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Six Flags plans to buy rather than build its way to a bigger U.S. footprint

A Six Flags North American expansion plan could see the “thrill capital of the universe” snap up neighboring amusement parks and water parks in a bid to grow the chain’s geographical footprint, drive up attendance and increase spending.

brady mcdonaldBy Brady MacDonald

The Texas-based amusement park giant hopes to acquire, operate or lease existing parks within a two- to three-hour drive of its more than two dozen properties in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“There are dozens of parks within reasonable driving distance of our existing portfolio in the U.S. These these parks generate hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue,” Six Flags CEO Jim Reid-Anderson said during a recent quarterly earnings call.

With Six Flags properties in the top 10 U.S. markets, the company’s buy-rather-than-build strategy puts many theme parks and water parks across the country in play.

“We are focused on finding parks in our current markets as well as in the feeder markets to our current theme parks,” Six Flags senior vice president of U.S. park operations Tom Iven told Blooloop.

jim reid-anderson six flags ceo president
Jim Reid-Anderson

The plan promotes cross visitation between neighboring parks, Iven said in an email interview. It gives existing season passholders another park to visit. It also allows Six Flags to sign up new season passholders and sell more dining pass memberships.

The seven smaller parks

Six Flags has added seven smaller theme parks and water parks at a “very low cost” in the past two years, Reid-Anderson said during an earnings call. The seven parks are:

  • Darien Lake near Buffalo, New York brought back Fright Fest in 2018 and brings back Six Flags to its name in 2019
  • Frontier City in Oklahoma CIty offered Fright Fest and Holiday in the Park during a newly-extended shoulder season in 2018
  • White Water Bay water park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Wet ‘n’ Wild Splashtown water park in Houston, Texas
  • Wet ‘n’ Wild Phoenix water park in Phoenix, Arizona
  • Waterworld California water park in Concord, California
  • Magic Waters water park in Rockford, Illinois begins a lease agreement with Six Flags in Spring 2019

Magic Waters waterparks six flags

All but one of the properties, Wet n’ Wild Phoenix, formerly fell under the Six Flags umbrella.

Frontier City and White Water Bay create a new market for Six Flags in Oklahoma City that’s within driving distance of the chain’s Texas birthplace.

Magic Waters will add a second Six Flags-branded water park in Illinois associated with Six Flags Great America. Great America already has a Hurricane Harbor water park. Six Flags plans to replicate the twin water park strategy. “We can have more than one waterpark associated with each of our theme parks,” Iven said.

Tom Iven Six Flags North American expansion
Tom Iven

With the new properties, Six Flags adds 20 million potential visitors within a 100-mile radius of one of the chain’s parks. This brings the total market potential to 200 million visitors, Iven said.

The recent expansion fits into Six Flags’ strategic plan to continue growing the chain’s North American footprint, Iven said.

“We are primarily looking at water parks, but we are also open to acquiring smaller amusement parks that complement our theme parks,” said Iven.

Quality over quantity

So what parks are in play? Six Flags won’t say.

“We are looking for quality over quantity,” said Iven, who began his Six Flags career in 1976 as a street sweeper at Six Flags St. Louis. He is now responsible for the management of all SIx Flags parks in the U.S.

Six Flags’ largest parks draw 3 million or more visitors annually. They are Magic Mountain (3.3 million), Great Adventure (3.2 million) and Great America (3.0 million).

Six Flags magic Mountain Colossus
Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain

If Six Flags is looking for smaller amusement parks, then Disney and Universal parks are obviously not on the table. Cedar Fair, SeaWorld/Busch Gardens and Herschend all have parks that draw similar attendance numbers as Six Flags parks.

Cedar Fair’s Kings Island, Cedar Point and Knott’s Berry Farm draw in the 3.5 million to 4 million range each year. SeaWorld’s flagship park in Florida attracts 3.9 million visitors annually. Herschend’s three parks — Dollywood, Silver Dollar City and Wild Adventures — draw fewer than 3 million visitors per year.

Two thirds of Cedar Fair’s 11 parks are within a 2- to 3-hour drive of a Six Flags park. So are a majority of the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks. Same goes for all of the Herschend parks.

