The theme park business is rough. Disney is having an all-out war in their boardroom. Six Flags in in financial trouble yet again as their stock has been downgraded. Universal Studios is… Building a new park?
In Frisco Texas just outside of Dallas, Universal plans on building a ninety-seven acre park complete with a three-hundred room hotel and adjacent to the luxurious PGA National Resort and Spa, where Mom and Dad can pamper themselves and take in a round of golf. The park is designed for families with young children in mind. This means that we can expect to see plenty of familiar faces. Shrek, Minions, The gang from Madagascar and many other flagship titles will adorn the park.
There is no word as to whether or not Mario will have a presence there, but my money is on that being the case since Universal has gone all in with Nintendo in its other parks. It is doubtful that we’ll see anything from Marvel though, I believe the arrangement for use of Marvel properties is exclusive to Florida.
Universal Is Making Their Move
Universal has been stuck in second place in the shadow of the mouse. Now just over thirty years later, they seem ready to pounce. Disney is wounded albeit only temporarily and Universal is taking every opportunity they can to jockey for position. Disney has moved at a glacial pace to make improvements and give guests a new experience.
We were promised a replacement for Splash Mountain in 2020. Disney is just getting started on that now, and the movie that the new ride will center around: The Pricess and The Frog is already fourteen years old. At this point, we can expect attractions based on Strange World and Encanto by 2037. Way to keep up with the times, Disney!
Meanwhile, after building an entire amusement park (Volcano Bay) in 2017, Universal has doubled down. They are building ANOTHER amusement park, Epic Universe. The park is scheduled to open in 2025 and will bring the total of parks and attractions to four, five if you include citywalk.
Now Universal seems to be moving out of their comfort zone with their own version of Manifest Destiny. There extremely popular Halloween Horror Nights attraction will have a permanent year round home in Las Vegas, Nevada. The facility will be a twenty acre playground for horror fans. It will feature experiences that are immersive for the guest, along with horror themed bars, restaurants, and shops.
More importantly, you have the small park in Frisco, Texas. This is a huge step for Universal to make. You can do big in Florida, and California. Those are tourist destinations. People vacation there. Any business with their finger firmly placed on the pulse of the economy is going to do well.
Universal is braving new terrain with their entry into Frisco. Until this article, I’ve never heard of Frisco. I’ve never thought about vacationing in Dallas. This is not an insult to Dallas as a city, it looks lovely. It just doesn’t strike me as a vacation destination. This means that until they get those tourists taking flights to Texas instead of Florida, they will have to rely on the locals to stay afloat financially, which means that they are going to have to compete with nearby mainstay Six Flags Over Texas for money from local Texans.
Six Flags Over Texas is the crown jewel of the Six Flags chain. On paper, it has more to offer than Universal’s yet to be named park. Six Flags is well known for being an affordable theme park, so Universal can’t price itself out of competition. At 212 acres, Six Flags Over Texas more than doubles Universal’s proposed footprint. So, Universal has a bit of work cut out for it. This is not a slam dunk by any means.
Strategically, Frisco Is A Great Choice
At first, when you read the report, Frisco seems like an odd choice. This is hard to believe, but Frisco Texas happens to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country. It has an annual growth rate of 5.66%. In 2010, the citie’s population was at 116,989 people. in just over twelve years, the population has exploded and increased by over 91.95%, bringing it to a total of 224,556 citizens.
This is an important statistic for Universal because 100,000 new Texans are easier to coax into your new park. You don’t have to contend with that world famous Texas loyalty.
More importantly, the placement of a park in Frisco has the potential to lure families away from the magic Kingdom.
Disney is expensive. There is no other way of putting it. Just thinking about a trip to Disney depletes your bank account. Universal is traditionally cheaper. However, staying at Disney has its perks. You have a renowned resort with top shelf amenities including four of the best public golf courses in the world.
This is where the placement of a park in Frisco is beneficial to Universal. You can advertise that families with small children can avoid the stress and exasperation of a Disney trip by flying into Frisco and enjoying a new state of the art park with a brand new three-hundred room hotel on property. Oh yeah, and it’s a hop skip and a jump away from the World Class PGA Resort and Spa- also in Frisco. So that traditional vacation where the kids enjoy the park, Dad takes in a beautiful day on the Golf Course, and Mom takes some time at the Spa to pamper herself is not lost. It’s right there in Texas with less stress, and less pain to your wallet.
Disney has been ahead of the game for so long that it seems like complacency has taken over. Their stock is not doing so hot right now, their leadership structure is in disarray, the iron is hot and this is the perfect time for Universal to strike. North Texas is a growing area with lots of land, and I’m willing to speculate that Universal has purchased more than ninety-seven acres for their park.
They are most likely doing the intelligent thing and starting small until they are accepted into the community and well established, then the expansions will come. If this is successful, Universal has a flag planted in a vibrant part of the country and can move into other territories that are looking for entertainment. Missouri, Kansas, Louisiana, and Arkansas are all growing populations with swaths of land that Universal can capitalize on if this venture takes off.
Disney will eventually get their act together. They will not stay down forever, and I’m sure within the next ten years something extravagant will be announced. We’ll see Mickey Mouse and Co. all over the Lone Star State riding horses and wearing cowboy hats, trying to fit in. The Astrodome will be their headquarters.
Six Flags has absolutely nothing to worry about aside from their finances. They will always be the premier, affordable day trip theme park. That is how they built their empire, that is how they’ll make their money, and that is how they will continue to stay afloat.
I will dare to say: Universal has planted the first flag in a series of many. This is probably the beginning of the Theme Park Wars.
What do you think, fellow geeks? We want to hear from you so leave a comment!
Thank You for reading! When I am not writing, I enjoy spending time with my Wife Barbara, My three year old daughter Frankie, and my hound Marbles.