Coming up, we’ll discuss Bob Chapek’s extension, the closing of California’s Great America, and Pride Day celebrates inclusion at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Subscribe to all our offerings: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork
Coming up, we’ll discuss Bob Chapek’s extension, the closing of California’s Great America, and Pride Day celebrates inclusion at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Subscribe to all our offerings: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork
Philip: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme park in 30, I'm Philip I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson. And Scott, everyone's favorite Disney CEO has had his contract extended.
Philip: I knew that you were just so waiting for that with bated breath.
Scott: Yes, I was biting my nails to find out, is Bob's contract going to get extended? I actually have bumper stickers made up.
Philip: Well, now it's the perfect time to be...
Scott: dumping with bumper stickers because we know now.
Philip: Yeah, now we know. So, I'm going to read an excerpt from the InPark Magazine story on this.
QUOTE: Today, The Walt Disney Company Board of Directors unanimously voted to extend Bob Chapek’s contract as Chief Executive Officer for three years.
“Disney was dealt a tough hand by the pandemic, yet with Bob at the helm, our businesses—from parks to streaming—not only weathered the storm, but emerged in a position of strength,” said Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board. “In this important time of growth and transformation, the Board is committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob’s leadership is key to achieving that goal. Bob is the right leader at the right time for The Walt Disney Company, and the Board has full confidence in him and his leadership team.”
Philip: InPark also mentions here that, "prior to becoming CEO, Chapek served as Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products", "after serving as Chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts since 2015." So, he did Parks, Experiences, and Products, and then Disney Parks Resorts, which we already knew, and they kind of gave a little bit more of his history and background. I, literally, I'm not surprised at all and actually this is par for the course for me. They've only had what like 7, somebody fact check me, like 7ish CEOs, This is like the 7th one in like 100 years. They're not squeamish in terms of like when public opinion, or just all this crazy whatever, I feel like it's almost the opposite. They weather the storms, they kind of tend to go with it, and he has a history. I mean I think InPark’s point here is to point out his background, but he has a long history with them. He knows a lot of people there, he has a long history, he's very familiar with the brand, you know? Honestly, I know this is definitely an unpopular opinion, as a Disney attendee, I don't love the changes. Then again, I still go once a week, I don't love a lot of the directions you know, etc. I still go once a week, and there you go, that literally is his success right there in that statement. I don't love it, I'm still there once a week. Wow, he must be doing a fantastic job where I'm continuing to pay for a thing that I don't like.
Scott: If I were sitting on the board, yeah, I wouldn't change anything if that's the case. Now, I happen to be kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum. I don't go ever because I don't like the changes, I don't like the way the parks have altered, and in fairness, or lack of fairness, I haven't even experienced the way the parks have been altered, I don't even like the concept. Of course, I'm one of those weird people that works in the theme park industry who isn't addicted to going to theme parks. I can't even tell you... Well, yes, I can tell you exactly the last time I was at Disney, it was the last time I was at IAAPA Expo. The only reason I went to Disney was because it was an IAAPA event, and it was a private event. I didn't have to deal with any of the shenanigans that go on, I was there as a guest, I paid a premium price for it, but it was more than worth it for me, and I got to see something that I had not seen before. That's the way I like to do Disney now because, interestingly enough, I'm one of the few people that I know who is not, and never has been, a Disney passholder who lives in the I-4 corridor.
Philip: Yep, that's a good point.
Scott: I've never been a Disney passholder. I've never been a Universal passholder. Of course, part of the reason for that is when I was working regularly in the theme parks, I was either so connected or there was a mutual agreement between the parks, that I didn't have to pay to go anyway. Even then, I wouldn't go nearly as often as some of my friends who didn't work in the parks. I love Walt Disney World, I think what they do is brilliant. I love Universal Parks, I think what they do is lovely and wonderful and exciting. I just spend enough of my life in attractions working, that when I'm not working, I want the opposite, so I'll go to the beach, I'll go on a cruise, or I want something that's not shoulder-to-shoulder, that doesn't require a great deal of planning. That's part of the thing that turns me off so much about the way the direction Disney is going, is it requires so much advance planning. And I've beaten that horse to death, so I'm not even going to go down that road. But, to your point, Philip, just like you said, they're still getting money out of you, you are still going, you are still going on a regular basis, even though you don't like the changes. So, the changes are an annoyance, but they're not enough of an annoyance to make you not go, and they are enough of a benefit that it makes it far easier and far more efficient, and I would guess more profitable, because they're more efficient for the parks to run that way. So, yeah, here's a CEO who is doing things that aren't pissing people off enough to make them leave but are making it more efficient and more cost effective for what they do. So, yeah, of course he's going to get renewed.
