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The Good and Mostly Bad of Disney and Universal's Park Closures

By Rick Munarriz - Mar 17, 2020 at 9:00AM

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All of the Disney and Comcast parks were closed on Monday. The journey doesn't end when they reopen.

Monday was a dark day for the theme park industry. It was the first time that all Disney (DIS 3.69%) and Universal Studios gated attractions worldwide were closed on the same day. The coronavirus-related interruption is going to be a financial jolt to Disney and Universal parent Comcast (CMCSA 1.18%) in the near term, but it's not permanent. 

Whether we're talking about weeks or the more likely months of closures, the parks will eventually be teeming with tourists. Disney and Comcast are as financially sturdy as they come in the realm of media conglomerates. Smaller players may not be as fortunate at the other end of this global tragedy, but Disney and Comcast will be there once we see the light at the end of this uncertain tunnel. There will obviously be more negative than positive ramifications for the industry, but let's start with a few of the silver linings related to the shuttered parks. 

Stormtroopers greet riders of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland in California.

Image source: Disney.

On the bright side

The stateside parks run by Disney and Comcast can use a breather. Some of their most popular recent new rides in Florida -- Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal's Islands of Adventure and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios -- have had problematic levels of downtime. Disney and Comcast pushed the envelope, opening the two marquee attractions before they were ready. They have been unable to fine tune the next-gen rides with the parks open. Now they have a few weeks if not months to improve the uptime of the two very important bar-raising attractions. 

Another thing that Disney and Comcast can do during the lull is make sure that their new projects open on time. By the time the parks open in the spring it should be with a Bourne-branded stunt show at Universal Studios Florida and a space-themed restaurant at Epcot. A Ratatouille dark ride should be nearly ready-to-go in Epcot and Islands of Adventure will be further along in its still unannounced Jurassic Park-themed coaster buildout. Out in California, Disneyland can make sure that its Avengers Campus expansion opens in mid-July as expected. The downtime will also be a great time to perform maintenance at its existing attractions, particularly for Disney at its Magic Kingdom park that has had a rough few weeks with its classic rides. 

On the dark side

There is obviously a lot more to lose than gain here, and we're not just talking about the immediate financial hit. Between resort reservations and tickets being refunded as well as extending annual pass expirations, there is going to be a big tab in the current and subsequent quarter for Disney and Comcast to pay. 

The parks will inevitably open, but will the public be ready and willing to shell out big money for a theme park visit? The historical interruption makes it highly likely that a global recession awaits by the time Disney, Comcast, and their smaller peers reopen their parks. It won't be business as usual. Once the initial euphoria of resuming operations subsides -- and you just know the reopening of Disney World and Disneyland will be feel-good media stories -- the industry will have to turn to heavy promotional activity to win back the momentum that it had no choice but to squander.

The cease in operations that started in Asia in late January and carried over into the U.S. over the weekend will feel interminable, but the hard times won't end when guests are allowed back into these havens of escapism. It's going to be a long road back. 

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