Why Can’t Six Flags Up Their Warner Brothers Theming Budget?

Recently, Theme Park University (along with the help of ME Theme Parks) released a ton of photos showcasing the upcoming Warner Brothers World Abu Dhabi theme park.  To say that the theming is top notch for a Warner Brothers park is an understatement and we haven’t even seen the attractions yet! At any rate, TPU reader CJ asks: “Can someone please give a reasonable explanation on why the Six Flags corporation has not done this level of theming with their parks? Especially the premier parks; considering their use of Looney Tunes and DC Universe. Parks like Six Flags Great Adventure and even Magic Mountain; especially Magic Mountain because that park directly competes with 3 of the top theme parks in the world. In addition, they tout Great Adventure as the largest regional theme park in the world. Both parks would totally benefit from a transformation like this and in my opinion in 2018 already be at this level.”

Great question and a fine observation! First of all, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page about a few things. First of all, Warner Brothers own a portion of Warner Brothers World Abu Dhabi. This means they are sinking their own dough into the park. Whereas Six Flags only licenses Warner Brothers characters. It’s kind of complicated. Let me explain.

Photo by Adam Silva – Six Flags New England

Back in the day, Time Warner (parent company of Warner Brothers) actually owned Six Flags theme parks. However, in 1998, Time Warner sold Six Flags to Premier Parks. As part of that sale, it actually granted Premier continuing access to Batman, Bugs Bunny and all of the characters we know and love from the DC Comics and Warner Brothers universe. Today, this means that Six Flags actually pays a licensing fee (and probably a portion of WB merchandise sales) to Warner Brothers for a continual use of their characters. In addition, Warner Brothers Studio has to approve anytime a Warner Brothers character, logo or reference is used in a Six Flags park.

Which begs the question, why doesn’t Six Flags build something really cool with a bigger budget since they have access to such beloved characters? To be fair, the addition of Justice League: Battle for Metropolis was a huge step in the right direction for Six Flags parks.  An Oceaneering ride vehicle and overall production design by Sally Corporation was a huge win for regional parks that rarely get that level of theming and budget.

Regional is the key word in this entire article. Six Flags operates parks that are not in direct competition with giants like Disney and Universal. Sure, you can claim that Six Flags Magic Mountain is in competition with Disneyland, even though it is a two-hour drive away, but I assure you it is not. Even Knott’s Berry Farm does not consider itself in direct competition with Disneyland. Crazy, right? Ask any executive in Cedar Fair or Six Flags and they will confirm this as a fact.  This is not to say that they don’t pay attention to what Disney and Universal are doing, but Six Flags don’t consider themselves destination theme parks. That is to say, the major reason you’re traveling to a certain city is to visit their theme park. Now if you’re a theme park fanatic (me too!) what I’m saying may sound foreign to you and your circle of friends who do travel to Southern California to visit Magic Mountain (and Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood), but this is far from how the average tourist travels.

Now should Six Flags look at their parks as regional and not a destination? That’s an argument we can chase our tails on for weeks, but never come to a proper conclusion. Aside from Magic Mountain, you’re looking at seasonal operations that often close down for at least three or four months entirely and run limited availability during the spring and fall months.

Therefore, the amount of money Six Flags puts into a new attraction has to get a return on investment (ROI) within several years. It becomes far easier for Warner Brothers World Abu Dhabi to do that since this will be a completely indoor theme park. Heat, rain and (if there was any) snow won’t factor into how this park operates year round. Not to mention, the United Arab Emirates is working to create a theme park destination similar to Orlando. Sure, you could say that the quality and budget doesn’t equal what you’ll find in the sunshine state, but that’s also another argument for another time.

Basically, any park that is forced to close its gates for over 30% of the operating year will have to tailor and budget their capital improvements to the ROI it can get from those new attractions or lands or even just overall theming. Theme parks are expensive beasts to operate and while one can make an argument that if Six Flags spends more money on their parks, they’ll make it back, but that’s not a risk they are currently willing to take based on the fact that aside from Magic Mountain, they can’t operate 365 days a year and have more potential to get their money back.  Your thoughts?

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