Philip: Yeah no, of course. I'd never even thought it was in question. Yes, Disney Plus was not his idea. Basically, the direction that he got given was not all of his makings, obviously, that was his predecessor, but he was able to continue it and continue it in a way that didn't sink the ship. Also, I don't know, people need kind like OJT, they need time to figure out the position. I will say this, I'll say a few things, not all the changes I have hated. Again, this might just be me, I prefer the automation, I prefer being able to order from my app on the phone and just go pick it up and not have to stand in an hour churro line. Actually, that's some of the benefits that kind of outweighing it. I'm like, well, I know that if I can get a reservation to Disney and go there, I know that there's a certain minimum I'm going to be able to get done, versus I can't guarantee anything if I go to Knotts at all. I can't guarantee anything, I just show up and you can't get into anything because the lines are too long, like Anime Expo ha-ha, or LineCon as it's called here.
So, I think there's that, but I also think that he's learned. Not that I want to pretend like I would be someone who's hiring a Disney CEO, but just like when I'm hiring staff or anyone is hiring someone new and you're putting them in a new role, you're looking to see if they can learn, that's the most important part. Do they take constructive feedback, and do they change their approach? Or are they just stubborn and, "I'm right every day"? I think he was stubborn, there were definitely some clashes. He is definitely learning, I mean he's walked back a lot of we said, he's changed his stances, he's clearly listening more now to the Disney PR team. I think, also, it's only going to take a few adjustments and the fans are just going to come back and say they love him like. Already look at what we're seeing, we have the New Lion King Show, which opened up, it has an all-black cast and it's incredible. It’s actually incredible, it's an incredible show. It's a new addition to live entertainment, people love it, and then bringing back the Halloween parties that are live entertainment focused, adding value. Again, they learned, right? You see this learning, like the events last year were wildly unpopular versus the one that had entertainment and whatnot, and that was too far, it was like a line too far, you know? It was the same price, but way less offerings, no themed events, and no live entertainment, and people didn't like it. Now, this year, oh, they bring back stuff people like, they're bringing back live entertainment even though it's costing more, they're bringing back the parades because it costs more, they're adding nights to their firework presentation. So, they are going back in that direction because they're not stupid, he's not stupid, he is learning.
Scott: I think it's also a reward for getting through the tough times. I think the board is saying, "you know what, you made the tough calls, you made the hard choices, you weathered the storm, and you should be rewarded for keeping us afloat by cutting things back." That's why he lost a lot of his popularity, let's be honest, is because he took things away from Disney fans and Disney fans are so crazy.
Philip: So, entitled. I'm insane. I definitely am an insane person.
Scott: Y'all are crazy, y'all are nuts, but Disney fans are just so, so blindly dedicated to the brand, and to your point, if you've been a Disney passholder, or whatever it's called now, for whatever length of time there is a sense of entitlement. The only people who have more sense of entitlement are the time shareholders holders. I mean, that's their neighborhood, that's where they live. So, yes, of course, he had to make some tough decisions and I think the board is rewarding him for making those tough decisions and getting through a tough time.
Philip: Yeah. I have a few more points here. One is, I think that fortunately or unfortunately, I guess it depends on whether you're more like me or like Scott, all of these trends are inevitable in in the theme park realm. I feel like we're going to need to use automation, like better security scanning, better park ordering for food, and better processes, these things are going to be required. We have talked about this. The staffing is just pushing it into overdrive right now, but we're not going to continue to be able to attract an F&B person that you pay minimum wage to stand there and just type in orders. The jobs need to be better for people and automation helps with all of this and efficiency, it's going in that direction. We really can't stop it, in my opinion, like it's going there. So, it's kind of like he's just here at the time where this is all happening, because I do believe it's going there, and I do believe their system is the best, honestly, of all. Because I do all the parks, unlike Scott, I do all the parks, I have all the passes to all the places, I go to everything. Their system is the best, like hands down, it is by leaps and bounds, so that's where it's going. So, sorry. Honestly, that is part of me, as an attendee, that's part of my decision making. It's like, "oh, is it going to be an annoyance to just get like a sandwich I should be able to pick up and walk out with? Like, why is this a whole thing?" That's a negative, but that's kind of one point I wanted to make.
The next point is also about their differentiation and about that kind of thing. In our previous episode, we talked about that 24-night $110,000 excursion, literally sold out before it went on sale to the general public
Scott: Not surprised.
Philip: Again, exactly what Scott said. Literally exactly what Scott says, this will sell out, and you're right. So, that just shows, clearly, they're right on the mark for that trend.
