A summer rally for the stock has pushed Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN) shares higher as investors grow more confident in the theme park giant's growth trends. Yet that optimism will be tested when the company reports its third-quarter earnings results on Monday, Oct. 28.

Sales updates through the peak summer selling season suggest that shareholders will hear about robust attendance growth in the upcoming report, but investors will be just as interested in updates on season pass sales and park upgrades. These metrics will inform management's forecast as they begin to look ahead to fiscal 2020.

Here's what investors will be watching in Cedar Fair's upcoming report.

Two young women ride a roller coaster.

Image source: Getty Images.

Attendance gains

The stock's recent rally can be attributed directly to Cedar Fair's improving growth prospects. The company in early September revealed that attendance has risen 2% through the end of August after adjusting for new park acquisitions. Visits dipped into modestly negative territory in late 2018 but still grew by 2% through the full fiscal year.

Better weather provided a lift during the peak summer theme park season, and Cedar Fair is also supporting demand by adding diverse and seasonal entertainment options and by pushing its new season passes. Investors are expecting all of these positive trends to help keep attendance climbing deeper into record territory this year, but Monday's report will show whether that boost might keep 2019 attendance gains at, or slightly above, last year's 2% uptick.

Ancillary spending

CEO Richard Zimmerman and his team have been working toward lifting Cedar Fair's non-ticket revenue both inside and outside of the parks, and investors are looking for more growth in these areas this week. These ancillary sales start with hotel bookings, which rose 14% last quarter and added $6 million of revenue to the top line. Per-capita spending, meanwhile, which includes parking, food, and beverages, increased 4% last quarter to pass $47.

Together with the boosted attendance figure, most investors who follow the stock are expecting ancillary spending growth to push revenue higher by about 3% to $684 million this quarter.

Plans for growth

With the bulk of Cedar Fair's operating year behind it, executives will be in a good position to make some concrete predictions about 2019 and about the fiscal year to come. Recent spending and pricing trends should show whether theme park fans are still willing to fork out more cash on quality entertainment and varied dining options. The consumer discretionary specialist's ability to set another revenue record in 2020 will depend in part on its lineup for attraction launches, its pipeline for new hotel openings, and its ability to market food and souvenirs to guests during their visits.

More important than that short-term growth trend, though, are Cedar Fair's efforts to create a smoother ride for the business through initiatives like its season pass project and entertainment options that aren't dependent on good weather during the peak summer months. Management is hoping these projects will protect annual earnings from the type of rain-induced drop investors saw in 2018. That's why Zimmerman should spend time discussing Cedar Fair's diversification progress on Monday.

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