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3 Theme Park Operators That Beat Disney in 2015

By Rick Munarriz – Jan 3, 2016 at 8:06AM

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Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and SeaWorld all came through with better stock returns than the world's leading park operator.

Source: Disney.  

There's no denying that Disney (DIS -2.04%) is the top dog in the realm of theme parks. The media giant's gated attractions entertained 134.3 million guests across its parks worldwide in 2014, according to Themed Entertainment Association, more than the next three largest players combined.

It has built on those turnstile clicks in 2015, helping Disney stock come through with another year of market-thumping results. Shares of the House of Mouse rose 12.9% last year if you include dividends, well ahead of the otherwise flattish S&P 500.

Disney stock beat the market, but most publicly traded operators of theme parks and regional amusement parks actually performed even better. Let's take a quick look at three Disney peers that proved to be better investments in 2015.

Six Flags (SIX -3.20%), up 33.1%
Six Flags relishes its role as a thrill seeker's alternative to Disney. Its 18 amusement parks draw mostly local visitors, unlike Disney with its global clientele. Six Flags has seen its attendance climb 9% to 23.4 million guests through the first three quarters of 2015. A 25% surge in season pass sales has helped inflate attendance, but it has come at the expense of lowering the average rate paid to get into the park and spent once inside the park.

It has all added up to healthy cash flow that Six Flags has used to buy back stock and invest in new attractions. Investors were also rewarded beyond capital gains as Six Flags raised its quarterly dividend rate by 12% in November. The move leaves Six Flags' yield at a chunky 4.2% even after its big pop last year.

Cedar Fair (FUN -1.34%), up 23.3%
The company behind Ohio's Cedar Point, California's Knott's Berry Farm, and other regional amusement parks has been rolling since hiring former Disney exec Matt Ouimet as its CEO in 2012. Cedar Fair didn't necessarily have a great 2015. It has fallen short of Wall Street's profit targets in each of the past four quarters.

However, it did experience a 7% uptick in revenue as the combination of a 5% uptick in attendance, 2% gain in in-park per capita spending, and 10% burst in out-of-park revenue helped drive results. Like Six Flags, Cedar Fair also boosted its payout in November. Cedar Fair now yields an impressive 5.9%.

SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS -2.48%), up 15.1%
Despite all of the notoriety stirred up by Blackfish-streaming activists, SeaWorld achieved its first winning year since going public in early 2013. The stock isn't the only thing on the upswing. SeaWorld's attendance has ticked higher through the first nine months of 2015 after back-to-back years of 4% declines.

SeaWorld's new CEO -- Joel Manby came over from the parent company of Dollywood -- has a vision for the chain that emphasizes the promotion of SeaWorld's animal rescue efforts and immersive rides and attractions. The controversial killer whale show in San Diego will end later this year. Activists want more, but shareholders are just happy to see guests and investors returning to SeaWorld again.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. 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.

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Stocks Mentioned

Walt Disney Stock Quote
Walt Disney
$99.37 (-2.04%) $-2.07
Six Flags Stock Quote
Six Flags
$18.59 (-3.20%) $0.61
Cedar Fair Stock Quote
Cedar Fair
$40.84 (-1.34%) $0.56
SeaWorld Entertainment Stock Quote
SeaWorld Entertainment
$48.28 (-2.48%) $-1.23

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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