There is plenty of real and anecdotal evidence suggesting that Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is off to a less-than-rousing start at Disney's (NYSE:DIS) two domestic theme park resorts. The 14-acre expansion that opened at Disneyland in late May and at Disney World last month ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend doesn't seem to be generating the same kind of attendance spike folks were expecting.
Investors and theme-park buffs alike have been watching the situation closely since Disney revealed a surprising attendance decline during its fiscal third quarter that included the first five weeks of operations for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at the original Disneyland theme park in California. The nearly identical expansion at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida that launched in late August was supposed to go differently, but three months of lessons learned between the two openings have apparently not solved the problem. If folks aren't coming to the parks now, when the economy's humming along for the most part, how many cobwebs will the turnstiles collect if recessionary fears that some economists see looming play out?
Disney's getting desperate, and it shows. Last week, Disney shuffled up the executive ranks at its theme parks division, a sign that all is not well in the House of Mouse.
Back to fixing that motivator
Disney is going all out at this point to shake the consumer mindset that Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is a failure. This is just the first phase, as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance -- the most anticipated of the two rides in the new land -- won't open for a few more months.
In a humbling change of heart, the same media giant that figured it wouldn't have to spend much in marketing muscle to promote the new land is now aggressively advertising Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Over the past few days, the galactic theme park expansion has taken over Disney's media properties with plugs on ABC, Disney Channel, and even ESPN. The marketing missives have hit a few speed bumps along the way. Thursday's takeover of ABC morning talk shows was pre-empted by the testimony of the acting director of national intelligence before the House Intelligence Committee regarding the the Ukrainian whistleblower incident. The very first plug for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge -- on Tuesday's Live with Kelly and Ryan on ABC -- was barely audible.
The #GalaxysEdge takeover of Disney's media properties is off to a rough start. The only mention of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge the entire show by Kelly Ripa was drowned out by applause. $DIS pic.twitter.com/EPECCgOJ2h— Rick Munarriz (@Market) September 24, 2019
The Disney-owned media takeover concludes with a celebrity-stacked two-hour special on its Freeform cable network on Sunday night and a plug on ABC's Dancing With the Stars come Monday night. With the parks heading into a seasonal lull in the coming months, this last-minute dash for media attention is probably more about shoring up telltale holiday bookings.
None of this means Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is a failure. Even if the elaborate virtual queue system that Disney built hasn't had to be used at either resort beyond the expansion's opening day, this could still be a financial success. The theme park business is about more than just the number of folks going through its gates. Guests visiting Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge are buying $200 customized light sabers, piecing together $100 droids, and forking over $8 for a glass of frosty blue milk. Reservations to Oga's Cantina continues to be a hot ticket where mixed drinks start at $15, topping off at an $85 beer flight.
Folks calling the new land a failure because the parks aren't crowded or that lines for the high-capacity Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride aren't long are missing the big picture. Revenue per capita is probably on the rise, and the ultimate grade will have to wait until the more anticipated of the expansion's two rides, Rise of the Resistance, opens later this year at Disney World and come January at Disneyland.