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Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder leaving board of Six Flags


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Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder leaving board of Six Flags

 

By Thomas Heath

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, April 30, 2010; 9:13 PM

 

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is leaving the board of Six Flags and losing his equity investment in the amusement park company, a business he has chaired since winning a proxy fight five years ago.

 

Snyder's departure from the board, and that of his friend and Redskins partner Dwight C. Schar, appears to bring an end to their involvement in the company, which has been on a wild ride since Snyder took over in 2005.

 

Snyder's stake in the company when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last June was roughly 5 to 6 percent, but the stock had declined precipitously over the last several years as the company struggled.

 

Nine people, including Snyder's handpicked Six Flags chief executive Mark Shapiro, were named directors as part of a bankruptcy reorganization plan submitted by the company's junior bondholders, according to a filing submitted Friday in U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware.

 

Under the reorganization plan, Snyder could not be reappointed to the board without the consent of those junior bondholders. A spokesman for Snyder released a statement Friday that said Snyder would not seek reappointment.

 

"Mr. Snyder and fellow board member Dwight Schar declined the opportunity to remain on the board of directors because of their other business commitments," according to the statement by Snyder spokesman Karl Swanson.

 

The 49-year-old Six Flags collapsed last June under interest payments on $2.4 billion in debt that Snyder inherited from the amusement park's previous owners.

 

Six Flags, which owns about 20 parks throughout North American, sought under Snyder and Shapiro to create a more family-friendly atmosphere by adding new rides and attractions.

 

The company drew 25 million visitors in 2008 and in-park spending per customer has increased, although Six Flags has not turned a profit under Shapiro, largely because of interest payments. The current economic climate, with unemployment above 9 percent, has made it difficult for Six Flags to increase revenue.

 

Snyder took control of the company after a bitter proxy fight in 2005. He brought in the energetic Shapiro from ESPN to resurrect the struggling business.

 

Shapiro's strategy was to remake Six Flags into a more wholesome, family-oriented experience, emphasizing safety, cleanliness and customer service while forging partnerships with major sponsors such as Sara Lee and Chase Card Services.

 

The company doubled its income from corporate sponsorship and from season ticket sales, and it added themed attractions based on the Looney Tunes characters, the Justice League of America, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, the Wiggles and Thomas the Tank Engine.

 

But its summer 2007 attendance was slammed by bad weather in Georgia and Texas, and by an accident on a ride at its park in Kentucky. The same year, it sold seven of its theme parks to a Jacksonville, Fla., company for $312 million in an effort to improve its balance sheet.

 

Six Flags slashed admission prices by half at several parks to improve attendance and cut a deal in 2008 with a Dubai developer to build a theme park in the Arab emirate as part of a huge entertainment complex. Despite improvements in operations and attendance, the company could not get out from under its interest expense of $175 million a year, which ate up a big chunk of earnings.

 

In 2008, it said it would no longer pay a dividend to holders of certain preferred shares for the second consecutive quarter. The company was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. Other major investors in Six Flags include Bill Gates' Cascade Investment and the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.

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Great to hear, I am not 100% sure but I am guessing that he is the one who caused some of the changes in the park I didn't like (like the locker policy) based on the way he runs the Redskins's stadium (tearing out sidewalks so people had to pay to use a tram for example).

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I really don't think Snyder played a big part in the parks' operations. He left that up to Shapiro, who, unfortunately, is remaining. He has done a few good things, like cleaning up the parks a little and offering more children's attractions. However, he runs the parks like a 14 year old boy, all excited he can turn everything into comic book characters with no sense of what he is doing.

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I disagree about Shapiro. He's done so many good things for the parks behind the scenes which most people will never realize and managed to keep the company running under some REALLY bad economic circumstances. Have some of the ideas he presented flopped, yes, but at least he's tried and has learned from mistakes.

 

Snyder had very little to do with Six Flags, and his being involved or not being involved any longer should have little to no impact.

