Kentucky Kingdom? That depends on how many people in the Louisville metro/market/region currently make a trip or two to KI and spend money at that park. Will they now be wooed away by Herschend's (or previously Ed Hart 2.0's) Kentucky Kingdom? Hard to say and even if they are... does that even make a difference to KI? 

Back in 2006 (so, yeah, this is an old example and a one-off interaction), I had a conversation with a family from Louisville who was visiting Kings Island for the day. This trip was one of their vacations that summer. They had a great time, but were disappointed that Kings Island's Action Theatre was showing the same Spongebob movie Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom was showing (they had waited in line for a decent amount of time). They wanted to make the most of their day because this trip was a real treat for them. My point in mentioning this is that family, despite being from Louisville and having Six Flags in their "backyard," viewed (Paramount's) Kings Island as a superior experience or at least a destination worth going to even with a theme park of their own. 

I'm not sure how much, if at all, Kings Island advertises in the Louisville market, but I do think it's interesting that Kentucky Kingdom (ever since its rebirth) has advertised in the Cincinnati market. When I paid a visit in 2017, they even had a great deal specifically for "out of state" visitors that was clearly geared at this market (billboards all over Cincy had advertised the deal). I don't think the two parks will ever compete for season pass bases (their bread and butter), aside from maybe a handful of guests that live somewhere in the middle. But they may (especially depending on how Herschend develops the park) compete for regional tourism dollars. But to that point, the industry (and entertainment in general (and entertainment post-covid)) has changed a great deal and the two parks themselves are very different from the PKI and SFKK movie theme park days. Kings Island is certainly a much bigger heavy hitter compared to the two, but the distance doesn't make this a PKI vs Americana situation. 

Herschend is probably more concerned (I assume) with establishing and growing a loyal season pass base and if they do feel competition, it's from a park in Santa Claus. No doubt both KI and KK currently do (and will continue to) keep an eye on each other's movements, but I'd say until (or if) KK becomes some sort of true destination, there's going to be peaceful coexistence. 

In regards to Herschend becoming a "heavy hitter," I'm very excited to see what they do with the park. I've never personally been to Dollywood, but that park's reputation certainly speaks for itself. It's an industry darling and its attractions, events, and staff are well regarded. Louisville is an interesting market (a large metro, even if it's not a "major league" city) and the park has great potential to be a true crown jewel of the area's tourism/local pride. 

The first time I ever visited Kentucky Kingdom, it was shortly after Six Flags had abandoned the property. Ed Hart's group was pushing for a new plan (before Bluegrass Boardwalk was a thing) and I was able to tour the property. I assumed there was absolutely no way that park was ever going to reopen given the state it was in (some sections had been closed even longer), the ridiculous land and lease situation, and trying to find a viable group. After the Boardwalk fell through, I just assumed the park was done. I was certain of it. Lo and behold—I finally got to visit it in 2017. I was so happy to have been so wrong. What a great park that's really doing some great things these last few seasons. 

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I'm hoping they acquire other smaller six flags parks like Darien Lake, Great Escape, Frontier City, etc. These parks (besides maybe Darien Lake) need a major facelift, and Herschend is the one to do that.

Also, is Ed Hart going to be partnering with Herschend to run the park? If so, we could see some legendary additions with the mind of Ed Hart and the imagination of Herschend  together.

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2 hours ago, Gordon Bombay said:

m not sure how much, if at all, Kings Island advertises in the Louisville market, but I do think it's interesting that Kentucky Kingdom (ever since its rebirth) has advertised in the Cincinnati market. When I paid a visit in 2017, they even had a great deal specifically for "out of state" visitors that was clearly geared at this market (billboards all over Cincy had advertised the deal).

That same deal has been plastered all over Indy as well. In fact, the two biggest park advertisers with billboards in Indy are Kentucky Kingdom and Holiday World. You can't go 10 minutes without seeing one or more during the summer. Kings Island has a handful with Cedar Point. In fact there might be more Indiana Beach billboards than Cedar Fair ones. 

Going off on a tangent for a second by looking at the marketing of the signs because of the Cedar Fair billboards. 

Kentucky Kingdom has the best signs with the price and logo very visible It makes you want to look them up and see what they offer. Next would be Holiday World making it clear with their logo, and they offer dry/waterpark attractions. Indiana Beach would be next with their billboard letting you know, yes they are still open. Then lastly there are the Cedar Fair billboards.  Kings Island is really the worst of them all because they want to tell you about their specials to compete with KK, but then the logo is smaller in the corner. You really have to look the sign over to see what is admission, free parking and drinks all day for the advertised price. The special is the focus, not the park itself, and that is if you can even figure out what park is offering you such a deal as you drive by at 65MPH.

