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May 17, 2022

Make Your Position Known

Make Your Position Known

This week Scott and Philip argue quite a bit over the Six Flags Q1 Earnings and Meow Wolf’s 2 new locations. Plus, are teens convinced about the Metaverse? Show notes:

This week Scott and Philip argue quite a bit over the Six Flags Q1 Earnings and Meow Wolf’s 2 new locations. Plus, are teens convinced about the Metaverse? Show notes:


Philip: From our studios in Portland OR and Tampa, FL, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip, and I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development.

Scott: So, Philip, I'm usually the one traveling you're in Portland. What are you doing in Portland? Tell all the listeners what you're doing in Portland.

Philip: I am here live at the West Coast Halloween Convention where I am a speaker, I had two classes, and I also am here as media doing some content.

Scott: Great, so where can people find this media? I'm assuming on Haunted Attraction Network?

Philip: Yes, of course. Maybe you could follow our new TikTok.

Scott: You have a new TikTok! Yeah! I have a TikTok too, but I'll talk about that later.

Philip: So, we did a few little videos and I'm doing interviews, so there's some content we put out already, immediately. We'll talk about the immediacy later, but there's also some longer-form content that I got that we'll be releasing later.

Scott: Very cool. Well sorry, I just you're in a hotel room your separate from your normal studio, we don't see your home behind you, so I was just I'm just giving you a chance to say where you were and what you were doing. So, that's cool.

Philip: In case anyone was wondering whether I finally took down Christmas decorations. No, I just changed locations.

Scott: So, they're still up, they're just back, you know, in California.

Philip: Well, we are going to talk about TikTok and content and all that later, but I think our first story is that Six Flags hasn't released their Q1 earnings. They said their total revenue for the first quarter increased by %56 million, which is a 68% increase. See, they reported earnings in the first quarter that attendance increased by 25% compared to the same period in 2021. And then of course their $56 million increase in revenue, and the quote here from the CEO says, “We have reoriented our culture to prioritize the guest in everything we do, and we fundamentally believe this will drive significant and sustainable long-term earnings growth.” Which is, I do not agree with that statement at all, it's a basic PR statement. But, you know, again revenue, do we know at all if this is profit?

Scott: Well and again, I don't know, but in fairness, I suggest that you go back and look at this full article, because when I pulled these for the notes, I will say that the quote was significantly longer than this, and it talked about, specifically, things that we've mentioned here on the show; things like staffing, things like training. So, he dug in significantly deeper than this top-line quote brought about. Yes, this is the PR wrap-up for it, and so I totally understand where that would be your hesitation in drinking the Kool-Aid right off the bat. But I strongly urge you to look a little bit deeper into this article because it does have some very specific things that he is targeting. The reason I summed it up here is because I didn't want to spend a ton of time on this, but we had reported with some of the other companies about their first quarters and how they positioned it, and in my opinion, I think this is significantly clearer and maybe the... I like to give us so much more credit than we really deserve.

Philip: They did not hear our anything.

Scott: But maybe they heard our dissing the other people saying, "well, this sounds suspicious. This sounds suspicious." But to your point, it does not say profit, it does say revenue, but the thing I do like is they were very transparent in saying that the attendance jump was driven by increased operating days in Q1 2022, which makes sense because of the pandemic. They told us why, which I thought was a bit more transparent. They also did talk more throughout the course of the article and the reporting, they did talk a little bit more about the money was coming in, and they were, and they were reinvesting that money in the guest-facing experiences and not infrastructure.

Philip: "improving ride throughput by increasing ride uptime and implementing single rider lanes on busy days; improving staffing and training of our team members; upgrading our park appearance," which is what you just said, "including our front gates, restrooms and restaurants; providing better food quality; and offering more guest amenities such as benches, shade structures, and children’s areas."

