SeaWorld Attendance Dives, but Marketing Shift Shows Promise

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SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. reported the largest quarterly attendance decline in at least four years, but the company said early results from an advertising blitz to repair its image are promising. SeaWorld parks attendance fell by more than 730,000 from a year ago to roughly 7.6 million in the company's third quarter.
 The marine-park operator has struggled to attract visitors since a 2013 documentary, “Blackfish,” stirred up concerns about its treatment of whales and orcas. Though SeaWorld has ended its breeding program, animal- rights activists continue to call for SeaWorld to release its remaining stock.
 SeaWorld said attendance declined because it spent less on marketing designed to improve customers' perception of the brand. The company said park closures stemming from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey hurt attendance to a lesser extent.
 In the year-earlier quarter, attendance was relatively flat. Last quarter, attendance dropped by 353,000 people.
 The company said it has already changed course on marketing and last month soft launched “From Park to Planet,” a new video campaign that connects the company's operations to animal-protection efforts.
 Chief Executive Joel Manby told analysts on an earnings call Tuesday that based on tests in the San Diego area, people who watch “From Park to Planet” and see a SeaWorld advertisement are six times more likely to buy a ticket than if they just see an ad. The video has also been rolled out in Los Angeles, but plans for the full campaign haven't been completed.
 Mr. Manby said the company is confident it can increase attendance in 2018, especially at its crucial Orlando, Fla., and San Diego parks. (Above, an octopus is observed in San Diego.) SeaWorld shares rose 1.5% in Tuesday trading, despite the company lowering the top end of its full-year earnings guidance. Shares closed at a record low Monday and are down 41% this year.   

—Cara Lombardo


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