2. It activates a new region of the country with a right-sized offering.
In the ‘60s, Walt Disney himself considered building a new, mid-sized, indoor Disney attraction in St. Louis, Missouri. In the late ‘80s, Disney toyed around with a permanent World’s Fair style experience in Texas. But frankly, a globalizing world meant that the company began to look elsewhere, expanding to France, Hong Kong, and China instead. Universal’s done the same, with resorts in Singapore and Beijing. Why? One need only know that China’s population is four times that of United States’ to understand why operators have much more incentive to build there than there.
While theme park fans may dream of Disney dropping a new resort in Chicago or Houston or New York, the reality is that in terms of bang for their buck, operators would be much wiser to look to high-population, high-density countries with emerging middle classes rather than just siphoning Americans away from Walt Disney World to send them to Disneyland Columbus. Obviously, the million dollar question for Disney and Universal fans has always been whether or not the companies would ever build a property from scratch in the United States?
That's what made it jaw-dropping when Universal announced both a permanent Halloween Horror Nights-themed experience coming to Las Vegas' Area 15 (above) and this new family park in Texas. The message is that not only is Universal entering its own era of experimentation with regional touch points, but that they're willing to lean into their core business to do it. Universal is building beyond its existing resort capacity, and in the United States! It’s happening. The difference is that instead of double dipping into an existing audience, adjusting the tone, brand, size, and scale of these new projects means that Universal can activate new regions of the country without stealing visitorship from Universal Orlando or Universal Studios Hollywood. Just the opposite…
3. It creates a new pipeline into Universal Destinations & Experiences.
We mentioned that a park like this has an audience that returns (driven by local passholders), retreats (for “staycations”), refreshes (as new kids are born), and repeats (as those kids become parents themselves). But we can’t forget the most important: that this audience graduates.
Make no mistake: Comcast certainly hopes that their new DreamWorks Animation park won’t be your final stop with the Universal Destinations & Experiences division. In fact, they’re thinking that this park will be the first in a lifetime of brand touch points. Their hope is that a decade from now, a generation of Texans who’ve grown up (or watched their kids grow up) in a DreamWorks park will eagerly accept the resort’s invitation to graduate onward to Universal Orlando, where The Wizarding World, Transformers, Jurassic Park, Super Mario, and How To Train Your Dragon await. And best of all, a park that specifically gears its offerings toward children ages 2 – 9 is a park that’s constantly refreshed with new audiences, ensuring that for every kid who moves on to Orlando, another is born to take their place and begin the cycle again.
Right now, the entry point to that pipeline will be limited to the Dallas area, or maybe the wider Northeast Texas. But the point is that copies of this alleged DreamWorks park could conceivably pop up outside of Chicago, Cleveland, New York, or St. Louis next… And if not this park, then maybe an Illumination one. The point is that by jumping into the regional park pool, Universal now finds itself with a “brand loyalty” coup; a model designed to get ‘em while they’re young, anchor a generation’s memories to Shrek, Toothless, Puss in Boots, & the Indominus rex, and then point them onward to the Universal Orlando “mothership” when they hit double digit age.
It’s clear to anyone who studies the themed entertainment industry that right now, Disney is in a state of contraction. Without the sturdy business foundation that Universal’s owner, Comcast, enjoys (trust us – no one canceled their Comcast phone and internet packages during the pandemic), Disney weathered the financial losses of COVID-19 only by way of its Disney+ streaming service. Now, Wall Street has come to call, requiring ever-increasing margins of profit forcing Disney to draw from its reserves to bolster the loss-leading platform, shoving billions of dollars into the furnace to keep #content flowing.
Of course, that’s meant that the profitable Parks division needs to step in, sending its cash flow to Disney+. For fans, that’s meant higher prices, slashed perks & new upcharges, and canceled projects across Disney’s parks. Short lived CEO and franchise flywheel fanatic Bob Chapek oversaw an era when Disney Parks projects were slowed, and when ambition, investment, and care were scaled down precipitously.
So if it feels like Disney isn’t worried about Epic Universe, you’re probably right. Disney’s attention is simply elsewhere. Even though returned CEO Bob Iger has expressed his belief that Disney’s theme parks are among the company’s most dependable, profitable, and well-loved assets, Disney can’t get those years back; nor can it win back the reported hundreds of designers, artists, and writers who fled the company’s already-slimmed-down, post-pandemic Imagineering division facing a forced relocation from California to Florida.
So it’s actually no surprise that Universal’s been the innovative one here, plugging ahead with not just a once-unthinkable new main gate in Orlando (2025’s Epic Universe) but with this new, unnamed, regional park allegedly themed to DreamWorks Animation that actually might change the game…
Should Disney have gotten into this business first? Probably.
Would a similarly-scaled “Worlds of Pixar” in Texas or Illinois or Ohio or Virginia or New York have been an incredible show of brand utilization and industry leadership? Yep.
Will Disney follow suit and plunge into the realm of regional, family-scaled parks itself? Maybe.
After all, Universal came to Orlando chasing Disney. Now, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Disney buy up a hundred acres outside of Dallas to try to head-off Universal, reverse engineering a family theme park equivalent of Orlando.
Universal’s new DreamWorks park may look like a blip on the radar for now… but we’d wager that this new experiment may see Disney and Universal – destination players and industry giants – find themselves in a whole new war waged not just in Orlando, but across the country… And trust us – we’d all benefit from that.
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