Scott: So yes, there is significantly more in there and significantly more specifics. Which, quite honestly, if you are a long-term listener, it's all stuff that we've talked about and the importance of it. You know, in the grand scheme, we often think, well is it going to improve the guest experience if we make our front gate look nicer, or if we add more benches? And the truth of the matter is, creature comfort is something that quite often gets overlooked. Companies invest huge amounts in large attractions, which are real sexy from a media standpoint, but when it comes to guest satisfaction and return visitation, things like guest creature comfort are huge, so the ability to include more benches and to make the arrival experience and the queue experience in the rides quicker, faster, easier, smoother, better looking, huge, absolutely huge. So, I think they did it the right way. I do agree there is no profit statement, because with all these improvements did that eat into their profit? But, I think, of all the ones that we've reported on so far, I think it is by far the most transparent.

Philip: I agree with that. I am very curious about the profit. I also think it's definitely one of those is written in that way. To your point, I appreciate that they gave us specifics, I do think that those are all obvious things. Again, we're back to the, you should be paying a living wage. I mean, these are obvious things that they should be investing in, but I also think it's a little bit written in an overly positive way. Like, we don't know what their capacity was during these times. Like, they said it's a 25% increase in capacity, but during that same period, were they open? And what was their capacity if they were capacity locked over across all of the multiple parks, right? So, we don't even know. It's overall positive. I'm just like kind of like, well there's little bits here that are like, were they all open to full capacity anyway? Could you even have had that amount of attendance at that time?

Scott: Well, no, they probably couldn't, but that's why they say point-blank, the attendance was driven by increased operating days. There were days that they weren't open because in Q1 2021 because of the pandemic. So, I mean they don't spell it out in the nasty detail. They do polish it, yes. And Philip, you've taught classes in PR.

Philip: I know.

Scott: You don't write a press release that says, "here's what happened, and it really doesn't mean anything," you have to polish the turtle little bit.

Philip: I would have liked to see the 2019 numbers I guess is what I'm saying. 

Scott: And that's very fair. That's very fair, and I'm sure they're available if you dig further, I was just lazy and it didn't, so I'm sorry.

Philip: It's ok.

Scott: Thank you, thank you for forgiving me.

Philip: OK, anyway. I don't know, speaking of forgiving, this may be a good segue.

Scott: Well, this is in direct response to something that we actually reported on a while back.

Philip: This story comes from Central Track, and it reads, online backlash from Meow Wolf's announcement of two new locations in Texas. The summary here, that Scott put together, we'll read some bits here. " the business venture hasn’t been free from some controversy. With the recent debate over abortion and gender-affirming care for minors, Texas can’t stay off everyone’s lips... and some have seen Meow Wolf’s move as unequivocal support for the state, warts and all. When the announcement hit social media, the posts were met with criticism among the excitement."

"The company made a swift reply to the criticism saying, “Meow Wolf has always stood with marginalized people and that includes LGBTQIA communities and women."

This quote is funny.

"We want to be clear: we are coming to Texas to bring our support, love, and adoration for those communities by supplying jobs, hosting events, supporting artists, and doing everything we can to give space and time and resources to the communities of Texas facing the most backlash,” they put that their Instagram.

In their original post, apparently, they said y'all means y'all, y'all means everyone. So...

Scott: I will tell you, I was in Houston when this announcement came out, and Houston is one of the locations. Yes, it is Grapevine, TX, and Houston, TX are the two new locations for Meow Wolf. I will say that although the local news media did not pick up on the much longer statemen, local news media did pick up on y'all means y'all, y'all means todos, y'all means y'everyone. So, the media picked up on that and there were even static banners on social media that just said, "y'all means y'all" with their new Texas boot logo, which actually is a boot with like an opal in the front of it which is projecting out the fantasy worlds that they're going to create in these two new locations. So, this goes back to something that we had said a while back and that was, you know you have to make certain that you make a clear statement of where you are and what you're doing. I'm not 100% certain that they even anticipated that moving to Texas, based on Texas view, was going to have negative feedback. They should have probably thought about it.

Philip: They should've thought about it.