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I disagree about Shapiro. He's done so many good things for the parks behind the scenes which most people will never realize and managed to keep the company running under some REALLY bad economic circumstances. Have some of the ideas he presented flopped, yes, but at least he's tried and has learned from mistakes.

 

Snyder had very little to do with Six Flags, and his being involved or not being involved any longer should have little to no impact.

I happen to agree with "RobertDavid" 100%. What exactly has Mark Shapiro done that succeeded? Considering he's made every single mistake and excuse he chided previous management for (on an albeit smaller budget), he's done nothing to "right the ship". Burke and PKS faced much tougher circumstances than Shapiro which sunk their ship. "9/11" triggered a economic crisis too. Credit dried up, and stock prices dropped. It more importantly affected the entire theme park sector for years with steep downtrending attendance. People were legitimately terrified to visit "high profile" places with large congregations. PKS would have shown profits in 1998 and 1999 if not for "flagging" some of their smaller parks. 2000 I believe was a decent year too, but "9/11" killed everything. PKS also GREW the company and established it as an international brand. Burke's ultimate mistake was trying to build "Rome In a Day". Had he went slower, or never had an unforeseen, unprecedented atrocity; he might had succeeded. Mark Shapiro didn't do an extraordinary job of anything. Six Flags was saved by the bankruptcy courts, shareholders losing EVERYTHING, and bond holders willing to swap debt for equity. Mark did manage to save his job after the court kicked Snyder out. For that he should be commended.

 

Daniel Snyder is bemoaned for several reasons. Snyder was the catalyst for a hostile takeover that resulted in Burke (in a move to save his butt with a pricey real-estate sale) foolishly closing Astroworld. He setup the proposal that ultimately won him the company. Snyder presented the vision of running the company more a kin to a sports property with higher pricing and bad policies (no re-entry). He recruited someone with ZERO theme park or "hospitality" experience to run a troubled company. Mark Shapiro was a controversial figure at ESPN Original Entertainment; who managed to piss off the NFL with "Playmakers" (A little birdie expressed great joy among the top brass with his departure). SIX remained in a identity crisis with declining revenues and ballooning debts. Mark Shapiro tried to say the right things, and to his credit has been accessible. He simply failed to execute a plan, show any signs of stabilizing or growing the company, or finding a way to reduce debts without filing for bankruptcy.

 

Six Flags can be a great company. With proper leadership and vision, I truly believe it can be a regional destination. It's too bad the court didn't remove Shapiro and appoint new leadership. I believe recruiting someone from Busch Entertainment or Universal would know how to move the company forward.

 

RedZone's key criticisms of PKS (abridged):

 

*Marketing - "Mr. Six doesn't present the image of clean family parks". Replacements: Post apocalyptic, dark ads featuring coasters appearing from nowhere, and a derided screaming Asian Stereotype. Finally, they bring back the popular "Mr. Six" some 4 years later.

 

*Theming "We're not just going to plop down coasters anywhere" "No More Goliaths!" "No Tilt-A-Whirls". Results: Exactly that, plopping down "The Dark Knight" in its unfinished glory in "Movietown" and "Orleans Place" (Six Flags Great America). Superhero overlays and "Johnny Rockets" in the Old-West and Old Mexico respectively. GCI wooden coasters (good ones thankfully) with questionable tie-ins.

 

*SBNO Rides "I hate SBNO rides. Rides should all be open with the parks. Coasters should be running with multiple trains". Result: multiple rides removed without replacement, fully functioning attractions left dormant, "Medusa" opened at noon.

 

That's a simplistic overview of SIX under Shapiro, but it highlights many of the hypocrisies.

Edited by Thunderbolt
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While I agree with some of those criticisms, I give Shapiro credit for learning the business and dealing with the realities of the state the company was in. You're absolutely right, the criticisms they leveled at the previous management were from an outsider perspective and in some cases misguided, but the fact that they have changed their positions as the reality of the business set in is a sign of growth.

