SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) is hoping to make a big splash with a limited-time offer on discounted park admissions and premium in-park experiences. The struggling operator of marine life-themed destinations rolled out its annual four-day Blue Friday sale over the weekend.
It's offering "buy one get one free" offers on one-day tickets, annual passes, and Quick Queue front-of-the-line access. At SeaWorld Orlando -- the chain's most visited theme park -- SeaWorld is also going BOGO on its up-close tours.
Even Busch Gardens -- the two-park chain owned by SeaWorld that hasn't suffered the same kind of plunge in attendance that the namesake parks have experienced -- is getting into the seasonal giving spirit. It has its own Black Friday sale that runs through Cyber Monday where pass holders can enjoy 50% off the interactive Tour of Africa safari tour at Busch Gardens Tampa. It's also offering 25% off at its online store as well as 50% off single-day park tickets for friends and family members.
The Blue Friday sales have been going on for years, so it's not as if SeaWorld has reached a new level of desperation with these offers. However, these markdowns come at a time when the theme-park operator appears to be bottoming out. Many of these deals have to be redeemed in the coming weeks, ideally propping up attendance during the fourth quarter.
SeaWorld can certainly use the boost. Turnstile clicks are starting to stabilize. Attendance is up 0.2% through the first three quarters of 2015, and that follows back-to-back years of declines. The problem at SeaWorld is that flat attendance has still resulted in a dip in revenue, as SeaWorld has been forced to discount its experience to drum up visitors. The bottom line has taken an even bigger hit given the scalable nature of theme parks with high fixed costs.
However, with the chain-shaming Blackfish documentary now more than two years old and a new CEO who's taking an aggressive tact in trying to turn around the tarnished brand, there are signs of life at SeaWorld.
It's emphasizing its conservation message, even theming upcoming rides to sea rescues and allowing employees to have personal conservation goals on their name tags. Next year, SeaWorld is putting an end to its controversial One Ocean show in San Diego where killer whales perform tricks and guest-dousing splashes, replacing it with a presentation where the orcas are in a more zoo-like environment. SeaWorld's two other parks in San Antonio and Orlando are likely to follow suit if that particular move appeases activists.
Wall Street isn't necessarily buying the brand revival. Bank of America/Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock earlier this month. The stock also finds itself trading a lot closer to its all-time low than its 52-week high, despite a 4.8% yield that would normally be a dinner bell to income investors if they felt the payouts were sustainable for the long haul. However, if attendance continues to improve and financial performance follows it's more than likely that 2016 will be the stock's first positive year in SeaWorld's brief publicly traded tenure. It's not a bad thing if a big holiday sale helps nudge SeaWorld in that direction.
Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.