The best fan sites are fired by red-hot zeal. They whisper rumours, drop hints and leak information that the business media may be loath to print. The sizeable fan community furnishes these sites with a stream of dedicated foot soldiers engaging in constant speculative analysis and field research. They especially love roller coasters. I love reading them and I think half the indsutry does. Operators’ intentions are hypothesized, inner corporate workings somehow divined and company pronouncements analysed to the nth degree. Potential alterations to rides are greeted with unrestrained horror or excited hyperventilation. An industry bigwig parts his hair to the left and questions are asked.
The big, successful companies in any industry will always be under the microscope, and such intense scrutiny from the community can have its positive side in bringing important things to public attention. Powerful companies – and people – have been known on occasion to ride roughshod over the rules and regulations to which mere mortals subscribe.
The line between “professional” and “enthusiast” in the world of themed attractions is blurry, to be sure. Plenty of our enthusiasts are parks workers. Plenty of our professionals grew up as diehard coaster and dark ride fiends who resolved, at a tender age, to make their careers in the industry. The season passes they hold are not just for “research, ” not just a concession to the desires of their children.
The foot soldiers of the enthusiast community visit parks and attractions regularly and their word-of-mouth can be valuable marketing for the parks. Their thumbs-up or -down for a particular ride can be a powerful tool in effecting the success or indeed transformation if necessary of the same.
On the other hand I have also heard mutterings from within the industry that operators pay too much heed to the streams of commentary that issue from the enthusiasts’ media vehicles. Is too much weight given to the feedback from such groups? However numerous and vocal, are they representative of the overall guest community? If an operator is looking to attract families with young children for example, the members of an on-line coaster fan group are probably not a typical cross-section of the park’s visitors. What is lame to “Coasterboi84” might be a delightful all-round experience for Joe Bloggs, his 2.4 children and their grandparents.
I encountered some Star Wars enthusiasts once. In NY for the weekend I was out late and passed an enormous queue outside a cinema in Manhattan. I walked by the entrance and asked the guy on the door what it was about, he told me it was for the eagerly anticipated new Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace. Noting my sweet and dulcet Mancunian tones (overriding my spell check here; I was almost Manchurian) he asked me if I was English and after a brief chat let me in to see the film. Next morning at JFK I joined the long and weary queue for the plane home and realised that well over half of the line were dressed as characters from the Star Wars Galaxy. There was a number of Skywalkers, a smattering of Chewbaccas, Princess Leias with their cinnamon-danish style hair cuts and one poor guy in a home-made R2D2 costume. Outside the airport building, in the open air, a tall figure in black leaned against a wall, Darth Vader having a fag, smoking it through his grill.
As Yoda might say, “Enthusiasts. We are all.”