It will be a bit cheaper to plan a weekend trip to SeaWorld Entertainment's (NYSE:SEAS) most popular theme park this year, as long as you're willing to pay for your visit ahead of time. SeaWorld Orlando lived up to its November promise to streamline the pricing of its prepaid tickets, bucking the trend of its nearby rivals Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Comcast's (UNKNOWN:CMCSK.DL) (NASDAQ:CMCSA) that inch prices higher every year.
SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa began offering single-day tickets online for $79 yesterday, a $20 discount to what it charges modern-day Luddites who just walk up to the ticket booth the day of their visit. The ticket is good for any visit within a year of its purchase. This is a dramatic shift from its previous advance purchase discounts where cost-shaving patrons could choose between $70 for a weekday outing or $89 for a weekend visit.
This could also be painted as a $9 increase for weekday visits, but weekends are when most families are free to hit up area attractions. The old tiered pricing just made you feel guilty for not taking a weekday off. The old strategy also made you do a fair amount of planning since you had to know ahead of time if you were going to ruffle the feathers of your Blackfish-streaming friends by checking on Shamu or riding some of the best roller coasters in the area.
The new $79 online ticket provides a stark contrast to a day at Comcast- or Disney-owned parks that run between $97 and $105 before tax. Comcast and Disney don't offer online discounts on single-day tickets.
SeaWorld is also extending its preschool pass, a pass that allows kids five years old or younger to get in for free all year long. Disney World and Universal only allow children in for free until they turn three. Pair that up with letting in active and certified Florida teachers for free -- something it has done since 1998 and Disney World and Universal don't do -- and you have brilliant ways to drum up turnstile clicks. Five-year-olds and many teachers aren't going to come on their own. They're going to be accompanied by paying guests.
Manby makes it so
Streamlining the online pricing isn't a surprise. It's one of the things that CEO Joel Manby singled out two months ago when he presented his strategic vision for a turnaround. Attendance across all of company's parks has started to stabilize -- up slightly through the first nine months of 2015 after declining in 2013 and 2014 -- and now it's time to build on that early momentum.
SeaWorld Entertainment stock outperformed Disney and Comcast in 2015. Now it's hoping that cheaper weekend tickets for Web-savvy users will help it win again in 2016.