It may not seem like a great idea to invest in a theme park operator when everyone is worried about a recession, and indeed, the short-term picture for the industry leaves a lot to be desired. But Six Flags Entertainment (SIX) is an interesting stock nonetheless.

Following years of putting attendance numbers on a pedestal, Six Flags is going in a new direction under the leadership of a seasoned CEO. Appealing to families who want a safe, enjoyable experience, who tend to spend money, as well as appealing to other high-spending guests, is now the name of the game.

While the odds of success are hard to predict, here are three good reasons why investors should consider buying shares of Six Flags.

1. A sound turnaround strategy

Six Flags brought in Selim Bassoul, formerly the head of Middleby, as its CEO in late 2021. Bassoul made a career turning around businesses with good assets and bad management, and he set out to do the same for Six Flags.

Bassoul has centered his turnaround strategy on a simple concept: Put the guest experience above all else. Six Flags had previously been focused on boosting attendance, handing out free and discounted tickets under the premise that more people in its parks is always a good thing. But crowded parks led to a lot of problems with wait times, security incidents, and overloaded employees.

Under Bassoul, Six Flags has raised ticket prices, stopped handing out discounted passes, and made common-sense improvements to its parks that make them nicer environments for guests. "It was a cheap day care center for teenagers during breaks and the summers," Bassoul said of Six Flags during the company's second-quarter earnings call in August.

Attendance has plummeted, but that was mostly by design. Smaller crowds, along with other improvements and optimizations, have led to shorter wait times and a better guest experience. Guests are spending more in the park, as they're no longer deterred by excessive wait times at restaurants and shops. Through the first nine months of 2022, total guest spending per capita rose 22% year over year.

Revenue and profit are still down considerably, so Bassoul still has plenty of work left to do. But the company has already made great progress turning its parks into premium destinations for high-spending guests and families.

2. A beaten-down stock price

When Bassoul took over in late 2021, Six Flags' stock was down considerably from its multiyear highs. The situation has only gotten worse since then. The stock market isn't buying into Six Flags' turnaround story, punishing the stock for plunging attendance, revenue, and profit.

Six Flags was down more than 70% from its all-time high as of the market close Tuesday. The company was valued at just $1.7 billion, down from around $6 billion in 2018. The price-to-sales ratio currently sits around 1.3, well below a typical value of roughly 4 that the company enjoyed prior to the pandemic.

All of this leads to the conclusion that the stock market is extremely pessimistic on Six Flags and its turnaround potential. To be fair, the turnaround effort is far from a guaranteed success. A tough economy and a balance sheet loaded with debt makes Six Flags stock a riskier investment than it would be otherwise, removing much of the company's margin for error. But for investors who think the premiumization strategy makes sense, the price looks right.

3. Real estate potential

While investors should avoid buying a stock solely on the hope that an activist investor will swoop in and force action, the potential for Six Flags to unlock the value of its real estate is certainly a valid reason to buy the stock. Land & Buildings Investment Management has bought a 3% stake in Six Flags and is pushing the company to do something with its vast real estate holdings.

The activist investor is arguing that Six Flags' real estate is likely worth more than its entire market capitalization. That makes the company a prime candidate for some sort of real estate transaction -- either a spinoff of its real estate into a real estate investment trust (REIT) or an outright sale. Such a transaction could net Six Flags a bundle of cash that it can use to pay down its debt, which would go a long way toward making the company less fragile.

Even if Six Flags doesn't act on its real estate opportunity, the company is making progress improving the guest experience in the hopes of turning its parks into moneymaking machines.

The turnaround will take time, and a potential recession next year may slow things down. But Six Flags looks like a high-risk, high-reward stock for investors willing to buy and hold for at least a few years.