Saturday, January 14, 2023

Universal's New Regional Entertainment Push

Sometimes you leave things in the drafts too long and it spoils. That was me with an article about Universal's plans into regional entertainment. I'd cover the Toothsome that opened in Philly and the trademark filings. Then it sorta split off into the PortAventura article but another part was about other local attraction rumors. I largely wrote off the concept in my head, DisneyQuest had failed, so would this.

This makes this past week's announcement of a new mini-theme park in Frisco, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada so wild. Many of us had written such rumors are decades-old speculation and tomfoolery run amok, harking back to a day when Disney was about to announce a theme park in insert major city here was comment theme park gossip blog fodder. "Disney is building a theme park in Texas" is a meme from the 90s!

Anyway, these will be two very different projects. This article will combine officially confirmed information with my own informed speculation, blue-sky ideas, and informed guessing. Quote at your own risk!

Universal Kids Mini-Theme Park - Frisco, TX

A 25-acre park on a 47 acre plot of land. Park is a themed family entertainment center with a focus on kids. Seriously, it's focused on kids and features meet and greets, play areas, small flat rides, and family coasters. Attractions are small in scale but fit into something slightly larger than Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. In front is a hotel, which claimed to be 300 rooms but could be an ad-lib, and highly themed entryway reminiscent of the DreamWorks logo. Inside we can find lands based on Kung Fu Panda, Jurassic Park Camp Cretaceous, Shrek, Trolls, and Madagascar - all DreamWorks movies. So no Nintendo, no Secret Life of Pets, no Harry Potter, no Minions. We'll get into that later.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Is Universal Acquiring PortAventura World?

Some interesting smoke is spreading around the themed entertainment community. In November The Coaster Kings said rumors are spreading in the Spain coaster community that Universal is kicking the tires over PortAventura World, a theme park resort they owned majority ownership of from 1998 till 2004. But why would they acquire such a park? Does this fit into a larger plan for the parks and resorts division? Let us discuss some.

PortAventura World is a theme park resort comprised of two parks - PortAventura and Ferarri Land. The resort also features several hotels, seasonal events, a golf course, a water park, and a train line to Barcelona, Spain. Famous rides here include Red Force, the tallest and fastest coaster in Europe, Shambalha a B&M hyper coaster, and the upcoming Uncharted indoor coaster by Intamin and Sally Dark Rides.

Why would Universal re-purchase this park? Well, for starters the Parks & Resorts division is still seen as a growth market for Universal, and adding more resorts to the chain would diversify the portfolio of products and spread risk. Right now the industry is in a contraction after COVID with multiple undervalued assets available. Universal could see this as the perfect time to add another resort in an underserved market.

But, will it actually happen? I believe there's a very good chance it happens. It makes sense, Comcast is hungry, and my guess is the price is right. Universal purchasing PortAventura World would be the biggest story in themed entertainment this year (minus any park closures). In fact, the deal could already be closed and an announcement is on the way. It is also very possible Universal has entered an operational agreement with PortAventura, where the investments come from other but Universal operates the day-to-day operation of the parks.

If it happens, what will change at PortAventura? Universal trademarked Hollywoodland Universal Studios in Span back in April 2022 which could apply to the resort or just PortAventura. Ferrari Land will remain as is since the contract remains in place. As for characters, stories, and other attractions moving to the resort, it's too early to tell. Heck, they still use the same Express Pass signage from the early 2000s! Major improvements will likely be made to operations, phone apps, and more to create a more consistent experience with Universal's other parks.

If it happens, what will change at Universal's other parks? Not much in the short term, approved projects will go forward without much change. I don't believe it is likely that future projects are impacted by this, the investment will come from the Board of Directors. The park is also popular and profitable as is, which would avoid a Disneyland Paris situation. Universal working with Ferarri on their licensed park could lead to Ferrari attractions in the USA or Japan, but that seems the least likely outcome.

What are your thoughts about this new rumor? Leave them in the comments below.