Are Parks Better By a Chain or Independently? – Debate

A question that can be considered based on looking at the performance of many different parks is:

Are Parks Better Owned Independently or by a Company?

This topic is dependent on someone’s views toward the value of an amusement park. It also affects decisions, financial plans, and other important things beyond public control.

Many parks are successful: ones owned independently AND ones owned by a company.

Some amusement parks would not benefit from being owned by a company, or owned independently.

Part I – The Difference

I am assuming it is self-explanatory what both sides mean and look like.

I will quickly recap.

A park owned by a company is part of an amusement park chain. It is a company who owns multiple amusement parks and manages it.

A park owned independently may still be owned by a company but normally a smaller one. The company normally does not own other amusement parks.

Part II – Compare and Contrast

The difference in having a chain own a park and operating independently can vary.

In simple terms, when owned by a chain, the same standards and associations will be known to all of the parks. Anything such as an opinion or trademark, for example, is now part of the other park.

In addition, experiences and opinions/reviews also will influence decisions to visit other parks in a specific chain.

It also puts restrictions on funds and park budgets. It also adds the risk of if the park closes and the chain will not reopen it, there are conflicts. Examples have been seen in past years with this type of situation.

Operating independently allows a park to have more branding and marketing freedom.

It also allows a park to have its own identity and review, not having restrictions or associations with a large company.

Part III – Benefits vs. Risks

Benefits and risks are a major thing to discuss when comparing operating independently vs. part of a chain.

Part of a Chain

Being part of a chain can have many benefits. Positive associations with other parks and support are a very good benefit.

Another benefit is having many operations and processes managed by the parent company. It makes it easier and seamless.

Some risks include being not financially stable or functioning if the chain loses support or a park closes.

Other risks include negative associations due to other parks and loss of revenue due to that.

One huge downside is having processes and decisions made to benefit a park, that is not of interest for people in charge.

It has been seen in amusement park history for a chain to have full control over everything, causing conflicts for a park.

Operating Independently

Being operated independently or by a small company has some positives and also setbacks.

One benefit is having an individual identity and operating system. Original names, original programs. It makes it very selective.

It also gives the management team full power about decisions about the park.

One setback is having poor management and not enough public support causing failing efforts.

Another setback is not getting the funds to operate or expand.

Part IV – The Best Option

The best option is to operate a park independently.

The reason that it is stronger than a park being owned by a chain is because it creates an individual market.

It allows the officials for the park to focus on it and just it. Decisions and other plans can be changed and edited without additional approval.

Processes and action can slow down by being owned by a chain.

Images and other public attributes will be able to be built and not influenced by a company or other amusement parks. Often, this puts parks in a bad position.


6 thoughts on “Are Parks Better By a Chain or Independently? – Debate

  1. If you examine a park that was both a independent, and as part of a chain, your conclusion doesn’t hold up. Almost all of the chains grew out of an existence as a independent entity at one time, and oh so many of those that insisted on staying independent did so – until their demise – either by market domination by others or capital constraints. While some parks like Kentucky Kingdom, were almost destroyed by corporate directives and policy, it lives on now as a independent, and has a promising future. One has to wonder if Michigan Adventure would be a much different destination if even a competitor to Cedar Fair owned it.

    The bottom line is that park ownership is expensive. You have to be self insured, willing to take huge risks, and being associated with popular cartoon or movie characters or corporate ride sponsors doesn’t hurt either. Take a look at all the proposed parks that never saw the light of day, and those like Hard Rock that did (then quickly closed), and you will see that success in this business is a gamble at best.

    Even chains like Six Flags which declared bankruptcy, and Cedar Fair that still carries massive debt from the Paramount acquisition, or SeaWorld (with it’s many PR issues) have had cash flow problems. Walt Disney himself mortgaged everything he had just open Disneyland and prior to Orlando, Universal Studios was nothing more than a way to generate income visiting movie backlots when they weren’t filming.

    Perhaps the best option today is to be a company owned park with a local management team. Busch Gardens is a prime example. Only two parks – with little in common except funding.

    So what is best?


    1. Your examination was well constructed. An independent park causes problems to a level, but so does being owned by a company. A company owned park with a local management team causes problems in the industry. You used Busch Gardens as a “prime example”. That is not a strong example. Sea World, the company that owns them had financial problems in the past. Projects had to be revised and funding was shortened. That did not benefit their parks. It really depends on the park and company/management team.


      1. For the sake of this comparison, Busch Gardens today is basically the two amusement parks in the US. There were Busch Gardens parks in Pasadena, California, Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California and Houston, Texas – but these all long gone (that’s another story).

        Busch Gardens parks were initially developed as marketing vehicles for Anheuser-Busch, and they featured hospitality houses with samples of Anheuser-Busch products (aka free beer!). They also promoted the Clydesdale horses and factory tours. Eventually, rides and attractions were added to the mix and they were developed into full theme parks while still promoting Anheuser-Busch. Much like Hershey used candy as an intellectual property – Busch used the parks as advertising for their beer.

        SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, was then created as a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch Companies to run the parks because the original synergies between the two businesses had changed and there was little still in common.

        Then due to mergers and acquisitions in the beverage market, InBev, the new owners of Anheuser-Busch, sold the amusement park business arm to the Blackstone Group (which also owns the Legoland, Merlin Entertainment, Alton Towers, Gardaland, Thorp Park…).

        So, you need to fact check your ownership and corporate family trees. If anything, SeaWorld parks are much lower on the Blackstone totem pole than the Busch parks are, and although they are still related – it’s safe to say they really don’t interact very much on family matters.

        And as for the future… Blackstone is basically an investment group. They are only interested in making a return for their stock holders. This is why there is always talk of buying and selling businesses in their portfolio. They are pretty good at what they do – but have no emotions when it comes to going all in, or cashing out of a venture.


        1. I know that the parks are owned by the Blackstone Group after being sold to them around 10 years ago. But, the revenue of Sea World Entertainment did affect Busch Gardens. It caused financial difficulties linked because of their parent company. I am aware how Blackstone plays a role in this. However, it still did affect the park. That is an example of how a local management team but owned by a chain would not nessacary be the best options. It can be the most reasonable choice in some cases, but there are disadvantages.


  2. Looking back at parks that I’ve been to, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a independent park. I’ve been to 2 Cedar Fair parks, 2 Disney, 2 Sea World / Busch parks, 2 Herschend parks, just 1 Six Flags, and Universal. I think being in a chain benefits some much more than others. Take Herschend for example. Dollywood benefits from the chain with new rides and shows on a almost yearly basis. Wild Adventures, while under the same ownership, rarely gets new attractions. I understand that Dollywood and Silver Dollar City are the cash cows but Wild Adventures doesn’t really improve by being in the chain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. It depends on the specific park and chain. Some parks do not get attention by being part of a chain. An example would be Michigan’s Adventure, which would benefit more from being part of a chain. Other parks are good being run independently. It really depends on the attendance and needs of the individual park and chain. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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