End tangent, back to talking Kentucky Kingdoms acquisition.  

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Herschend’s plans sound very ambitious but if they extend the season into fall and Christmas seasons (with elaborate decor and festivals as they say), and bring new entertainment and expand thrill/family rides (as they say), the park will definitely draw more people.   And if they can come up with a “platinum-like” pass where you can visit some of their other properties like Dollywood or Silver Dollar city, that only will expand their season pass/customer base.  The announcement today is a great thing for the future of Kentucky Kingdom.  Time will tell how this impacts KI, Holiday World, or on a smaller scale, Indiana Beach, but look for strong marketing from all the parks this season.

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3 hours ago, ThrillKingsFitzy said:

I'm hoping they acquire other smaller six flags parks like Great Escape, Frontier City, etc.

I could see that as a possibility, especially if SIX decides to cut some parks to alleviate lost revenue coming out of the pandemic. Those two parks would definitely fit in with Herschend.

I'm curious if Herschend would ever make a jump towards bigger parks like SEAS if the opportunity ever presented itself.

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24 minutes ago, SonofBaconator said:

I could see that as a possibility, especially if SIX decides to cut some parks to alleviate lost revenue coming out of the pandemic. Those two parks would definitely fit in with Herschend.

I'm curious if Herschend would ever make a jump towards bigger parks like SEAS if the opportunity ever presented itself.

They do run Newport Aquarium, so they know how to run something like that. Plus, Seaworld is in deep doodoo right now with finances and protesting from animal rights activists. So I could see some company like Herschend acquiring the parks.

Now, if the activists are still going at it with a new owner, we could see Herschend have some problems as well, so I don't know.

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7 hours ago, ThrillKingsFitzy said:

Also, is Ed Hart going to be partnering with Herschend to run the park? If so, we could see some legendary additions with the mind of Ed Hart and the imagination of Herschend  together.

Don't count on that.  As I understand, Hart is taking a back seat and will be a financial partner only.  I have heard he will no longer be involved in daily operations or management of the park.

9 hours ago, Gordon Bombay said:

I'm very interested to hear @Shaggy's take on this, but in the meantime here are my thoughts...

Well... you asked... ;-)

Let me qualify... what follows is my general perception.  I don't have any formal insight or first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of the park.

That being said...  Kentucky Kingdom continues to be viewed by locals in much the same way it was under the Six Flags leadership. There still exists a negative connotation among many in Louisville.  Some perceive it as a troublesome park where unruly teens, and lower-class individuals go to hang out and cause trouble.  (Not my opinion necessarily - just look at all the comments on the WHAS11 news announcement of the sale.)  Louisville has always had an established culture clash - East end vs West end.  Families and persons that live and work on the Eastern side of the city are - generally speaking - of a higher economic scale and prosperity.  KK is widely considered to attract many lower economic class individuals from the West end of town - mostly because it has traditionally served as a draw for teens and those of a lower working class.  This is due, because of its low admission and season pass rates coupled with the fact that it is on a convenient, direct, bus line from the West end.

Add-in the fact that historically, there have been some really serious, and seriously public, issues at KK.  Under SF, the park had crime - including incidents of rape, drug use, theft, gangs and fights.  The "accident" that occurred so many years ago was the straw that broke the back for many.  Obviously those things are well within the past, but they dealt a devastating blow to the reputation of the park.  It was during this time that Holiday World seized the opportunity to build its reputation as the safe, family friendly option for the Louisville market.  The Kochs family oriented commercials, ads and billboards were a declaration of being the "good-clean" option.

Among locals, Kings Island has always been, and will always be perceived as a destination, top tier park.  Its considered a "BIG" park with the "BIG" rides and attractions.  It also is perceived as an expensive park.  A lot of locals consider it to be the park at which you take a vacation - multiple days -  with your family or a group of friends.  Its an excursion, whereas KK is seen as a much smaller "half-day" park.

(Side note - Both Kings Island and Holiday World strongly advertise in the Louisville Metro area.  Commercials, and billboards, as well as discounts through fast-food and grocery stores.)

