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Disney's Original Theme Park Is Now Ready to Bounce Back

By Rick Munarriz - Jan 17, 2020 at 11:50AM

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Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a hit in Florida, and today it arrives at Disneyland in California, the park that needs a boost the most.

Disney's (DIS 3.29%) new bar-raising attraction opened at Disneyland this morning. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is going to be a game-changer, and it couldn't come at a better time for the media giant's original California theme park. Investors have been rattled with back-to-back quarters of attendance declines, and while there's a method to the badness -- higher ticket prices and tighter restrictions on annual passes are keeping locals away -- the new Star Wars-themed ride could be just the ticket to zap the bearish narrative to a galaxy far, far away.

We know that Rise of the Resistance will be a hit. The roughly 15-minute experience has been a mind-bending winner since it was introduced in Florida six weeks ago. With Disneyland needing to turn its problematic trend of negative year-over-year growth when it comes to turning clicks around, this has all the makings of being the right ride at the right time. 

Stormtroopers intercept guests at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

Image source: Disney.

Getting it right the second time

Disney overplayed its hand when the first phase of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opened at Disneyland in late May of last year. The world's leading theme park operator limited attendance into the 14-acre expansion for the first few weeks to those making an online reservation two months earlier -- and those slots filled up within a couple of hours -- or folks staying at one of its three on-site resorts. By the time the attraction opened to all Disneyland visitors in late June, the newness buzz was gone. 

Disney also didn't help its case with a 7% to 23% boost in single-day ticket and annual pass prices earlier in the year. Along with new rules that limit access to the parks for some of the cheaper passes, many locals with annual passes weren't even able to check into the park itself until later in the summer. 

Things should go a lot better for Disneyland's attendance numbers this time around. Disney obviously won't be rolling back last year's price hikes, but it's letting anyone entering the park now have access to the new attraction by assigning virtual boarding groups to folks arriving early enough to secure a return time for later in the day. The system has been fine-tuned in Disney World, where all of the day's boarding groups are typically gobbled up shortly after the official park opening time. 

Another thing working in Disneyland's favor is that Rise of the Resistance is generating rave reviews, unlike the fairly positive but ultimately mixed reviews for Galaxy's Edge original Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run combat flight simulator.   

A silver lining through the interesting rookie seasons for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is that Disney's revenue and segment operating profits have been clocking in higher despite Disneyland's attendance hiccups. The slight downtick in turnstile clicks is being more than offset by folks spending more in admissions and inside the gated attractions. The new ride should only boost those numbers, and if Disneyland's attendance didn't bounce back in the seasonally potent holiday-containing fiscal first quarter that ended last month, it would be a shock to see the streak stretch to four periods of diminishing traffic now with Rise of the Resistance in its arsenal. 

Disney investors still came out ahead in 2019. The stock beat the market last year, but that was largely due to the excitement about Disney+ transforming the media giant into a winning growth stock. It's now time for Disney's iconic theme park segment to carry the growth baton into 2020.

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