 

It's easy for an outsider to say a lot of things...just look at all the coaster fan sites and how everyone wants every park to install world record launched mega looping wooden coasters with lapbars. The realities of business are always different when you are actually in the position.

 

I know Mark Shapiro came into the position with no experience, but he has fully embraced the business. He has had to deal with questionable investments of the past. When you look at GA there was a HUGE (456') investment made which keeps taking more than its fair share of maintenance budget, operating budget, etc. They could have just closed Ka and kept all the flat rides which had been neglected for too long running, or remove/close those dime a dozen rides and keep the world's tallest and fastest coaster running. Which makes more sense?

 

In the mean time while the company dealt with the financial realities, they have gone a LONG way to improve morale among the staff, improved service, cleaned things up, fixed things that had been neglected for too long and rebuilt the foundations of the company for growth. Now that the bankruptcy is behind they can finally really do things right. The new controlling investors in the company are very interested in investing smartly in the parks and are getting feedback from ALL levels about what they should be doing next. I think good things are in store now.

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Unfortunately, with all he has learned the past few years, Mark Shapiro still does not have the theme park experience necessary to run theme parks. He's still under the impression that throwing obscure fast food restaurants all over the park and turning everything into superheros is going to do the trick.

 

When asked during the fan call why Great Adventure does not have any live stage shows, he tried to argue that it does. ( "There's a dolphin show and a tiger show" ). He does not understand what people want in a park and still has no plans to offer adults something to make them want to come to the park again. Adults do not want to walk around on a slab of cement surrounded by brightly colored twisted metal with comic book characters all over them. Adults want a park, with flowers and trees, restaurants that enhance the experience with food they can not get every day, and live shows to watch. You can also have the roller coasters that teenagers want, themed to blend with the atmosphere instead of clashing with it.

 

Mark Shapiro sated when he took the job that previous management spent too much effort attracting teenagers and alienating adults and the survival of the company depended on ending that practice. However, he seems to be taking the parks farther in that direction, deepening the main problem and setting them up for another fall.

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Unfortunately, with all he has learned the past few years, Mark Shapiro still does not have the theme park experience necessary to run theme parks. He's still under the impression that throwing obscure fast food restaurants all over the park and turning everything into superheros is going to do the trick.

 

Like it or not, the restaurants introduced at Six Flags (Johnny Rockets, Papa Johns, Coldstone, etc.) have done exactly what they were supposed to do, appeal to families. That's why they all have lines and have added additional locations since they were introduced. Many guests want to know what they are getting so they go to a brand they know in the park. I addition those restaurants have increased their exposure with many people who had never tried their food getting a taste and then goign to their local locations. I had never had Papa John's or Johnny Rockets before they came to Six Flags and since I tried them at the parks I have purchased their food from other locations outside the park. I can't imagine I am the only person who has done this.

 

When asked during the fan call why Great Adventure does not have any live stage shows, he tried to argue that it does. ( "There's a dolphin show and a tiger show" ).

 

Like the example of KK, those shows are something that existed BEFORE he took over and are more expensive to produce than a more traditional stage shows, and are FAR more popular than anything that has ever been presented in Showcase Theater or the Great Lake Grandstand or Movietown Stunt Arena and are a unique feature of GA. Should they not have a dolphin show or a tiger show in order to have shows in those other venues? When money is tight you have to make smart decisions about where you spend it and those shows are popular.

 

He does not understand what people want in a park and still has no plans to offer adults something to make them want to come to the park again. Adults do not want to walk around on a slab of cement surrounded by brightly colored twisted metal with comic book characters all over them. Adults want a park, with flowers and trees, restaurants that enhance the experience with food they can not get every day, and live shows to watch. You can also have the roller coasters that teenagers want, themed to blend with the atmosphere instead of clashing with it.

