SeaWorld’s $10M Effort to Draw Back Visitors as Earnings Fall Short

SeaWorld Entertainment

Despite valiant efforts by SeaWorld Entertainment to restore its image after 2013’s “Blackfish” documentary, the entertainment company’s second quarter earnings failed to meet expectations.

Overall attendance at SeaWorld’s three theme parks in Orlando, Fla., San Diego and San Antonio fell to 6.48 million, down 2 percent from the same period in 2014. The company blames the drop in attendance on heavy rainfall in Texas, the timing of the Easter holiday and “brand challenges” in California, according to a report released by SeaWorld. Despite setbacks, the company says its Orlando park saw an increase in visitors.

SeaWorld reported an 85 percent drop in net income to $5.8 million and a 3 percent revenue decline to $391.6 million. These drops caused an initial stock decline of more than 5 percent in pre-market trading, but the stock quickly recovered. Despite setbacks, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said the company plans to meet its earnings goals for the year.

Read: Will SeaWorld’s $300M Initiative Keep You Visiting?

SeaWorld Suffers Series of Hardships After “Blackfish” Documentary

The “Blackfish” documentary that highlights the mistreatment of orcas at SeaWorld parks hit Sundance in 2013, and has since continued to plague the theme park. The public was outraged over the company’s treatment of killer whales, which resulted in dwindling attendance, abrasive news headlines, high-profile criticism from celebrities and animal rights groups, and constant social media backlash.

SeaWorld has also been hit with a number of lawsuits in 2015 alone regarding its treatment of orcas. In April, a class-action lawsuit was filed in San Francisco, claiming the company lies about the mental and physical well-being of its killer whales. Another was filed by plaintiffs Marc Anderson and Ellexa Conway, who want “to force SeaWorld to tell the truth” about its orcas, after visiting the San Diego park.

How SeaWorld Entertainment Plans to Stay Afloat

SeaWorld has been working tirelessly to restore its image. In December 2014, the company cleaned house, laying off 311 employees — many allegedly from the marketing department. By March 2015, Manby was brought on as the company’s new CEO to head initiatives to improve the company’s public image and increase park attendance.

SeaWorld is reportedly spending $10 million on continued efforts to clean up its image following “Blackfish.” The company has teamed up with outside consultants to launch aggressive reputation campaigns in response to criticisms about its treatment of orcas. SeaWorld is also amping up traditional advertising and PR efforts while offering slashed ticket prices at its theme parks.

“We realize we have much work ahead of us to recover more of our attendance base, increase revenue and improve our performance as returning to historical performance levels will take time and investment,” Manby said.

To address some of the company’s challenges, Manby announced plans to add two new roller coasters to its Orlando theme park in 2016. Manby also said that early feedback on SeaWorld’s marketing campaign has been positive, but noted work must still be done to address “brand challenges” in California. He reiterated strong hopes for SeaWorld earnings during the second half of the year.

“As we look to the remainder of the year, from a revenue perspective, we expect to benefit from favorable calendar timing, our popular fall event lineup and improvement in our revenue per capita,” Manby said. “On the expense side, with the bulk of our anticipated incremental costs related to our reputation campaign now behind us, we expect further improvement due to the ongoing benefit of our cost savings initiatives along with additional cost measures we have instituted for the second half.“

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