Thursday, January 23, 2020

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #186 - A Long Weekend Trip

The dead speak!

Joe is joined by guest Kyle to discuss their long weekend trips over Marathon Weekend. Kyle talks about his first visit to Universal in 23 years, including The Wizarding World and reuniting with ET. Then Joe talks a little about his experience at Disney's Hollywood Studios and riding Star Wars Rise of the Resistance.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Super Nintendo World Update

Yesterday morning in Japan, Universal Creative's Theirry Coup unveiled the first real details and information on Super Nintendo World coming this summer to Universal Studios Japan. Lets tackle some of the information in bite-size chunks.

Photo courtesy Kurumi Mori of Bloomberg.

No Limit!

Universal Studios Japan is launching their new advertising and marketing push for the park. "No Limit!" is the new slogan, highlighting the energy and elation one will feel at the park. USJ Marketing Director Ayumu Yamamoto stated if Disney is for those who want a dream world then they want Universal to make you be awake and feel alive. Talk about a shot across the bow.

Image copyright Universal Studios Japan 2020

Power Up Band

Super Nintendo World will be loaded with interactive games and activities. Guests will climb, jump, and run as they score coins and defeat bosses. How will they do this? With the Power Up Band, a snap-bracelet with a RFID component that will track all your progress. Punch a Question Mark block with the band on? You'll get coins! While not confirmed at this time at the bands could interact with Nintendo products that can read Amiibo.

The bands will be for purchase but will likely cost less than a MagicBand at Walt Disney World or an interactive wand at the Wizarding World. 

Copyright Universal Studios Japan 2020.

Super Nintendo World App

To track all your achievements, coins, and unlocks a new Super Nintendo World app is in development. When launched the app will let you track progress and battle bosses based on real interactions in the land. 

More Information Soon

Yamamoto-san stated there will be a larger event in New York City in February 2020 where more information will be shared including an opening date. We expect more details on the attractions in the land along with a global launch of the Super Nintendo World projects. 

We Are Born to Play

In the weirdest part of it all Nintendo and Universal unveiled a preview of the land as a music video by Galantis and Charli XCX. Yeah it's really random but it's also a top trending video on YouTube with almost one million views within less than 24 hours.

Monday, January 13, 2020

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Dick Kinzel - Roller Coaster King of Cedar Point Amusement Park"

It’s tough to think of the regional theme park scene from any point in recent memory and not think of Dick Kinzel, former CEO of Cedar Fair and GM of Cedar Point. A giant in his prime, Kinzel managed to consume CBS/Paramount’s theme park division, beat back a well capitalized Six Flags, expand a single park in coastal Ohio into a major international theme park chain. Tim O’Brien, a former Ripley’s creative and writer for Amusement Today, began working on a series of biographies of theme park legends sometime ago and Kinzel was a natural choice. His rise from selling popcorn to running the parks was meteoric and proof of the American Dream to some. Others saw him as a villain responsible for damaging the charm of parks he consumed while being wildly out of touch as the years went on.

The book is not a total puff piece, though it clearly shows that it was likely approved by Dick himself, and extensive interviews were done with him regarding the development of not just his early career, but of the coasters he’s best known for building and transactions that he both took part in and those which ultimately fell through. I do think that in the end, reasonably objective readers can come to their own conclusions about his intent, his specialties, his ethos, etc.


How Does It Read?: It’s a simple read consisting of 111 pages of real text. You don’t need to have an MBA or PhD to read it. Why should you? Neither did Dick Kinzel, who attended one year of college, dropped out, and achieved more than most of us could ever hope to. That being said, if you’re specifically looking to read about Disney or Universal, or if you are only interested in the parts dealing with Knotts, you’ll probably be underwhelmed by the book’s focus on things that aren’t those (though amused that Dick wasn’t considered good enough to get an interview with Walt Disney World).

Will I Learn Anything?: At the very least, it will confirm countless stories told throughout the years from coaster enthusiasts - that Bandit at Yomiuriland was the inspiration for Magnum, that a board member pressured the decision to build Magnum at 200 ft, that Cedar Point discussed mergers with Six Flags and buyouts of tons of other parks, and so on. That’s a very surface level read.