Scott: But again, there's multiple states, it would have been very challenging to open pretty much anywhere without something being controversial about it. I do like the fact that when it became controversial, although I do think they should have been out in front of it, the moment it became controversial, they jumped on it, they made it clear what their position was, and they did it in a very positive manner. Again, they didn't, "shut up, we disagree with you." They did throw in jobs, they did throw in economy which I think is fair because nothing is ever one-sided or the other. I love the shortened version of y'all, means y'all.

Philip: I think I might take the unpopular opinion on this one, or the opposite opinion. A, they should have known. Anyone who doesn't know is not paying attention. Again, I think this is a theme when it comes to me and Meow Wolf, even though it's a different person now, but I just feel like there's no excuse. I think the excuse that they used to have, "we're just artists from New Mexico who pull stuff out of the trash and make sculptures out of it. We didn't expect, we didn't even know there were theme parks." That kind of naiveté thing, I think you can't play that anymore once you've gone through and got funding and done this. I don't think there's an excuse now for the, "we didn't know," type of naivete type of thing. They should have known this is going to cause backlash. They clearly did know it because they put it into the post.

See, I don't agree with this move. No, I'm sorry. The way that you show support for this stuff is through your pocketbooks if you are a company, and through what you do. Building a new division here in this area is not going to do anything. Their statement about, "We want to be clear: we are coming to Texas to bring our support, love, and adoration for those communities by supplying jobs, hosting events, supporting artists..." blah, blah, blah, that doesn't prove that you're going to do anything. Also, you're not a non-profit, you are not a trained facilitator who is trained in advocacy to support that. I don't buy any of that at all, like I don't buy it at all.

Scott: So, you’re saying they should not be in Texas?

Philip: Yes, 100%.

Scott: Even Houston.

Philip: Mm-hmm, sorry.

Scott: Look at the map.

Philip: I know, I understand, I know what you're saying.

Scott: Look at the map. That's like saying, OK, then, let's pull Disney out of Orlando, because Florida is the exact same way, trust me, I know I'm here. But Orlando itself is not... If you look at any map during an election and you look at blue versus red, if you want to go down that route.

Philip: I know what you're saying, yes, I know there's a blue.

Scott: You're throwing out the baby with the bathwater, Philip. That's not fair.

Philip: But look at the difference in the approaches here. This is where I will give Disney credit, even though they fumbled in that first thing. When they came back into it, they released a plan that was like, "this is the funding we are going to do. This is how we're supporting our LGBTQA staff members." Like, they give specific actionable things and Meow Wolf is an experience driven on art, and I think there's possibility, there's opportunity there, but we're not hearing any of that outline. They're basically just saying, we're going to just continue doing what we're doing, which is to build our experience for immersive experiences that make money. They're not giving us an actual plan as to how they're going to help those communities, and that's the difference between what Disney did and what they're doing.


Scott: I think the difference between what Disney did and what they're doing is that Disney has a far more experienced and far more well-paid marketing department, and they were able to put it together in language that you felt was much more appropriate. I think what Meow Wolf was able to do, I think they're saying the same things...

Philip: So, Meow Wolf can't hire a PR team now they have serious funding?

Scott: I don't think they have... You're telling me they have the same funding as Disney?

Philip: I'm telling you that now that they have a lot more funding than a lot of other companies.

Scott: Agreed.

Philip: They have enough resources to hire a team.

Scott: No wait, you cannot make a comparison and then say a lot of other companies. You just made the comparison between Meow Wolf and Disney, so let's stick there before we start going off on other tangents.

Philip: OK, you need one good PR person to craft a good statement and to tell you that you should be giving an impactful plan, detailed plan, that you just said literally earlier, you said what you like about the Six Flags things, that they have a plan. That's what I'm asking for here, they didn't give. You need one PR person to tell you that, you don't need an entire team. They can afford one PR person.

Scott: Well and to your point, they have to get the right PR person. I just think you are painting with a very broad brush and you're making all Texans agree with the governor, which I think is unfair.