Scott: Oh yeah, here's the thing. Disney is at a point now where, and again I sound like a broken record, but Disney is at the point where they can piss off their avid fans, and they're still going to be avid fans, and they're still going to come back because they want to be there, they want to have that moment of magic. You know, going back to the automation thing, you know I don't mind automation when it comes the examples you've used as positive over and over again, which have been F&B, which I think are fine. I think it's great, I think you're right, I think it has to go that way the way staffing goes. I just hope, especially in areas like Central Florida, where you know so much of the workforce is theme park based, I hope we all recognize that somewhere down the road this means unemployment. This means that when everything starts to neutralize when everything kind of goes back and becomes even keel, this means that we're going to have a huge unemployment problem because the jobs have been replaced by an app. Now, I'm not saying that's right or wrong, I'm just saying, I hope we are not being so myopic in the short term that we say, "gosh, this is nice that I don't have to wait in line." I agree, I don't think that's wrong. My point is not, let's avoid the automation. My point is, let's plan ahead so that we don't have this God-awful problem.
One of the issues that you and I have talked about, and this is my biggest problem with automation in general, is customer service has gone down the toilet, and that's pretty much across the board. I'm not talking about Disney, again, haven't been in, not quite a year, but haven't been in about a year. But still, everywhere, everywhere, cruise lines, hotels, restaurants, customer service has gone down the crapper. I don't know whether the automated world is going to help that or hurt it, but I think these are all issues that I think we need to address. I know I've gotten a little bit off topic here, but I think that, hopefully, in the recovery plan and the fact that Bob has been so (Bob, like we're buddies) willing to listen and adapt accordingly, hopefully, he and his team have a plan moving forward that as we start to figure out what normal looks like again, that he has a plan to adapt. He's bringing back Live E., you know? There's more Live E. coming back, which is great, but is there going to be a focus back on what Disney really set the standard for years ago? And that was customer service.
Philip: We will be watching that.
Scott: Yeah, I'm hoping that since he made it through the storm, I'm hoping that when he gets into smooth waters, he'll be able to bring back some of the things that I like at Disney.
Philip: My only response to your point about the automation, which I do think is important, my hope, and again I'm sure you're going to be like, "come on Philip," but my hope is that what this does is, when you bring in the automation it allows you to free up those jobs to do things that are more interesting jobs that humans actually should be doing. So, for example, greeters, customer service helpers, people that can just help answer questions, things that are more challenging and that humans enjoy doing. It's just like we talk about in haunted houses, right? Do you really need someone to just pop out of a corner every 30 seconds and just hit an actor trigger? Or would it be more meaningful if that person was trained as a queue line actor and got to interact as a face character outside with people and take photos that people can remember? It's the same thing, my hope is that it will free up these positions to become overall better working experiences for the people, better qualitative jobs overall I'm sure you're going to be like, "nah, Philip."
Scott: If that's what people want. But again, having worked in the theme park industry for 30-plus years, it's not what all employees want. One of the things I recognize, let's use your haunted house example, there are haunted house actors who want to jump out and say "boo." Because they don't have the training, they don't want to think hard enough to actually create characters, they want to go "ah!" "AH!" Over and over again and get paid, ridiculous hourly wages, because everybody needs them. You talk about, will it free up the positions? Yes, but you need one greater for every three or four, maybe even five, food and beverage people you're going to lose. So, it's still not going to make it so that we have an even trade out here. You're also hoping that people will want to improve because they're going to have to improve their training, their own personal training, they're going to have to be more prepared to be a greeter. To be able to answer a question requires you to have a significantly longer training period. Either that or much more self-motivation to continue to improve yourself. The reality that I've seen is that that's not true with everybody. You have to have that broad spectrum of jobs available, both high-skill and low-skill positions, and this is eliminating low-skill positions.
Philip: Again, I agree with all your points. The only final point I'm going to come back at you with is, I'm sure there will be things that are created that we're not yet aware of. There will be new things that will come in and there might be a new version of the low-skill positions.
Scott: I hope so.