 

He understands that more than anything parents want a clean safe park which has been his priority. While GA is not the Enchanted Forest it used to be, it's hardly a sterile slab of concrete like Dorney or one of the CF parks. Under Shapiro landscaping budgets have increased and trees are FINALLY being planted in the park again. Once again with the realities of $2.8 billion in debts there are limits to what can be spent in any one park in any one season...the changes take time. As for restaurants where people can get food they can't get everyday, the park still has quite a few, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by anyone including Shapiro that the park's most popular restaurant is still Best of the West and investments have been made each season to make even more improvements in quality. Yes, things like the transformation of Medusa to Bizzaro are simple additions of comic book characters to a coaster that didn't need it, but when you have limited dollars and you want to make a large impact with them it's a good solution to help revive an aging ride.

 

Mark Shapiro sated when he took the job that previous management spent too much effort attracting teenagers and alienating adults and the survival of the company depended on ending that practice. However, he seems to be taking the parks farther in that direction, deepening the main problem and setting them up for another fall.

 

His focus has been making the park's attractive to as many ages and types of guests as possible. The fact is that the park's had already been built up as thrill meccas to attract teens. He never said he didn't want them, just he wanted to further broaden the appeal to families since they spend money. Offerings for the youngest guest were increased and most important, the atmosphere within the parks has become more family friendly. The days of the "scary" crowds are mostly a thing of the past with everyone adhering to strict codes of conduct that make the parks a better place to be. Those rules were always there under the old management, but enforcement was not their priority, just like maintenance was not their priority. When Shapiro took over he explained that things were more damaged than he anticipated, and they were...spirits of the employees were broken, the parks were broken.

 

I know it's frustrating having to wait for things like more shows, more flat rides, more trees, etc, but everyone's hands were tied by crippling debts. Maybe it's because I have been more than 30 years of being a park goer that I know things WILL change, it just takes time. The pendulum swings one way, then it goes the other way...that's the pattern of all history.

 

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Everyone understands the limits of budgets. However, when you have money to refurbish and you spend it turning a roller coaster in the western section of the park into Bizarro, it's not a problem of having money as much as knowing what to do with it.

 

If they ever want to be successful, they are going to have to offer quality, and something unique that makes it worth the trip and the money.

 

Another trend in the wrong direction is making every park the same, the same rides and the same theming. It makes people feel that "if you've been to one Six Flags, you've been to them all".

 

I have no doubt in my mind that the fast food chains are "dumbing down" the parks. Diluting the theming and atmosphere and offering nothing unique and nothing to enhance the experience of the parks.

 

Sooner or later "Blame the previous management" is not going to work anymore.

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Everyone understands the limits of budgets. However, when you have money to refurbish and you spend it turning a roller coaster in the western section of the park into Bizarro, it's not a problem of having money as much as knowing what to do with it.

 

If they ever want to be successful, they are going to have to offer quality, and something unique that makes it worth the trip and the money.

 

Dude, they're just coming out of bankruptcy. Obviously you weren't in the fan call. he said they are going to focus more on theming.

 

Another trend in the wrong direction is making every park the same, the same rides and the same theming. It makes people feel that "if you've been to one Six Flags, you've been to them all".

 

Not at all. No one thinks that except for you I think. No parks are the same. Not one ride has the same exact theming. Sure they have the same name but so what?

I have no doubt in my mind that the fast food chains are "dumbing down" the parks. Diluting the theming and atmosphere and offering nothing unique and nothing to enhance the experience of the parks.

 

What do you expect though?

 

 

 

I don't think your being reasonable at all. Their just coming out of bankruptcy. Give it some time and let them get back on their feet. Your comment about all the DC stuff. So what? Its profitable and gets them money. People go see the movie and hear there is a ride they will go ride it. Plus Warner Bros comes to SF asking them to make the ride. Now about Bizarro, I can tell you that it was last minute to make it another Bizarro. It was scheduled to have a repaint and possible a rename but wouldn't you rather have the buildings, the shields, the auger, the audio, and fire? Yeah I thought so.

 

SF is being succesful. I don't know how you can think they aren't. The parks have been jam packed as far as I know and this is just before summer. imagine all summer? Also Mr. Shapiro didn't just see theirs a tiger and dolphin show, I know I said this but you obviously were not in that fan call.

