Halloween may still be nearly eight weeks away, but don't tell the country's busiest theme parks that it's too early to get your trick or treat on. Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Orlando kicked off Halloween Horror Nights on Friday, the popular after-hours event featuring 10 richly detailed and, in some cases, licensed scare mazes, several scare zones, and an entire park full of fright-fueling revelry. Now in its 29th year, Halloween Horror Nights runs on select nights through the first weekend in November.
If it seems as if Comcast is getting an early jump on the popular holiday, it's actually not the first to get into the seasonal spirit. Disney (NYSE:DIS) launched Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World's Magic Kingdom theme park in mid-August.
Disney and Comcast may be turning heads for taking a pumpkin spice latte approach for a mid-Fall holiday in the summer, but you can't blame them. Halloween is big business, and theme-park operators with popular holiday events will be making some serious money throughout the next few weeks.
Haunted when the minutes drag
Halloween Horror Nights is a major draw for Comcast-owned Universal Orlando, often drawing more guests to the nightly event than the visitors that Universal Studios Florida attracts during the day in this historically sleepy part of the operating calendar. Halloween Horror Nights is a separately ticketed event, and between the hot-selling Express passes that offer quicker access to the popular scare mazes and the even pricier guided tours and character meals offered as add-on experiences, the numbers add up for Comcast. With fixed costs a major part of the financial model for theme parks, these incremental hard-ticket events provide a healthy trickle of high-margin revenue for Disney and Comcast.
The two companies take different approaches to their biggest holiday events. Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is a family-friendly affair loaded with candy stations and costumed-character greeting areas. Halloween Horror Nights is a far more intense event, with Comcast recommending -- but not enforcing -- that children under 13 not attend the scare-laden fete.
The popularity of the events seems to be growing with every passing year, and crowds may be even larger now that Disney has joined Comcast in offering a big-ticket pass that offers unlimited access to all of the season's parties. Investors will probably be watching how these next few weeks fare, as Disney and Comcast launching their Halloween parties earlier than last year might boost results in the current quarter for their turnstile click-hungry theme-park segments.
With recessionary fears lingering for an industry that's at the mercy of discretionary income, Disney and Comcast know that tricks are the best way to score financial treats.