In the post-Blackfish era, SeaWorld (NYSE:SEAS) has come to recognize that the bad PR around its treatment of its star performers -- the orcas -- outweighed their value in luring crowds to its parks. The company is phasing out those famous killer whale shows, and the last of them will happen this year. The problem is, SeaWorld hasn't yet found a compelling replacement draw.
In this segment from MarketFoolery, host Chris Hill and analyst Emily Flippen discuss the company's outlook, as well as its latest quarterly report, which showed some promising trends. Revenue was up by more than predicted, and attendance growth is rising. But SeaWorld's cutting ticket prices to lure those visitors in, and it posted a loss on the bottom line. What will it take to rebuild this brand?
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on May 7, 2019.
Chris Hill: Let's move on to SeaWorld Entertainment. Mixed first-quarter results. They posted a loss. Overall sales, though, were higher than expected, and they've strung together a few quarters here of growing attendance at their theme parks.
Emily Flippen: That's what they want you to focus on. They want you to focus on the 3.6% attendance growth and think, "Wow, people are still going to SeaWorld! It's not completely irrelevant!" You'll notice that revenue is only up 1.6%. While traffic was increased about 3.6%, admission cost per ticket decreased 4.3%. What that tells me is that they're having to decrease their ticket prices faster in order to attract that audience, but that audience is not growing as fast as their ticket prices are decreasing. So even though they're doing all these cost-cutting initiatives, which are saving them on the bottom line a little bit, it's still an unprofitable company, and I still wonder about how low those ticket prices have to go in order to get that audience back up to the point where they're able to be profitable. All in all, it rubbed me the wrong way.
They're investing a lot into trying to rebuild that brand. And it's costing them a lot. Capex increased 5%. That's more than their customer growth increase. I just don't see how what they're doing right now is sustainable, unless there really is some complete brand rehaul and something is making you go, "I need to go to SeaWorld right now!" There's really nothing doing that.
Hill: Yeah, it really is hard to see how this company sustains growth. I was surprised to see -- and I was surprised at myself, because I thought, "How have I missed this before?" I notice whenever a restaurant company comes out with some limited-time offer. Applebee's has done a good job with this with drink specials. They've methodically grown their sales by saying, "Hey, for this month, we've got $1 Long Island iced teas," that sort of thing. SeaWorld, giving out free beer to boost attendance in the month of June. This is a promotion that they've done in the past, it was one of the things they talked about on the conference call. I just thought to myself, "How have I missed that they're giving out free beer to try and get people into the parks?"
Flippen: Maybe they should try Long Island iced teas, right? Maybe that's the next step for them. I don't think the beer's working as well as they expected it to.