Philip: I didn't say that all Texans agree with the governor, I said that as a company when you are building a new location for an attraction to bring in tourism, literally, tourism is one of the things that benefits the entire state, it's very tied in with local government.

Scott: So, liberal Houston has to suffer because of the rest of the state?

Philip: I think that that is where we are right now. We've talked about this multiple times, no company can get out of this. The biggest decision you have right now as a company is these business decisions, where you choose to put your money. I would even give them a bit more slack if they had already had a facility built in Houston and they were trying to figure out whether or not to close or not or pull out or not. But I think the situation now, which is they are a place that is going in to build an entirely new facility, that's where, for me, the line is drawn. Because it's a whole new facility, it's a tourism thing, it's going to bring in money, you're literally just supporting the local governments in the areas like I don't... No. I think they should at least have said, "we're going to bring our concerns to the governor and we're going to at least take proposals for other locations from other places and then we're going to examine our options." At least even then it shows some attempt at like, "hey?"

Scott: Well, I'm sure they did, quite honestly, because they're not going to randomly decide, they're not going to throw a pin at a map and decide where they're going to go, there are going to be feasibility studies. I mean, that's just business 101, you know they've done that. I want to go even further...

Philip: We don't know they've done that just as a point of fact, because they didn't say that they have done it. I agree with you, I guess maybe this goes back to my PR point then.

Scott: You have a bias against Meow Wolf.

Philip: I might.

Scott: No, you said it earlier. You have a bias against Meow Wolf. So, I think that tarnishes what you're saying here just a tad. I want to take it even further. Does that mean that, because I have clients in Texas, does that mean I should not do work as a consultant in Texas? Is that what you're saying?

Philip: Are those clients building new?

Scott: They're continuing to expand, it's Space Center, Houston, they're continuing to expand, and that's why they're bringing me in. No, they did not buy new land, but they are continuing to try to bring in more and more revenue, more and more tourism to the Houston area.

Philip: I think that, for me, it's a separate issue because there's not the idea of buying a new piece of land and developing a new area. That's the line for me, because I think that then if you already have an established place where you already have workers, it would hurt the local community more if you're losing all these jobs and you're losing this facility that already exists. If there's no facility that exists...

Scott: OK, then let's dig into this. The Grapevine location is actually going into an abandoned Anchor store in a large mall complex. So, what they're basically doing is taking a dormant place that lost jobs when it went out and bringing those jobs back. Does that change your opinion at all?

Philip: No, that actually makes me more upset.

Scott: Because they're coming in to give more jobs to a local economy?

Philip: Because those are the type of problems that the government should be fixing if there's areas that are that need to attract it and you don't need to do the job for them. Sorry, no.

Scott: Wow.

Philip: I know, I told you I was going to take this really unpopular opinion.

Scott: I'm surprised I'm really surprised that you, as the liberal that you are, are anti-job, because that's what you're saying.

Philip: Not what I'm saying, but I want to move on. I think the takeaway for me is that I don't agree with the approach of this. I think they should have known. We can argue about their PR team or whatever, blah blah blah. I think they should have known that this was going to happen based on the situation they're in. I think that the biggest impact we can have as companies, right now, is when we're doing this new investment... These are big choices that we have, that's where I'm landing on this.

Scott: OK.

Philip: So, Scott is not convinced about this.

Scott: I think your bias is showing, that's all.

Philip: That's fine, you know, I don't mind you know? OK.

Scott: We'll agree to disagree.

Philip: We'll agree to disagree. You have not convinced me?

Scott: Nor have you.

Philip: You know who else is not convinced, Scott? Apparently, teens aren't convinced that the metaverse is the future of social media.

Scott: I'm 100% in agreement with that.

