SeaWorld suffers a visitor drought

The company's parks have witnessed a 6% decline in visitors, prompting questions about the impact of a negative documentary.

By Aimee Picchi Aug 30, 2013 1:06PM

Believe show in Shamu Stadium at the SeaWorld Orlando theme park in Orlando, Fla.Mix together killer whales, a negative documentary and bad weather, and what do you get? If you're SeaWorld (SEAS), all three ingredients apparently have created a visitor drought. 

The SeaWorld parks have seen a 6% decline in visitors during the first half of the year, although the cause of the downturn isn't entirely clear. SeaWorld rejects the notion that a documentary called "Blackfish," which is critical about the treatment of killer whales in captivity, had an impact on attendance, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Amid the dry spell, SeaWorld has cut some prices, offering San Diego residents a free children's ticket when an adult ticket is bought, or a $71 value, Bloomberg reports.

But SeaWorld is denying the ticket deal is a reaction to the visitor drought, telling The Times that it's "not slashing prices, period." The discounts are part of what it describes as a typical theme park marketing technique. 

Nevertheless, bargains on theme park tickets may strike some as unusual, given the never-ending upward price march for Walt Disney's (DIS) parks. A single-day ticket at Disneyland rose 6% earlier this year, and now requires $92 for entry.

SeaWorld was in the news earlier this year with the January premiere of "Blackfish," which continued to gain media coverage just as families were planning theme-park visits over winter and spring school breaks. The film, which will air on Time Warner's (TWX) CNN in October, was called a "disturbing film" by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which notes SeaWorld declined to be interviewed by the filmmakers.

To be sure, given that the film wasn't widely released, it's unclear how many potential SeaWorld visitors would have heard about or seen the movie. 

SeaWorld has its own explanation about dwindling attendance: poor weather. Its parks in Florida and Virginia were impacted by unfavorable weather earlier this year, while Easter fell on a weekend that also happened to be spring break for college students, The Los Angeles Times notes. 

Regardless of the reason for the drop off, investors have taken notice. SeaWorld's stock has plunged 24% since mid-July, when shares crested following its April initial stock sale.

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

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Aug 30, 2013 2:35PM
Perhaps the prices for going to Sea World or Disney land may have something to do with the decline? Just a thought. Attendance is declining for parks and sporting events no mater what they are. It doesn't take a lot of deep thinking to figure it out, people just don't have that much excess cash to toss away on a days worth of fun. Kind of a no brainer.
Aug 30, 2013 3:25PM
Their price for admission is outrageous!
Aug 30, 2013 2:57PM
I stopped going to theme parks when the prices passed $50.  I don't know how families afford to go.
Aug 30, 2013 2:50PM
It's the money stupid! These theme parks have outpriced themselves out of the market. To add insult to injury at Seaworld; they make you sit in the far back rows if you didn't pay the preferred seating on the expensive admission ticket. Very tacky!!
Aug 30, 2013 3:20PM
its the prices....doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure that out! ridiculous fee's!!!!!!!!
Aug 30, 2013 2:09PM
Disney world is a fraud priced at $92 per person. But i guess there are people in this country with no hobbies!
Aug 30, 2013 1:52PM

It would be helpful to know the attendance figures for other theme parks. Are they all down, or just Sea World? Also, the role f gas prices need to be addressed.


Weak article.

Aug 30, 2013 3:33PM

They've got to be out of their friggin minds!!!  I just visited their website, and for an adult the ticket price is $79, or $64 with their special.


I wouldn't pay $25 to get in there. Goes to reason why "Theme Parks" have been off my radar for the last 13 years!


Good ole American Greed!

Aug 30, 2013 3:32PM

I am sure we can blame a multitude of issues that have led to the decline in SeaWorld.  One, most people don't know about is how they treat their employees.  My former wife, a breast cancer survivor had worked at SeaWorld for 6 years, well before the Japanese bought it.  The fired her because she had to many sick days.  She explained to them that Chemo Therapy left her with a compromised immune system, and as a result, she would get ill as a result of this and probably her exposure to all the kids who visit.  They did not care, and she was fired.  She appealed the termination with the court, and won.  Their decision was you cannot fire someone just because they get sick.  She always called in, and did not "abuse" any sick time.  She was awarded back pay, and unemployment.  However, Sea World did not offer to give her back her job.   They just paid the money, and went on collecting money from you and me when we visit.  Given their attitude, at least management's...I know I WILL NOT visit Sea World again.   From what she told me, her story was not unique, Management at Sea World is just like Wall Street....they are out to make a buck at anybodys expense.  I just know they won't get my $ ever again.   Maybe they can focus their efforts on more whale research and kill a few more whales in the name of science, and dinner.  