Scott: Yeah, that's exactly my point. I'm not saying we should not do this automation. What I'm saying is we should be prepared, or not be surprised, when all of a sudden two years down the road when everybody decides, "Oh wait, I do have to work. I can't just sit at home and make money off of Bitcoin. I'm not going to be, hey look my YouTube channel is not generating the revenue that I had hoped it would, so I need to go back to work." And the jobs aren't there because they don't need them anymore. So, I hope you're right, that's kind of my point. We need to start thinking about what are those low-skilled jobs? What are the jobs that are going to replace the jobs that are going to go away? Companies, I'm going to say, thinking from a corporate standpoint, they're not going to worry about that too much. Large corporations are going to say, "I can save all this labor money. I'm not going to make work for these people." So, that's the point of the automation, to save the money. I just want to make sure that we're thinking these things through. Hopefully, now that now that Chapek is back for another term, so to speak, let's hope he and his team are thinking about these kinds of things. I hope you're right, Philip, I hope that they are saying, "you know what we're not going to spend the $10.00 an hour on the person who does this, we're going to get rid of three of those, and we're going to bring back one person that makes $20.00 an hour who can actually interact with guests." Still a 50% staff reduction, but I just hope that they're thinking about those things, and I hope people who are much smarter than I am are thinking about those things, because I don't have an answer. I just want to make sure that we're recognizing what the future is going to look like.
Philip: Actually, that's a perfect segue. Speaking of what the future is going to look like, it's going to look a little bit different in Northern California here, because Cedar Fair has announced that they're selling the Great America property, and they're preparing for a permanent park closure during the next decade. I'm also reading this from InPark Magazine and I'm reading an excerpt here from their article.
QUOTE: Cedar Fair has announced that it has sold the land at its California’s Great America amusement park and plans to close the park. Cedar Fair elected to sell the land to Prologis, Inc., a Bay Area-based logistics real estate company, for approximately $310 million with a lease agreement. The Company will continue to operate the park for a period of up to 11 years and then will close existing park operations at the end of the lease term.
Philip: "Up to" is key. So, basically, leasing land for up to 11 years, that's what they have here.
QUOTE: Cedar Fair intends to use proceeds from the land sale transaction to accelerate progress on its strategic priorities of reducing debt to achieve its $2 billion target, investing in high-return projects within its portfolio such as upgrading resort properties, and reinstating a sustainable unitholder distribution. Based on the strength and pace of the recovery since reopening its parks in 2021, and due to the additional capital raised through the Great America transaction, Cedar Fair expects to reinstate quarterly unitholder distributions by the third quarter of 2022, subject to review and approval by the Cedar Fair Board of Directors.
Scott: So, they're not reducing staff, they're reducing an entire park.
Philip: I know, right? So, also, I just want to point out, kudos to the people that sent over these two stories. These two stories were sent by listeners, we were going to cover them because they were the big news of the week but thank you for sending them. Honestly, I am not surprised at all. Actually, I'm actually like over here in the corner, like applauding. I don't think they're going to extend to the full 11 years, I think they're going to close this early and get rid of it. Because of all the things we've been talking about, this whole conversation like we just had previously plays right into this. They're struggling to maintain this park. I mean, in my opinion, the last time there was a terrible experience, and that was like when it was operating on full cylinders. They're not making it work, and they need the money to reinvest, like they said, into other things.
Also, the other concept we've talked about here which I think is at play, and that concept is the idea of needing to consolidate. The real competition of the next few years is going to be attention, we're all competing for attention on that level. In that way, theme parks are competing with TikTok, basically, for your time. If you're just going to sit in bed and watch TikTok all day, or you're going to go to a theme park, that's the same attention span. So, I think when you look at it in terms of the number of new incumbents, these smaller chains outside of Disney and Universal, they're at high risk because they're not big enough, their experience is not differentiated enough, and all the other things we've been talking about how they're no on any of these levels, right? So, I think this is one of their only plans. I'm not sure it's still going to be enough, but maybe it will be. Maybe they can cut a few parks and they can reinvest and make truly differentiated experiences in the other properties where they can more closely managed it. Because this park is also like way out, it's very far away from their others, so it makes sense, we'll see if it works.
Scott: I agree, I think that this is an attempt to focus. You know, we talk a lot about Disney, we talked a lot about Universal, and when it comes to just their theme park operation, they don't try to have a park in every state. They make you come to them, and therefore they can focus and be worthy of your attendance and your dollars. You know, you're lucky enough to have both parks in California, I'm lucky enough to have both parks in Florida, but you know people who are in Omaha have to make it a specific targeted destination event to go to a Disney Park or Universal Park. I think that the larger, more spread-out companies, like Cedar Fair, are going to focus more on how do we differentiate? I think it's a perfect descriptor to use. How do we differentiate our product? And how do we focus on creating something that guests want to come to see?" Especially for those parts that are in competition with a Disney or Universal park. You know, that's tricky, that's very, very tough. So, I will say that from a personal point of view, this is very sad because the Great America Park, Six Flags Great America... I almost called it Marriott's Great America, which is what it was when it opened. The two Great America Parks, when they opened, one was just 10 minutes from my high school in Gurnee, IL, and the other one was out there in, is it Santa Clarita? Is that where it is in California?
