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Flagging Down Mark Shapiro

The New Six Flags CEO Discusses the 2006 Season--and Beyond--for the Theme Parks

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Flagging Down Mark Shapiro

Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro

Six Flags, 2006. Used with permission,
A.L.: How about food at the parks?

M.S.: We're going to be moving more into name brands, from pizza to burgers to soda.

A.L.: While some people will appreciate the familiarity of brand names, I think parks should be more about unique, fun food experiences. And they should cater to the local market and showcase local cuisine. There's a grand history with Nathan's hot dogs, frozen custard, clam cakes, and other treats that were an integral part of the amusement park experience. That's all but gone today.

M.S.: We have over 100 food locations at our parks. We're not just going to bring in the big brands. I might try and bring in Papa John's pizza, but that doesn't mean in Chicago I wouldn't also offer deep-dish pizza. Of course, that only makes sense. At Six Flags New England, I'm looking to add clam chowder in bread bowls. I wouldn't do that in New Jersey.

A.L.: You mentioned earlier that building major roller coasters and thrill rides was among the missteps of the previous Six Flags leadership, and that you want to attract more families with younger children. Are the two necessarily mutually exclusive? Are you taking Six Flags, world renowned for its ride arsenal, out of the coaster wars by placing a moratorium on blockbuster thrill rides?

M.S.: There's no moratorium. That's a misconception. But we need to diversify. We have 17 roller coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain--that's too many. It's become like a drug. This industry has become addicted to roller coasters. We put them up. The attendance goes up. If we don’t do something the next year, we fall behind. We can't be so reliant on roller coasters. It's about balance. The pendulum has swung so far to teenagers, that our research shows Mom and Dad are pausing when it comes to Six Flags. I need to get rid of that pause. We can--and will--add roller coasters, but we can't abandon the rest of the park. Look, I love coasters. My favorite ride is the American Eagle (racing wood coaster at Six Flags Great America near Chicago). That's where I grew up. I'm proud of our thrill ride heritage. But, so much of our focus has been on roller coasters that our eye was off the ball when it came to taking care of the parks and taking care of our guests.

A.L.: Let's talk about pricing. It appears that entrance fees at most, if not all parks, are going up this season, in some cases significantly. At $59.99, it now costs more to enter Six Flags Magic Mountain than Disneyland. You've bumped up parking fees to $15 at some parks, which may aggravate parkgoers before they even get to the front gates. Might you be pricing yourself out of some markets?

M.S.: I think that Six Flags, overall, is still undervalued. We need to be sensitive about price hiking. We need to make sure that we deliver on our promise and invest in our parks. If we're not doing either one of those, we can’t raise prices. We offer ten hours of entertainment for $39.99 per person at The Great Escape. How much does it cost to go to the movies these days? I think part of the problem is that Six Flags became the discount kings. They devalued the parks and the industry. But, we have a lot to prove. We will deliver on our promise and then some.

A.L.: You mentioned discounts. In the past, Six Flags has had soda can promotions, online discounts, credit card programs, and other discounts. It was all very confusing and sometimes caused resentment at the ticket windows. Do you plan to continue programs like these?

M.S.: Absolutely. More programs, more distribution outlets. But I want consistency. We need to prevent animosity. If we're going to offer buy-one-get-one-free, we need to make it available to everybody.

A.L.: Six Flags Great Escape Lodge is wonderful and certainly conforms to your family entertainment mission. Might we see more indoor water park resorts at other Six Flags locations?

M.S.: I want to see how this rolls out. The feedback has been great, and I've been thrilled by the response. It's possible, but we haven't made any decisions yet.

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