Aug 30, 2013 4:14PM
I don't know the price of a ticket to see the show but it sounds like a child ticket is $71.00 which means an adult ticket is more. So I would think that attendance might have something to do with the price of admission. I don't have the slightest desire to pay that kind of money to see dolphins jump through hoops.
Aug 30, 2013 2:50PM
SeaWorld Orlando has made tow AWFUL decisions in their newest theme attractions.   Turtle Trek is a bore, and they TOTALLY screwed up their penguin exhibit.   They spent $20 million to COMPLETELY ruin what used to be one of our favorite parts of the park.   Now you sit in line for over an hour to get on some lame animated ride that is just garbage to then see penguins in a MUCH smaller exhibit in a 40 degree room.   You CANNOT SEE THE PENGUINS if you don't go through the ride.   To make it worse, they took out the Puffins.    This was a god awful decision.   It's like someone at their corporate HQ said, "We need a Harry Potter ride" then crapped out this piece of junk.  They even tried to model the exterior in a pseudo Harry Potter style like Universal did.   Unforgivable.
Aug 30, 2013 2:06PM

Excellent!  Sea World deserves all they get. 

Watch "The Cove" also to see where they get the dolphins for their shows.  Bloody murderers...they round up the dolphin pods into a cove, the trainers go pick a few, then the hunters murder the rest of the dolphins.  It's called Blood Cove for a reason.  If you haven't seen a picture of it, you can't imagine the horror. Men with guns patrol the area to prevent any activists from helping the animals.


I'm very glad to see that their business is should.  Close down all animal shows.

Aug 30, 2013 3:13PM

Read the book, "Death At SeaWorld"  before you take SeaWorld's side.  They are in it for the $$$.  And it is a crock if they say differently.


Parents should take their kids to see ORCAS in the wild (there are plenty of tours) or at a theater on a giant screen.  Instead of seeing them do tricks like a trained dog.


I wonder about those kids that were in the audience when the last trainer that was killed.  Very sad to think of the memories they will have.


I hope SeaWorld's income dries up completely and that they shut down.  One of the whales that was captured in Puget Sound is at a dump of an aquarium in Miami, in a pool too small for her (Lolita is her name, google her to read about her 43 years in that miserable place).  The owner won't give her up to return to Puget Sound waters because she is a money maker.


It really is all about the money....


Aug 30, 2013 4:17PM
Before I knew better, I did go to sea world and enjoyed it. Now that I know better, I will never again go there or anyplace similar. Whether it's sea world or the circus, animals are not put on this earth to entertain us. Isn't it more important to teach kids compassion than to provide them with a few hours of entertainment at the expense of these animals?
Aug 30, 2013 2:37PM
Good!  Time for SeaWorld to go underwater and for humans to realize that is immoral to imprison orca whales to perform tricks for ticket-buying customers.  See Blackfish with its interviews with many former SeaWorld orca trainers who ought to know what they are talking about.  May Dawn Brancheau rest in peace.
Aug 30, 2013 4:29PM

after the killing of the trainer, Im spooked beyond words. these poor animals are living in a goldfish bowl compared to their natural habitat, orcas belong to the ocean, not to us! free them now!!!


Aug 30, 2013 2:22PM
After the whales killed a few of their trainers you would have thought somebody in a position of authority would have got the message. Instead, the people continue getting the propaganda about how these poor, poor creatures wouldn't make it without the benefits of captivity. I just love it when SeaWorld's PR machine manages to disconfirm "Freedom good. Captivity bad."
Aug 30, 2013 3:02PM
Got to Agree with Toadvine.  I just returned from SW-Orlando and the two new attractions were not well thought out. The  Antartica ride and attraction is awful.  The temp is freezing inside the attraction and you don't want to stand around in the cold to observe the penquins.
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