A brief Facebook post by the Themed Reality blog in November suggested Six Flags was in talks to purchase SeaWorld Entertainment. This news quickly spread to mainstream media. Six Flags and SeaWorld officials have yet to comment on the unsubstantiated speculation.

Six Flags operates in about a dozen U.S. states in the Northeast, Midwest, Texas and California. The chain’s biggest theme park gaps are in Florida and Ohio.

justice League ride Six Flags Magic Mountain Sally Corp voted Best Clone of a Theme Park attraction by usa today
Justice League at Six Flags Magic Mountain

The Six Flags North American expansion plan?

So what theme parks are within a 2- to 3-hour drive of a Six Flags park? Let’s take a closer look at similar-sized and smaller theme parks within 200 miles of a Six Flags location.

Six Flags Over Georgia

Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee), Carowinds (Charlotte, South Carolina), Wild Adventures (Valdosta, Georgia), Lake Winnie (Rossville, Georgia) and the shuttered Ghost Town in the Sky (Maggie Valley, North Carolina) are all within driving distance of the Six Flags park outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

The Six Flags park in Northern California is within 100 miles of California’s Great America (Santa Clara), Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Gilroy Gardens.

Discovery Kingdom is about 20 miles from the newly Six Flags-branded Waterworld California water park in Concord.

Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Six Flags Magic Mountain

The Six Flags park in Southern California is within 150 miles of SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California (Carlsbad) and Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park).

The newly Six Flags-branded Wet ‘n’ Wild Phoenix water park in Phoenix, Arizona is about 400 miles from Magic Mountain.

Six Flags Great America

Mt. Olympus (Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin) and Indiana Beach (Monticello) are both within driving distance of the Six Flags park outside of Chicago, Illinois. Michigan’s Adventure (Muskegon) is across Lake Michigan from Great America. There are more than 20 indoor and outdoor water parks in Wisconsin Dells, dubbed the Waterpark Capital of the World.

The soon-to-be Six Flags-branded Magic Waters water park in Rockford, Illinois is about 100 miles from Great America.

six flags fright fest
Fright Fest

Six Flags America

The Washington, D.C. area Six Flags park is 2- to 3-hours from two Virginia theme parks. These are Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion (Doswell). Pennsylvania is the heart of America’s coaster belt. The state boasts a bevy of smaller parks. These include Hersheypark, Dorney Park (Allentown), Kennywood (West Mifflin), Knoebels (Elysburg), Idlewild (Ligonier), Conneaut Lake, Waldameer (Erie) and DelGrosso’s (Tipton). The world’s oldest roller coaster, Leap the Dips, is at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The New Jersey shore is home to many small oceanfront parks.

Six Flags New England

Coney Island (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Playland (Rye, N.Y.), Canobie Lake (New Hampshire), Lake Compounce (Connecticut) and Quassy (Connecticut) are all within driving distance of the Six Flags park in Massachusetts.

Six Flags St. Louis

The Six Flags park in Missouri is within driving distance of two other parks in the state. They are Silver Dollar City (Branson) and World of Fun (Kansas City). The Schlitterbahn water park chain has a location in Kansas City.

Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Fiesta Texas

harley quinn spinsanity six flags

Fiesta Texas is 15 miles from SeaWorld San Antonio. The newly Six Flags-branded Frontier City and White Water Bay in Oklahoma City are about 200 miles from Six Flags Over Texas. Wet ‘n’ Wild Splashtown in Houston adds a Six Flags water park within driving distance of the chain’s amusement parks in the San Antonio and Fort Worth areas. Wet ‘n’ Wild has another Texas water park location near El Paso. Texas-based Schlitterbahn has water parks in New Braunfels, Galveston Island, South Padre Island and Corpus Christi.

It’s important to note, none of parks or chains mentioned in this story have expressed interest in selling any properties. Similarly, Six Flags has not publicly identified any parks that the company is interested in acquiring, operating or leasing.

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brady mcdonald

Brady MacDonald

Brady MacDonald is a freelance writer based in California. He wrote the Funland theme park blog for the Los Angeles Times for a decade. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, New York Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Seattle Times, Orlando Sentinel and Orange County Register.

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