Philip: This story is from Fast Company. Some of the information here, with half of the 7100 teens that were surveyed in a new research project said they were unsure or had zero intention of purchasing a device to access the Metaverse, such as a virtual reality headset. Meanwhile, just 9% said they were interested to the point of making a purchase, and 26% said they said they already own a device. Of that 26%, only 5% entered the Metaverse daily, and 82% less than a few times per month. Other information from this article. They also named Amazon as their favorite e-commerce site, and Nike as secret clothing and footwear, and Chick-fil-A as their favorite restaurant, which is concerning. Interest in plant-based meats slipped slightly from last year, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine topped the list of social concerns, which also included the government, gas prices, and inflation of course. That shows that teens are not blind to those things. While TikTok may still be iffy on web three, they're big fans of Web 2, namely TikTok, which for the first-time superseded Snapchat as the favorite social media app. Again, not surprising, TikTok is a thing.

Very quickly I want to paint a big macro point here, and this is just one of my theories, I think that, as we saw streaming leached the value from cable TV and broadcast television, we're going to see TikTok leech the value from traditional streaming like Netflix. So, I'm not talking about places that are rundles, as in Amazon where they don't get their money off of the streaming for Amazon, they get it off of you purchasing your Prime and the shipping combination, so I think that they'll they're more insulated. But I think that the pay subscription model of Netflix, the value from that will be leeched into TikTok, because TikTok is free for the user, and also the content is free to TikTok because the users are making content for free, TikTok isn't paying them, and Netflix is dropping $17 billion this year in original content creation. So, that's like a $17 million bonus that TikTok just has that they don't have to put content in. When you look at the engagement times for TikTok, even though the content is short, the watch sessions are getting up there. I think that if that trend continues, they will be kind of like as long as the Netflix binge, that would just be on TikTok with short-form video. So, it kind of shows us that the type of medium is not... you know if it's shorter that doesn't mean that they're spending less time on the platform.

Scott: You know, I'm so glad we agree again, 'cause it's so much nicer when we do, but the truth of the matter is yes, I agree with you 100%. I think there's one other factor in there. I think that, in the realm of TikTok, the content is, not directly, but indirectly interactive. So, in other words, if a company puts something out on TikTok and they use the TikTok platform, people can respond to it in by creating their own content regarding whatever the issue was that they were talking about. So, it puts the viewer and the and the company on equal footing as far as being able to present or provide content, it may not be the same quality, but I'm not sure that the average TikTok watcher user really cares about the high production value as much as they care about the fact that they can be heard or seen, or see or hear.

Philip: Before we get into the TikTok thing, I do want to reply to the initial piece of it, which was about the metaverse. We kind of went to the TikTok thing because I think we didn't talk about that previously. I almost don't agree with this article either, gosh I'm in the mood today. I don't agree with this article because people say that it's "here already." It's not, we're not even really at Web 3 yet. I believe that when the Metaverse becomes ubiquitous that there won't even be... It's just like right now, if you ask somebody, "do you use Wi-Fi?" And people are like, "what? Like duh." I mean, that's where it's going to be. It's going to be so ubiquitous you won't even sometimes know. So, it's not going to be like this production where people are like, "I'm entering the metaverse." It's more going to be like interoperability between platforms, and a lot of it will be behind the scenes where you won't even see it. So, you won't even really know. Just like right now, you're not really knowing which cell phone tower you're pinging off of, that's going to be how it's going to work.

So, I just disagree with the entire positioning of it. Like this presupposes that the teens know what the Metaverse is or that there's currently a metaverse to go into. I disagree with that. I actually think it's going to eventually become like Ready Player One, and I do think that when it is at that level and it's ubiquitous in that way, everybody will use it by default.

Scott: So, that's not what I got from this article. I agree with what you just said, but what I got from this article is, I think everybody was anticipating that Gen Z were going to be the ones who were going to usher in the metaverse. I think it's a timing situation. This article was specifically about Gen Z, and I don't know what the next generation after that is called. Who's somebody but born, what is it, after 2012? What is that? I don't know whatever that generation is.