For me, this also confirmed a lot of suspicions I had about why it was that certain beliefs were reinforced in the coaster community: Kinzel held a lot of sway and openly admits that he sought after advice from coaster enthusiasts for new attractions since they had the expertise of having been on many. That’s a two way street however: coaster enthusiasts also knew Kinzel was wildly successful and tended to take away from his understanding of the industry what the “right” and “wrong” things were to do. And that leads me to the last section of my reviews...

Did You Take Anything Away From This?: Oh did I ever. Let me be clear: Dick Kinzel was a very good CEO for Cedar Fair for a long time. And then criticisms of him later on in his career are also correct. What’s often totally lost on those “smart” enthusiasts is an understanding of just why he was a good CEO and why that was a bad fit for him later on when Cedar Fair was, for several years, the largest domestic US regional park operator. Kinzel understood how to cut costs and how to produce large margins when taking existing infrastructure. He intimately grasped the ways in which one could find synergies both at a micro and macro level to extend the profitability of Cedar Point and Valleyfair when in charge of both, as well as to find methods by which he could extend stays and increase per capita spending. In turn, discussion of theme park business by enthusiasts has almost always concerned increasing per capita spending above all else. This was revisited in the brief Mark Shapiro era of Six Flags too.

What is not grasped is that while Kinzel was absolutely great at doing this, he lacked the acumen to understand how this positioned Cedar Fair. By being cash rich, Cedar Fair nearly wound up consumed by private capital in the early 1980s and had to be privately bought out and turned into a limited partnership, a decision that has made it exceedingly difficult from a taxation perspective for Cedar Fair to merge with any other theme park operators in the present day. Without that push from fellow large shareholders and Kinzel himself throwing in his money, he’d have been out of a job and the business model the parks operated under at that point tossed away in order to mine the company for liquidity.

Still cash rich afterward, Cedar Fair began the process of buying independent parks, and later acquiring Paramount’s chain as well as Six Flags Ohio. This showed another concern with Kinzel: while he had been outstanding in terms of obtaining return on investment with his coasters early on and was doing this capital investment using basically nothing more than cash on hand, building up debt even on a sure thing like the Paramount parks was outside his knowledge base. Rather than learn how they worked, Kinzel instead tried to force them to operate like his own facilities. Remember what I said about how discussion of business in theme park fandom circles is related to per capital spending: those parks lost 10% of their attendance their first year of ownership in order to try and move them from passholder-heavy to single day ticket usage. That strategy was ultimately tossed out entirely by Kinzel’s successors who understood the suburban locations of the parks were naturally fits for pass usage unlike what Kinzel had become accustomed to in Sandusky.

Kinzel’s bag of tricks had diminishing returns, as big coasters in parks full of them failed to bring in returns and group sales as a business began to wither. One fascinating aspect of the book to me is an often repeated mistake by people even today with Cedar Fair: market research consistently showed that the parks were perceived not as inclusive vacation destinations that appealed to everyone, but primarily coaster parks for younger people. Still, as the skyline of Cedar Fair fills up more and more with giant thrill rides, the idea of marketing Cedar Point as a beach first and coaster park second in much of the advertising was a repeating theme in 2018 and 2019 as though the market saturated with Cedar Point knowledge was somehow unaware of what the park was.


Part One: The Man and His Climb To The Top

Part Two: The King’s Creations

Part Three: Rounding Out The Package

Part Four: Dick’s $2 Billion Dollar Spending Spree

Part Five: After The Spending Spree

Friday, January 3, 2020

100 Coasters for 2019 (A Year In Review)

Every year since starting to post here on Parkscope, I've transitioned away from doing trip reports to doing year end reviews of all the coasters I rode in any given year. It saved me a lot of time so I could do other things, but also because I grew tired of writing them. Once the pace increases, the challenge increases with it, after all.

2019 was not projected to be another epic year as the prior two had. Then I had some expendable income, and that's what it became. 76 coasters later, 2019 became my second most productive year in terms of coaster count. I wound up visiting 30 states & the District of Columbia, 8 countries on 4 continents. There were 45 parks/FECs/etc (46 if you count the Helen Mountain Coaster I was denied due to weather) along with 12 fairs or carnivals (10 of which had coasters, 4 classified as state fairs).

2017 100 Coasters
2018 100 Coasters