I believe Hart entered into the most recent "new" Management agreement with the state for two reasons: (1.) He again saw the investment potential and (2.) He cared about the park itself.  However, I also believe his intention was ALWAYS to re-sell the park... again.  He is a businessman first and foremost.  Its no secret that when he sold the park originally to Premier Parks (later Six Flags) he had leveraged the installation of major rides and costly infrastructure to the tune of a great deal of outstanding debt.  Premier was gobbling up parks left and right, and seeing the skyrocketing attendance rates at KK (AFAIK, KK's highest attendance was the year they installed Chang) they jumped at the chance to buy - assuming a lot of that debt.  When Premier became Six Flags, the company initially invested heavily in branding KK and spent years paying off debt.  But then, little by little, any revenue the park began making was thrown into the big Six Flags bucket... and the overall quality suffered and re-investment was virtually non existent.  By its final years, SFKK was making a profit - but never got to keep it - and had no real way of "growing" its bottom line.   As mentioned before, there was no need for SF to heavily re-invest in SFKK when it was pulling the vast amount of business from local, regular attendees with season passes.  When Six Flags pulled out of KK, they took the high-ticket rides with them infuriating the state that was left with basically a junkyard of rides and run-down buildings.  In the new agreement with Hart, the state became the "owner" of the rides, land and structures.  They required Hart to re-invest at least $4 Million in the park each season.  This was done, as a reaction to lessons learned with the Six Flags pullout.

Couple all these challenges together - and the result was that the current Kentucky Kingdom was operating season-to-season.  Hart did re-invest heavily and breathed a new life in the park over the past several years, however never to the tune of success he originally had pre-Premier.  With the onset of Covid - that obviously crippled the parks ability to further operate.  As I understand, he furloughed all full-time staff (with the exception of essential people) back in the fall.  Herschend became interested in the property (it remains to be seen who approached whom.)  Further staff was permanently reduced in January - likely in preparation for the deal.  However, it appears there was a great deal of back-and forth before the deal was finalized... even as recent as last week.  I personally believe that had the deal not gone through, KK likely would not have had the ability to reopen this season.

It will be interesting to see what Herschend has in store for the park.  As you said - the landscape of the parks in this region has changed.  Even Holiday World's grasp on the Louisville market is not what it once was (it is my opinion, the park completely lost their footing and direction with the passing of Will and then the family ouster that followed.)  They still pull heavily from Louisville, however the "word on the street" about HW is not nearly as glowing as it once was.  I think HW could be in a venerable place should KK be converted to a much more well-received, and perceived park.

My hope for KK is that Herschend builds it into a "niche" park.  Its never going to be a park on the scale of Kings Island, it simply doesn't have the logistical ability to.  However, they can easily fill a gap - the need for a safe, fun and entertaining place for locals or those traveling up from Nashville, Down from Indy or Cincy or west from Lexington.  I perceive it more on the lines of a modern-day Opryland (minus the Opry.)  I expect the re-investment stipulation by the state still exists - so they will definitely sink money into the park (but not necessarily in the form of large rides.)  I suspect (hope) that they were smart enough to not incur any outstanding debt in the way Premier did, that way they can begin operations with a nice clean slate. As far as the extended seasons and the potential for Holiday themed events - that is likely key.  Louisville has nothing of the sort - with the exception of a Christmas Mega-Cavern drive through event (which is so popular it causes major traffic back-ups on the Watterson Expressway) and the Halloween event at the Zoo (which ALSO causes major traffic back-ups on the Watterson.)

Remember, this is being spearheaded by Craig Ross, a VERY smart man with a great deal of experience.  When he was GM of Kings Island - he led the park into the expansion/addition of Nick Central and the achievement of the first "Best Kids Area" Golden Ticket Award for the park.  That, in itself, tells me his focus will be on changing the reputation, and the focus.  It could get very interesting, but boy o boy a big challenge lies ahead. 

I personally feel this is very good, exciting news for the park.

 

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Thank you @Shaggy and @Gordon Bombay for your insights and knowledge.

I absolutely love KK.  I live a little over an hour away in Kentucky.  But I consider KI my home park and go there twice as much as KK.  I suppose that is for the sake of nostalgia--my first memory is of being scared of the log flume (after waiting for over an hour) and being consoled in the wisteria tunnel.

That being said, KK is vital to our region and has done amazing things since reopening in 2014.  What they did there was nothing short of miraculous and Ed Hart's vision has enabled that.  

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I do wonder if Holiday World is on Herschend's radar. They do sort of fit the Herschend park theme and they could push a platinum pass system so people can go to both HW and KK

I always had Hershey park in the back of my mind but I know Hershey Entertainment and Resorts would never part with their beloved park

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39 minutes ago, SonofBaconator said:

I do wonder if Holiday World is on Herschend's radar. They do sort of fit the Herschend park theme and they could push a platinum pass system so people can go to both HW and KK

I always had Hershey park in the back of my mind but I know Hershey Entertainment and Resorts would never part with their beloved park

"regional parks" within 90 minutes of each other usually does not work out........Bgt and seas sure in orlando/tampa but not in the midwest.

