Monday, October 1, 2007

Six Flags: A Ripoff

So, took the family to Six Flags New England (SIX) this weekend. Last time.

Let me start out by saying we went with friends who had free passes so we did not have to pay the $50 a ticket it would have cost us to get in, saving me $200 right off the bat. In order to fully appreciate this, one has to recognize we have choices here. The same distance from where I live but in the opposite direction we have a great place called Canobie Lake Park.

At Canobie, the admission would have run us a cool $96 for the same number of people and we would have had access to all areas of the park. We also would have saved the $25 that Six flags charged us to park. So, we would have been a nice $125 ahead of the game before we even walked into the park. Once there we paid $3.50 for a water that cost $1.50 at Canobie and $36 for a lunch that would have been 1/2 that at Canobie. Do you see where this is going?

What does Six Flags have going for it? They have the Thomas the Tank Engine rides and the Luney Tunes rides and other licensed areas (Batman, Superheros etc.) Neat right? Well, not so much. Here is the thing. The rides were all manned by 1 person. Virtually all the parks I have been to (Canobie, Disney (DIS), Storyland, Sesame Place, owned by Anheuser Busch (BUD)) have teams of people at almost all rides. Having only one person at the rides cause the wait between them to be intolerable . It wasn't that the people were lazy or not trying, it is just that in order to do the job efficiently and well, it takes two people. The time spent waiting to unload and reload the rides was actually longer than the rides themselves!! This meant for the money we spent, the actual number of rides we went on was far less than a comparable park.

What made this annoyance even more blatant was the staffing in the shops. If I was in an area where my wallet might be pulled out, there was a plethora of people there ready to assist me and help me make a decision, but up yours on the tea cups buddy. Maddening.

Open Areas:
There weren't any! Six Flags did a masterful job packing as many rides and shops into the space they had that I was impressed. I also felt highly claustrophobic (I do not usually). The walkways are all extremely narrow and open places to sit and relax simply do not exist. This causes massive congestion and makes for a very stressful day when you have a stroller and two four year old to keep and eye on that are constantly getting jostled as we tried to go from ride to ride.

Now I though it may have just be a feakishly busy day but a look at the parking lot showed it half empty and a few questions to the staff confirmed it wasn't. Employees also confirmed that the level of staffing Saturday was on par with normal levels so it was not an "out of the ordinary" day in any way. HMMM

The shop were good and the selection of food was great but here again Six Flag took a good thing a ruined it. They have a Coldstone Creamery which makes just about the best ice cream in the world. Great, right? It would have been except the 2 kids (1 scoop) cups, my medium cup and my wifes small cup came to $20.50!! Twenty bucks for 6 scoops of ice cream? I'll never bitch about gas prices again, Six Flags make OPEC look like a charity. Holy Christ!!

Finally my wife and I (and the kids) surrendered and decided it was time to get out before we needed to refi the house for dinner. On the way out the boys were thirsty so I stopped in for a water, $3.50 (for those of you who do not want to do the math that works out to $18.55 a gallon).

Hope they enjoyed it, they'll never see another dime of mine. Had we bought the admission tickets it would have been a $400 day for nothing but aggravation. Was it just me being cranky? No. You know it was bad when your 4 year olds look at you and say "can we go to the other place next time"? Next summer Canobie Lake here we come, probably three times for what it would cost us for a day at Six Flags.

As for the stock? Don't touch it. My experience cannot be that unusual and I have to seriously wonder how many repeat customers they get. A closer look shows that attendance last year dipped 14% over 2005 and as of July 2007, it had not risen over those low levels. Gouging those left in the park is not really the best way to go to create loyalty.

Six Flags made a bunch of noise in July about it's customer service ratings hitting an "all time" high. At first glance this seems great but, the more you look at it you have to ask, "higher than what"? From "sucks" to "dismal"? There was no quantifiable results to look at, only a press release that told us how great they were. Did they go from a 2 out of 10 to a 3 out of 10? That would be an "all time high" but hardly anything to brag about.

The company, currently valued at $325 million is saddled with over $2 billion in debt and will lose over $2.50 a share this year. Cash flow from operations, after they pay their dividend is a sweet negative $14 million. This is where you have to look at the financials. Six Flags does not pay a dividend on the common but pays out $20 million a year in dividends, probably on preferred shares owner Daniel Snyder (who owns and has ruined the Redskins) has. Let's reverse it, can you find anything about the company that is positive?

Me either.. but they did screw me for a hundred and change this weekend, fool me once....

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