Scott: And they were identical when they were built. So, this goes back to the mid-70s. So, to hear that the park is being sold and going away does break my heart just a little bit, but I do think from a business standpoint, it's a smart move.
Philip: OK, smart moves. This next story I really want to get in here, because I do think it's actually a very smart move. There is a pride day coming to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg.
QUOTE: Busch Gardens Pride Day brings a rainbow of inclusiveness to the Williamsburg, Va. park on July 10, 2022, with concerts, comedy, and dazzling drag stars.
High energy personalities take center stage during three family-friendly drag performances throughout the day.
When evening arrives [three LGBTQ+ artists] add their unique comedic touch to the event during family-friendly comedy shows, starting at 8:30 p.m.
Philip: There's more to the event, but these were the highlights that I wanted to pull, and I pulled that from Attractions Magazine. I just really love this, I think it's brilliant, I think that this is exactly... now I can throw some shade on Disney when Disney was like, "we have a new Pride collection!" Right. Great. I mean ultimately, it's just like a Pride collection, right? There's not actually celebrating Pride in the content. I do love them for doing what they're doing with the donations and all that, but they're still too conservative to actually do something that celebrates it. Here it is, Busch Gardens, they are actually truly celebrating pride using LGBTQ+ plus performers and making actual entertainment around the culture. I am like, this, A plus.
Scott: This is so mind-blowing to me. Again, just as a reminder in case you forgot, I worked for Busch Gardens. Well, I worked in Busch Gardens, Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Tampa for a bunch of years. I am thrilled, I am excited, I am a little shocked, because Busch Gardens Williamsburg was even more conservative than Busch Gardens Tampa for many, many years. The area surrounding Busch Gardens, Williamsburg was very, very, very conservative for many, many years. So, the fact that either they have chosen to make this leap, or the culture has changed enough that this leap is acceptable to their audiences, to their passholders, to their board members, and you know all that stuff, I agree with you Philip, I think this is really cool. I think it's interesting that they made certain that they said family-friendly about as many times as humanly possible. But I think that's really important. Because again, more and more young people... I had a friend of mine whose son came out not too long ago and wanted to talk to me and asked me about coming out, being gay, and et cetera, et cetera, and he's 13. So, family-friendly now includes LGBTQ+ individuals. I have a friend who has a 16-year-old genderfluid daughter. So, I love the fact that it's not looked at as taboo, it's not looked at as, "oh, we're placating this subculture." It is, "we are being inclusive and we're recognizing this is part of who we are." To see it done in Williamsburg, like I said, is shocking, but exciting. Let me put it this way, if you are listening, if they can do it in Williamsburg, VA, you can do it in your park.
Philip: Yeah, yeah exactly.
Scott: And it's not just slapping rainbow stickers on anything, you know there's a meme going around, "now that Pride Month is over and all the rainbow stickers have gone, please remember that they didn't do shit for us. I mean, anything for us." That's what the meme says. I don't know whether that's true or not, but I think that this certainly is embracing the culture, embracing the Community, and doing it in the right way. So, good for you Busch Gardens, Williamsburg. Good job guys.
Philip: Our last story that we're not going to get time to really cover too much because we're coming up against time here, but they're not the only people I want to call out for their pride stuff. Lego also has pride parade marches across their Legoland nationwide. This comes from InPark Magazine.
QUOTE: With Pride parades happening all over the nation, LEGOLAND® Resorts and LEGOLAND® Discovery Centers are throwing their own celebrations with LEGO® Pride parades in Minilands that, when combined, stretch nearly 100 feet long! More than 1,530 LEGO Minilanders march amid colorful LEGO floats, flags, musicians and more in celebration of Pride Month at LEGOLAND® California Resort, LEGOLAND® Florida Resort, LEGOLAND® New York Resort along with seven LEGOLAND® Discovery Centers across the nation including Columbus, Michigan, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Westchester.
Philip: Basically, at the resorts and the pictures are really cute. But again, this is just another good example of it, and a good example of where it is a form, again we're looking for forms of celebration within the park itself, within their actual offerings of entertainment, and that is, I think, what makes this differentiated.
Scott: Yep, and I think that you know you can't get more family friendly than Legoland. So, good for them. Well guys, as Philip said, we are out of time. So, on behalf of Philip and myself, thank you so much for listening, and thank you for sharing stories and story ideas, we certainly appreciate that, and we hope that you will continue to do it. Until next time, this is Green Tagged Theme park in 30, we'll see you next week.
For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.