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7 hours ago, SonofBaconator said:

I do wonder if Holiday World is on Herschend's radar. They do sort of fit the Herschend park theme and they could push a platinum pass system so people can go to both HW and KK

I always had Hershey park in the back of my mind but I know Hershey Entertainment and Resorts would never part with their beloved park

And the way I understand it, Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company is wholly owned by the Hershey Trust Company, which runs/operates the Milton Hershey School.  I doubt that the trust company is interested in selling the park, as it is what likely funds the school.

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What are your sources for the attendance figures?  I simply stated that the trust that owns Hersheypark likely is not interested in selling.  Not that Herschend cannot afford to purchase a park the size of Hershey.

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19 hours ago, coaster sally said:

hershey park is to big for hershend to buy.  It's attendance is larger than dollywood and SDC.

I disagree. I think if there was ever an opportunity, Herschend would take it. Hershey is huge because it has the Hershey brand and it is on the east coast close to large cities like Philly, Baltimore, DC, etc. Like I said it'll never happen for the reasons @CoastersRZ said but I think Herschend has the money for such an enterprise.

If Sea World Entertainment ever attempts to sell off their Busch properties I could see Herschend and Cedar Fair putting in bids.

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  • 1 month later...

Herschend purchased the Vancouver Aquarium.

https://www.attractionsmanagement.com/index.cfm?subID=0&pagetype=news&codeID=347556&dom=n&email=web&pub=AMe&date=

Quote

Herschend Enterprises has acquired Vancouver Aquarium from the Ocean Wise Conservation Association, adding the attraction to the group's growing portfolio of properties.

The aquarium has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns, losing millions of dollars since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020.

The agreement will see Herschend take over 100 per cent ownership of the site and the deal is the result of a process initiated by Ocean Wise to save the Aquarium from permanent closure.

Vancouver Aquarium will continue to be led by chief operating officer, Clint Wright, who has been with the attraction for more than 30 years.

Herschend is a leading US-based attractions and tourism operator, and the owner of two aquariums – Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey and Newport Aquarium in Kentucky.

The group also owns – and partners with – a number of theme parks, including Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, and Dollywood in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains.

Clint Wright said: “This is a very positive outcome that secures both the future of the Vancouver Aquarium and the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

“I have been fortunate to spend almost my entire career at the Vancouver Aquarium and I look forward to continuing to lead the organization as we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic and write the Aquarium’s next chapter.

"I have known the Herschend team for many years, they share our values, and I am extremely optimistic about the new and exciting opportunities that will be open to us with Herschend’s financial and creative support.”

Andrew Wexler, CEO of Herschend Enterprises, said: “This is a thrilling and humbling day for our company as we begin our relationship with such a renowned institution.

“As a long-time aquarium operator we have always admired the Vancouver Aquarium as the gold standard in the industry for its combination of animal care, educational focus and exceptional family experience.

"We intend to build on this track record, enhancing the Vancouver Aquarium as an attraction for local and international visitors, and continuing to support the dozens of initiatives that make the Aquarium such a vital part of the local, national and international community.

"It is also important to us that Vancouver Aquarium is exactly that – Vancouver’s aquarium, offering a unique, local and authentic experience that is not available anywhere else."

 

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  • 1 month later...

Only time will tell if we ever see a "reaction" from Kings Island and Cedar Fair. I've said this religiously but KK and take away from the Louisville and even Lexington market which is 2 of the 6 major cities KI pulls from. Not that people would stop traveling to KI from the Kentucky cities but their trips might be less frequent.

The thing is, I don't know what Herschend would give Kentucky Kingdom in terms of rides. If they go too big, like a B&M dive or something of that size, they run the risk of competition from Kings Island. I think they're better off getting smaller rides in order to survive competing with KI. They might be more on par with Holiday World as their competitor.

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1 hour ago, SonofBaconator said:

They might be more on par with Holiday World as their competitor.

KI did respond to the KK out of state deal of 2 days and free drinks for 30ish bucks. Then KI offered free parking and a drink wristband for 1 day at a close price the last few years at KI. 

I'm not sure how this is going to differ with Herschend and whatever deals they are going to offer.

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1 minute ago, IndyGuy4KI said:

KI did respond to the KK out of state deal of 2 days and free drinks for 30ish bucks. Then KI offered free parking and a drink wristband for 1 day at a close price the last few years at KI. 

I'm not sure how this is going to differ with Herschend and whatever deals they are going to offer.

Sounds like giving away the gate.  KK is a fair compared to Kings Island.

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