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Disney Can Avoid SeaWorld and Comcast Theme Park Traps

By Rick Munarriz - May 7, 2019 at 5:05PM

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SeaWorld Entertainment and Universal Studios' parent company post sloppy financial results for the latest quarter, but Disney has a few tricks up its sleeve.

Disney (DIS 2.90%) will be the last of the country's leading theme park operators to check in with how the first three months of 2019 played out when it reports shortly after Wednesday's market close. SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS 5.86%) and Universal Studios parent Comcast (CMCSA 0.22%) have already announced uninspiring financial results. 

Shares of SeaWorld belly flopped on Tuesday after the marine-life attractions specialist posted mixed financial results. Comcast stock actually moved slightly higher after posting quarterly results two weeks ago, but that was handiwork of the media giant's other businesses bailing out a rare decline in revenue at its theme parks segment. There are plenty of factors that will keep Disney's theme park results in check, but it should hold up better than the competition. 

Slinky Dog Dash rollercoaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida. Image source: Disney.

Enjoying the ride

Comcast blames the timing of the spring break holiday for the 0.4% year-over-year decline in revenue at its theme parks. With Easter Sunday landing on late April this year, a lot of schools pushed out their vacation breaks from March last year to April this time around. This isn't a hollowed-out scapegoat. There is seasonality in the business when the week leading to Easter falls in March one year and April the next -- or the other way around. However, there were a few tailwinds that should've helped Universal Studios. 

It opened a new hotel last summer in Florida, pushing its on-site capacity higher. Universal Orlando has also raised prices. It didn't discuss attendance trends during its earnings call, but they probably weren't pretty if revenue slipped despite the Aventura Hotel addition and stiffer tolls at the turnstiles. 

SeaWorld Entertainment fared relatively better than Comcast's NBCUniversal. Revenue and attendance inched higher, but it's a bit problematic on closer inspection. Attendance rose 3.6% across SeaWorld's properties, but revenue climbed a mere 1.6% for the quarter. Folks were paying less on average to get into a SeaWorld park this year, even if they typically spent a bit more once inside. 

Disney should fare better than its smaller rivals later this week. It will face the same Easter timing headwind that weighed down growth at SeaWorld and Universal Studios, but it's also been more aggressive about generating more money from its visitors. Disneyland increased its prices in January. Disney World has actually boosted its ticket rates higher twice over the past year. And in a controversial move, Disney started charging overnight resort guests for parking in late March of last year. The rollout of the new fees blew up on social media, but they will result in gobs of incremental revenue this time around. 

Investors are bracing for lukewarm results out of Disney this week, but that's largely a problem with rough comparisons on the theatrical side and the media giant's struggling networks business. Disney's theme park arm won't be at its best, but it should have just enough ammo to outdo SeaWorld and Comcast this round.  

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Stocks Mentioned

The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$107.33 (2.90%) $3.02
Comcast Corporation Stock Quote
Comcast Corporation
$41.48 (0.22%) $0.09
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. Stock Quote
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.
$56.90 (5.86%) $3.15

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