I have always been fascinated by theme and amusement parks. Maybe it was because I was fortunate to have grown up in an oceanside town with an amusement park. There were rides like the Roller Coaster, a Tilt-A-Whirl, a wonderful hand carved Merry Go Round and a Tunnel of Love that ended with a sharp drop into a watery pool.
That amusement park was torn down long ago but I can still call up in memory the fun and excitement of hearing screams; smell sea water, french fries and people; feel the breeze coming off the ocean and taste cotton candy, popcorn and chili dogs.
As much as it provides me with fond memories, I think that those of us who engage in the business of toys and play need to pay more attention to theme parks as competition for play time, play revenue and talent. They are not so much vacation destinations as giant family play environments filled with massive toys. They are for some families, a major, sometimes annual, play investment. How many people go to theme parks? According to The New York Times in an article by Brooks Barnes 62 million people visited central Florida in 2014. Thats equivalent to 21% of the U.S. population.
The scale of the theme park business is impressive. Here is a list of the seven top theme parks based on revenues from Statista:
- Disney Parks and Resorts - $15.1 Billion
- Universal Studio Theme Parks - $2.61 Billion
- Merlin Entertainment Group - $1.9 Billion
- OCT Parks China - $1.66 Billion
- SeaWorld Entertainment - $1.38 Billion
- Six Flags Entertainment Corporation - $1.2 Billion
- Cedar Fair Entertainment - $1.16 Billion
When you add that up, it comes to $25.01 Billion. Is that a lot of money? It is when you figure that NPD estimates toy industry retail sales in 2014 at $18.08 Billion.
The competition is not, however, just for time and dollars it is for talent. According to the same New York Times Universal Orlando alone employs 21,000 people while Disney World has 70,000 employees. The toy and play industry compete with these theme parks to get the best, the brightest and the most talented.
Just because theme parks are competition does not mean they are the enemy. The toy and play industry would be well advised to spend more time thinking about how theme parks attract so many visitors and so much talent. And while we are at it, look for opportunities to ally with these venues to drive the sale of toys and games.