No News is Bad News for Universal Orlando in Summer 2016

No News is Bad News for Universal Orlando in Summer 2016

Reported by Theme Park Tourist…

Universal Orlando Resort’s parent company Comcast recently released their third quarter financial results(covering the period from Friday, July 1 through Friday, September 30), and while the Universal theme parks are dwarfed by the company’s sizable media properties, Comcast’s report did include some information about how its theme park division was doing overall.

However, in a somewhat unexpected development, the company didn’t spend as much time on this segment of their business as they have in the past, which is likely a purposeful decision, as things aren’t exactly going as well this year as they probably hoped at Universal Orlando Resort. However, before we get to the bad news, let’s talk about a very positive development first…

1. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been a huge success in Hollywood

Image: Universal

One specific point that was mentioned in the earnings report was significant growth at Universal Studios Hollywood, thanks to the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the park earlier this year. Not only is this new area bringing larger crowds, but guests who visit are spending more on food, drink and souvenirs (think of all that Butterbeer and all those wands), which helped propel Comcast’s domestic theme parks division to just over 16% increased revenue year over year, which is definitely a magical result indeed. All things considered, it’s an astonishing rate of growth.

The rousing success of the west coast version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter all but assures that more Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions will be coming to Universal Studios Hollywood in the coming years. While it may be difficult to exactly duplicate Universal Orlando Resort’s Diagon Alley at this park, it would certainly be possible to bring the Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts ride to the park as a standalone attraction. However, more tantalizing options do exist…

Image: Universal

Universal Studios Hollywood could also be ground zero for a new rumored interactive dark ride that involves a wand-based game, or even a new attraction based on the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them film series. While we wouldn’t expect anything to be announced in the near future, Universal Studios Hollywood definitely won’t want to lose this early momentum, and we’d expect more Wizarding World to show up here in the next few years.

However, even though things are going well at Universal Studios Hollywood, the same may not be able to be said about Universal Orlando Resort…

2. It was (probably) a weak summer for Universal Orlando Resort

Image: Universal

As a publicly-traded company, Comcast is required to report earnings related to the theme park segment of its business. However, what it is not required to do is disclose is exactly how those earnings break down per park or resort. And even though a year ago Comcast was more than happy to shout from the rooftops how well Universal Orlando Resort was doing both in attendance and revenue, the company was a bit more subdued in reporting its third quarter results this week, simply lumping Universal Orlando Resort in with Universal Studios Hollywood and declining to provide specifics as to resort attendance, guest spending, or revenue at its Florida parks.

And while some might not see this as a big deal (after all, Comcast is a huge company), unfortunately in the financial world, no news is almost certainly bad news. If there was anything positive to report here, Comcast definitely would have mentioned it (especially considering Islands of Adventure opened the new Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction this year), and the omission of Universal Orlando Resort almost entirely from Comcast’s report likely means that the declining attendance we’ve seen at other Orlando parks all year has had a real effect on Universal parks in Orlando, the full extent of which we will see in the 2016 TEA attendance report, due to be released next spring.

However, even though Universal Orlando Resort isn’t exactly in the best place, there is still another bright spot for Universal parks…

3. Universal Studios Japan is proving to be a great investment

Image: Universal Studios Japan

Overall, Comcast reported that its theme park revenue jumped 60.6 percent to $1.4 billion. However, this figure comes with a bit of an asterisk, as the removal of Universal Studios Japan, which Comcast doesn’t yet fully own but as of last year has a majority stake in, brings the overall revenue increase down to a still-impressive 16.1 percent. Similarly, if we look at operating cash flow, the figures that include Universal Studios Japan show a rise of 62.4 percent from the previous year to $706 million, but when results from this park are factored out, the increase is a more modest 17.1 percent.

Now while some of this inflation is due to a stronger Japanese yen, Universal Studios Japan has been riding the residual success of its own Wizarding World of Harry Potter land, and has even introduced new seasonal Harry Potter-themed attractions this year as part of a new annual Harry Potter event, which kicked off on September 14 (towards the end of the quarter, but still significant).

While Universal doesn’t fully own Universal Studios Japan (yet), the future is bright for this park, and just a few days ago Universal confirmed that a new land based on the Minions from the Despicable Me franchise (and featuring the crowd-pleasing Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem attraction) will be opening in early 2017, which should propel this park to even stronger growth in the coming years.

Image: Universal Orlando Resort

Though it looks like Universal Orlando Resort has fallen victim to the overall slowdown in tourism in central Florida this year, things are going extremely well at Universal’s other parks, which is definitely good news for parent company Comcast. And with the opening of the Volcano Bay water park at Universal Orlando (as well as the new Jimmy Fallon Race Through New York ride) to look forward to in 2017, hopefully Universal’s flagship resort will be able to turn things around in a big way next year as well.



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Don Korta
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