SIX FLAGS BOARD SHAKEUP SETS STAGE FOR COMPANY OVERHAUL
Daniel Snyder Victory Portends Major Marketing Changes
SIX FLAGS STRIKES BACK AT DAN SNYDER'S TAKEOVER BID
Urges Shareholders to Reject Offer; Puts Itself on Auction Block
ESPN PROGRAMMING CHIEF JOINS SIX FLAGS TAKEOVER BID
Mark Shapiro Hired as CEO of Red Zone Investment Firm
SIX FLAGS BUSINESS DECLINES DESPITE POPULAR ADS
Mr. Six Becomes Cultural Icon but Park Attendance Slides
BEHIND THE GLITZ OF SIX FLAGS ADVERTISING
Broken Rides, Peeling Paint, Exorbitant Prices
SIX FLAGS' DANCER ADS MAY BE A LITTLE TOO CLEVER
'Creep' Factor Entertains But Does It Pull In Paying Customers?
SIX FLAGS AWARDS DONER $100 MILLION AD ACCOUNT
Struggling Theme Parks Operator Hopes to Reverse Financial Slide
In an interview with Advertising Age, Mark Shapiro, a member of the Red Zone team and the newly named CEO of Six Flags, said his 100-day plan begins with visits to staff and management to assess the company's structure, marketing plans and capital expenditures. He intends to immediately begin building sponsorship ties and strategic alliances, citing the Papa John’s pizza chain and burger companies as prime candidates. Beginning in January, he plans to visit 30 parks in 30 days.
Following a board meeting earlier this week, Six Flags said it is no longer for sale, after the deadline for submitting final bids passed without any offers (it had put itself on the auction block in August following Mr. Snyder's takeover bid). Six Flags also formally ousted CEO Kieran Burke, replacing him with Mr. Shapiro, a former ESPN programming executive, and naming a trio of entertainment and advertising heavyweights to the theme park operator’s board.
The three are Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of entertainment company Weinstein Co.; former Representative and onetime vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, now head of Kemp Partners, a Washington consulting firm; and Michael Kassan, a consultant, attorney, and former president-chief operating officer of media buying and planning network Initiative Media. The directors bring a wealth of experience in sports and entertainment.
“We’re dipping into different people to broaden our portfolio of relationships,” Mr. Shapiro said. “To restore family confidence in a brand, you’re going to reach through all sorts of avenues.”
Mr. Weinstein, who founded movie company Miramax with his brother Bob and then sold it to the Walt Disney Co., left Miramax and started the Weinstein Co. with is brother.
Prior to his role at Initiative, one of the largest media buying networks, Mr. Kassan ran Western International and handled media buying for Disney. While at Initiative, he bought media for Six Flags and has known Mr. Snyder for a decade. Mr. Shapiro said Mr. Kassan’s lifetime of experience with advertisers, including the Disney World, Disneyland and Six Flags theme parks, is invaluable, but he will also “open doors” to form partnerships and strategic alliances. “He has an unbelievable Rolodex of partners and relationships.”
Mr. Kemp, who was a professional football quarterback with the Buffalo Bills (Mr. Snyder owns the Washington Redskins football franchise), is in many of the same social circles with Mr. Snyder. Mr. Shapiro said Mr. Kemp sits on more than a dozen boards and “has a habit of aligning himself with companies that have been underutilized and undervalued.”
Despite well-documented plans to also put an end to the popular "Mr. Six" advertising campaign, Mr. Shapiro told Advertising Age he wouldn’t formally pronounce the hyperactive codger dead, saying he wanted to first meet with Doner, the agency that created the character. “We have to meet with Doner and evaluate where we are,” he said. “I’m not a fan of the Mr. Six campaign. The reason is I don’t know what Mr. Six stands for. How does he represent the company? What does he signify for our guests?”
He admitted that the dancing octogenarian has raised “tremendous awareness” for the theme park, but questioned whether he’s improving guest counts. “Is he bringing more people to the parks?” Mr. Shapiro asked. “I don’t think that’s happened.”
'He's a gimmick'
He scoffed at the research cited in a Six Flags filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that defended the marketing strategy. “You can show me any numbers you want ... but I don’t believe it’s increasing people through turnstiles,” he said. “The success in increasing attendance this summer had more do with good weather. Mr. Six isn’t selling an experience. He’s a gimmick and I don’t think a gimmick is the right way to sell Six Flags.”
He may meet some resistance from a group of roller-coaster enthusiasts who have begun an online petition to “Save Mr. Six.” “That’s tremendous,” Mr. Shapiro said. “Anybody who’s talking about Six Flags is good for business.”
The new CEO said he will meet with the Southfield, Mich.-based Doner within the next 30 to 45 days, although a meeting is expected to take place as early as this week, according to a knowledgeable executive.
More diverse group
The longtime media executive is bent on tapping the typical customer’s nine-hour stay to reinvent the day-trip destination into a powerful marketing medium for other brands. “We’ve got a captive audience unlike no other,” Mr. Shapiro said. “Baseball doesn’t have it. Opera doesn’t have it. It’s got to be something that every summer is indispensable for families.”
Speaking hypothetically, that means attracting a more diverse group of big-name marketing partners. “It’s not just about roller coasters anymore,” he said, adding that whatever entertainment options are hot are prime targets for the parks. “If Xbox 360 is hot, that could mean having an Xbox 360 interactive village, or if Wes Craven stands for scary, why don’t we have a Wes Craven haunted village? Whatever’s hot.”
He was quick, however, to note that no talks have taken place with those brands.