Last week, a rumour circulated in the theme park industry. It suggested that discussions were taking place within the Six Flags corporate office regarding the possibility of selling off Six Flags over Texas along with up to two other parks in the chain to another established theme park company.
By Lance Hart, Screamscape
A little more light digging revealed that that the established company involved in the talks was possibly Herschend Family Entertainment, the company behind the Silver Dollar City and Dollywood theme parks, along with a portfolio of other known attractions.
As the man behind the Screamscape.com news site for the past twenty years, I was immediately intrigued. I just had to know more. After all, Screamscape has long been famous for our rumour reports; often digging up very juicy information long before the official announcements are made. This wasn’t my rumour however, and was not first leaked by Screamscape. Nevertheless, it had a large group of my contacts also buzzing.
Rumours vs. The Truth
The problem here was that the story was false. There were no current talks with Six Flags about selling off a few of their parks happening at all. According to an update from the original source of the rumour, they claimed that the rumoured talks did happen briefly. However, this happened some time ago and it was no longer an item up for consideration.
Rumours are a funny thing. And after dealing with them for so long, I like to think that I’ve learned enough about the industry to typically tell the difference between the truth and a fantasy when someone comes claiming to have the inside scoop on something. Most “bad” rumours can be spotted quite easily.
For example, when the story being told just doesn’t make sense, or seems too far fetched to be true. Some of these bad rumours have even achieved a bit of legendary status, becoming a running joke for many insiders. Such as the ongoing joke at Cedar Point about how “Magnum is sinking”.
This rumour was a bit different than most. The idea that Six Flags was considering to sell the very first Six Flags park ever built just seems bonkers on the surface. And yet this rumour gained considerable traction in the industry over the weekend before being snuffed out by the source. How did this happen? Because sometimes, even the most strange sounding story can be based on some very interesting truths.
In this case, digging deeper into this rumour were claims that the sale concept was pitched by the minority owners of Six Flags Over Texas. These were owners who were dissatisfied with the current management of the park by the Six Flags corporate office. If this story sounds familiar at all, it should, because the same thing happened back in the late ‘90s.
The group of original investors/stockholders that backed the building of Six Flags Over Texas were unhappy with the way the park was being run under Time Warner’s ownership of the Six Flags Theme Parks chain. They used their influence to organise talks for a buyout of the original Six Flags Over Texas park to that era’s Premier Parks company. There were also rumours at the time that a similar movement was brewing with the minority owners of Six Flags Over Georgia as well after winning a lawsuit settlement against the corporate office over the installation of the used ‘Viper’ coaster at that park in 1995.
Mystery partners of Six Flags
The short-lived uprising movement was quickly put to rest. This was when Time Warner offered to simply sell off the entire chain to Premier Parks, along with a license deal for their characters. At the time, it was expected that as Premier Parks became the “new” Six Flags company, they would buy out the remaining local shareholders from both parks in order to make these two parks fully corporate owned. Unfortunately, it looked like that never happened.
The former Premier Parks management team grew the chain too fast and found themselves in bankruptcy. This lead to another management team who also stumbled along the way, before giving way to today’s corporate structure.
So do these mystery partners really still exist? According to the official Six Flags annual reports, both Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Over Georgia still mention that the parks are not fully owned by the company, but are listed as ‘leasehold interest’ instead, with a note that the “Lessor is the limited partner of the partnership that owns the park” with the leases of the Georgia park set to expire in 2027 and the Texas park in 2028.
At that time Six Flags will be given the option to “acquire all the interest in the respective lessor that we have not previously acquired.”
Strange Six Flags rumours
Adding another piece of reality to the puzzle was the possible identity of the mystery third park that could have been involved. This I believe would have been the Six Flags White Water waterpark in Atlanta. Again, according to the annual report, Six Flags does not own this park by itself. Instead, that particular property is listed as being, “Owned by the Georgia partnership”. Digging into that park’s history reveals that while the waterpark was actually built by Herschend themselves in the mid 80’s, they sold the park in 1999 to a “group of limited partners that own the nearby Six Flags Over Georgia theme park”.
So as strange as this rumour was, there was a history of similar action from the partners. This, along with just the right kind of ownership issues behind these three parks that could actually make just such a deal an item that could have been brought up for consideration once upon a time.
In the end, nothing is happening. No parks are changing hands, no deals are being struck. And the rumour is false, for now at least. Yet, this particular rumour strikes me as being special. Not only did it catch the eyes and imagination of so many people over the weekend, but it does provide an excellent example of Mark Twain’s old adage, that the “Truth is stranger than fiction. But it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”