I think I think what this article was saying was, not so much that the metaverse is baloney and is not going to happen. I think what it was saying was Gen Z, which was supposedly in many people's views who was going to be taking advantage and ushering in the wonderful world of the Metaverse are not the right people. It's not going to be them. Because I agree with you Philip, I don't think it's there in its fullest yet, and I don't think we have seen fully what it is, what it's going to be, or how it's going to evolve and push forward. What it said to me was, don't put your eggs in the metaverse basket yet. What it said was, the metaverse is coming, but it's not going to be the Gen Zs that you think it's going to be, so don't move all of your payroll into Bitcoin, and don't, you know, move everything. It's not there yet, we're not there yet. We're not there yet because the very young adults have not embraced it yet. Gen Z has not brought it into their realm yet.

So, I don't think that the article is wrong in its statement, it's just more focused. I mean it's in the article title, the teens aren't convinced yet. So, what that means is, as this continues to evolve, in order to be on bleeding edge, it's going to be the next generation that's going to have to make that determination, does that make sense? Because I agree with you, it's not there. The Metaverse is not there fully.

Philip: Yeah, and something that I glossed over in my description too was that they specifically say purchasing a device to access the Metaverse, such as a virtual reality headset. I do think that kind of boxes in the answer. So, I agree, like I agree with your point that like that's really not, but also still to explain more. Yeah, like if you're asking specifically a teen, are you going to buy like an Oculus to access the Metaverse? Obviously, not. Like why not? Well, they're clunky, they're expensive, like blah, blah, blah. Yes, but like I'm just saying that's not the key to the metaverse, because it's not really fully done yet. It's not going to be limited to that kind of like having to buy an Oculus type of thing and put it on clunkily. There's going to be other ways, and it's going to be more ubiquitous than that. But I think in the context of this article, obviously if the question they were asking is, "are you buying an Oculus to get into the "Metaverse?" And the kids are like no, it's like well of course not, because half of them can't afford it and also like it's clunky.

Scott: What's interesting is the majority of the kids who were, and I can say kids because I'm an old guy, but the majority of young people who were interviewed were also gamers who are very comfortable with the Oculus mentality, and would buy an Oculus to play games, but not necessarily buy an Oculus to access the Metaverse, in fact, many of them owned Oculuses. So, I think your point is very valid in the fact that if you're saying would you buy this device specifically to enter the Metaverse, the answer is probably no. But would you buy this device if it was the best way to play XYZ immersive game? Then yes. So, they still have made the leap, and again, I'm extrapolating a bit here, but I think they still haven't made the leap between this is my play world and this is my real world. I don't think they've made that leap yet, because I don't think, to your point, Philip, I don't think the real world of the metaverse has been fully defined yet. But the alternative appears to be TikTok for the moment.

Philip: Yeah, there's one story that we're not going to get to, but we'll have in the show notes, which is a piece written for BlooLoop about Gen Z and TikTok, a game-changer for visitor attractions. To summarize, I think that it's basically just talking about using TikTok to promote the exhibits Small is Beautiful exhibit opening in London and just kind of you have the TikToks and then the people who come and experience them in real life. I don't, I guess... God, I'm so sassy. This is one of the things I'm like, yes, we have been talking about this for quite a while. It's not new. I also think that I've done case about this too we've talked about on the show already about haunted houses, even, that do special TikToks with the characters and the characters are available for meeting greets at the event. That's a whole other show at this point of time, but TikTok is a thing.

Scott: Suffice to say that you just opened a new TikTok account and started putting content up. Share the TikTok handle.

Philip: It's Haunted Attractions.

Scott: There you go. It's funny because I just did one too. So, if you go to HauntDaddy13, that's my TikTok, I just started it and I have zero followers at the moment. So, if you find it, let me know and I'll start putting stuff on it, other than pictures of my dog.

But we are out of time for this particular episode of Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, we'll call it a very confrontational one, but Philip and I still like each other. So, until next week this is Philip Hernandez and Scott Swenson from Green Tag Theme Park in 30. Thank you for listening, tell everybody, and we'll see you next week.

Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

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.