 

My little rant is over.

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I WAS in on the Fan Call. So "obviousely" you're mistaken. I was the one who asked him about the shows.

 

He got extremely annoyed whenever someone gave him an honest opinion and didn't just tell him how wonderful he was.

 

He also said thet he was going to do more "Bizarro-like" makovers. This is what scares me. Bizarro was a bad move. The fact that he does not see this, or at least will not admit it, and says he wants to continue the trend, is scary.

 

Their attempts to make a quick buck by attracting teenagers is what got them into trouble to begin with. Continuing that trend will just continue the problems.

 

Yes it will take time and money to turn the parks around. But it will never happen if they continue the trends that caused the problems in the first place. This is why I bring up Bizarro. That was not done by the previous management. This is a trend the current management is following. The same amount of money they used to make Bizarro could have been used to theme the ride to fit the western section of the park it is in. When people on this site found out they were retheming Medusa, they came up with a lot of possible themes that would have made the ride fit in the theme. Instead, they wasted money creating another completely inappropriate theme for the ride that does not fit. It's not that they were in bankruptcy and did not have the money. They had the money but did not know what to do with it.

 

Take a look at the biographies of the new Board of Directors, led by Mr. Shapiro. Not one of those people have any theme park experience. They have no idea what they are doing. They know how to make a quick buck, but they don't know how to make a quality park, and they will suffer the same consequences they suffered in the past doing the same thing.

 

How can you say the parks are successful when they just went bankrupt? Mark Shapiro has been in charge for 5 years. It should not take that long to at least realize what was being done wrong and start to correct it. Instead they continue to go the direction of making the parks glorified carnivals instead of theme parks.

 

I'm sorry if it upsets you to hear it, but I'm not going to coddle Mr. Shapiro and tell him what a wonderful job he is doing while he continues taking the parks down the wrong path.

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I'm pretty sure he never said that they were going to do more Bizarro-like makeovers. If I remember correctly he said no more Bizarro-like makeovers. How was Bizarro a bad move though? I know for SFNE it brought in a lot of people and I know for GADV it did to. Both lines were filled every day.

 

You think that they're attracting teenagers? They are not continuing the trend of attracting teenagers. They've been trying to bring in the families, which as far as I know they have been bringing in more and more families.

 

Anyways it doesn't matter anymore. Shapiro is out.

Edited by acq10uaz
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What are you talking about? Shapiro is not out. They just signed him to a new contract and he is the head of the Board of Directors.

 

When someone during the call said they liked what they did with Bizarro and asked if more such makeovers would happen, Shapiro said they were planning more. Bizarro was a mistake because it further destroyed the theming and atmosphere of the park, placing a superhero themed ride in the western section of the park.

 

It temporarily got people to ride the coaster to see what the changes were. After the initial curiosity wears off you will have the same number people riding it as before, the people who like the ride. It does not matter what color the ride is or what it is called, people will ride a coaster if it is good and will not ride it if it is not. It is not necessary to destroy the park atmosphere to try to entice people to ride a coaster. They could theme the coasters to blend with the surrounding themes and people will ride them because they like coasters, and will actually enjoy them more if they enhance the theming and experience of the park as a whole.

 

Six Flags still does not understand the concept of theming. They theme each ride independantly, having no concept of what will be around it or where in the park it is being placed. Then they all clash with each other and just create a mess of contrasting colors and themes. This totaly turns off adults who do not ride the rides. They spend the day in a park enjoying the atmosphere, watching shows, and eating. Adults do not like Six Flags because they are tacky, unattractive parks. Mark Shapiro said he understood this when he took control 5 years ago, however he is still taking them in the same direction. The parks have gotten cleaner, but the tacky atmospheres are just getting worse.

 

Superheros and fast food chains are not what adults look for in a theme park. Even if they create income in the short term, they will create another downfall in the long run.

 

Trying to make a quick buck by sacrificing the future is what led to bankruptcy in the first place.

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