Earlier this week, SeaWorld released its financial results for the first quarter of 2015, and on the surface things seem to be heading in a positive direction. CEO Joel Manby revealed that attendance at SeaWorld parks was up 5.6% versus the same period last year, and the loss reported for the quarter was not as bad as initial projections suggested.
However, though the boosted attendance is certainly a good sign, Manby made several statements during an eanings call that seem to indicate that big changes are on the way to SeaWorld parks, with SeaWorld Orlando being the focus of renewed efforts to get attendance back on track. Though Manby stopped short of confirming either of these changes, we feel confident that these rumored developments are at least being considered at a very high level, based on comments from Manby himself.
1. Could SeaWorld Orlando's Blue World be canned?
Though SeaWorld announced its Blue World initiative last year without confirming a construction commencement date for SeaWorld Orlando, recent comments suggest CEO Joel Manby might not be convinced that this new project (which will increase the size of killer whale tanks) will be enough to get guests back in the parks again.
When asked about the project’s development, Manby was cagey, saying that while the San Diego project is "still on track" to open in 2018, SeaWorld “may adapt [its] approach looking forward [to Orlando and San Antonio].” Manby then said that SeaWorld will “learn from [the San Diego Project], and those learnings will be taken as we look at the other projects moving forward. But what we won't waver on is, we're committed to the health and care of our animals and delivering value to our guests. Also, very importantly, our shareholders."
It seems strange that Manby isn’t willing to give a solid status update for the Blue World project in Orlando, which could possibly hint at that SeaWorld’s new CEO is pushing the project back at the Orlando and San Antonio parks in an effort to see if Blue World produces any guest momentum in San Diego. If it doesn’t, odds are that Blue World will be cancelled altogether in Orlando as construction hasn’t begun yet, and no start date has been discussed.
Not only would putting this project on hold save SeaWorld some much-needed capital in the short term (which was a legitimate concern for investors when Blue World was first announced), but either pausing or cancelling Blue World could help the park instead focus at creating new experiences (instead of just building off old ones) to help recapture guest's attention. Which brings us to our next big possible change...