Six Flags CEO: ‘We became a cheap day care center for teenagers’

Six Flags CEO: ‘We became a cheap day care center for teenagers’

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Six Flags revealed it has shed nearly 2 million customers during the past year – a drop that came partly because of an initiative to weed out “rowdy teenagers,” according to the company’s CEO.

The Arlington, Texas-based theme park’s shares tumbled 18% to $21.12 on Thursday after it disclosed that attendance at its 27 parks was down 22% from a year ago to 6.7 million in the quarter ended July 3.

The drop came partly because Six Flags has been steadily hiking ticket prices after offering too many discounts this year, Chief executive Selim Bassoul told analysts on a Thursday earnings call.

“So, we only got the discounter or we became a day care center for teenagers,” Bassoul said. “It was a cheap day care center for teenagers during breaks and the summers.”

In response, Six Flags has been hiking prices to reduce the numbers of “rowdy teenagers running around,” he added.

The rowdiness has occasionally turned violent. Last month, a teen was arrested for aggravated assault of a police officer at Great Adventure in Jackson Township, NJ when he pushed a cop who’d been called to the park because of reports of a fight.

Last year, at the Six Flags in Prince George’s County, Md., several fights broke out in the parking lot during Fright Fest. Videos posted on social media showed young women viciously attacking each other, roofs of cars being trampled on and people smashing windows, according to CBS Baltimore.

And in 2017, at the Gurnee, Ill. Six Flags, police were called to the park after teenagers “sucker punched” a 12-year-old when the boy’s mother asked them to tone down their swearing. The teens then attacked the boy’s parents, punching and kicking them, according to media reports at the time.

Multiple fights broke out in Maryland.

Now, Six Flags is ratcheting prices higher as it focuses on “elevating the guest experience,” Bassoul said. Accordingly, the company now expects attendance to be down by between 20% and 25% this year. Total guest spending per person, however, has increased to $63.87 from $51.94 compared to a year ago, the company said.

“We realized that we had discounted too much and we were filling the park” with the wrong kinds of customers, said Bassoul, who became CEO in November after serving on the board since 2020. Meanwhile, the number of families attending the parks has increased by “multiple percentage points” Bassoul said.

Selim Bassoul headshot.
Selim Bassoul was named CEO in November 2021.

“We want to be a park for the middle class and even the lower middle class,” he said. “We believe our demographic is the average income of the US and I’m migrating a little bit from what I call the Kmart, Walmart [customer] to maybe the target customers, if I want to say that.”

Sea World in Orlando, Fla. charges $116 per ticket, according to its website while a ticket to Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ costs about $45, according to the Six Flags website.

“This is a transitional year for Six Flags, as we reset the foundations of our business model to focus on delivering a premium guest experience, while at the same time, correcting for decades of heavy price discounting,” Bassoul said in a Thursday statement.

Six Flags is also looking to improve wait times at its parks which can add up from up to 30 minutes to park, up to 30 minutes to clear security, 15 to 25 minutes to use the restrooms and one to two hours to get food and get on a ride, Bassoul said.

In July, a power outage at its Great Adventure park in New Jersey forced park goers to wait for more than 90 minutes in the scorching heat to enter the park.

Rollercoaster at Six Flags.
A mother and child walking in a swimming pool.

During the past year, the company said it has lost about 2 million season ticket holders who did not renew their membership As a result, total revenue for the quarter decreased by 5% to $24 million, fueled by the the lower attendance and $5 million reduction in sponsorship revenues.

Six Flags officials didn’t respond to requests for additional comment.

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