Six Flags takeover duo could deep-six Mr. Six

By Published on .

A massive marketing overhaul is on the way for Six Flags if Dan Snyder and Mark Shapiro have their way.

Mr. Snyder, the former marketing executive and current owner of the Washington Redskins, and Mr. Shapiro, head of programming at Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, have teamed up to win control of the amusement company via Red Zone, a private-investment company.

Headquartered in Oklahoma, Six Flags is the world's No. 2 amusement-park operator, behind Walt Disney Co. It runs 32 parks in North America and did just over $1 billion in 2004 sales, but has been struggling with declining attendance and poor financial performance.

Mr. Snyder, the 40-year-old executive whose firm, Snyder Communications, was sold to Havas in 2000 for $2.1 billion, clearly believes that the parks can be turned around if they're cleaned up, improved and better marketed. He has proposed "redesigning advertising and marketing strategies" for Six Flags and "creating strategic sponsorship relationships with vendors and partnering with more modern brands."

The sort of full-scale overhaul envisioned by Mr. Snyder and Mr. Shapiro could mean the end of the road for the oddball octogenarian, "Mr Six," who has been the pitch man for Six Flags for the last two years. Created by Doner, Southfield, Mich, which won Six Flags' $100 million creative and media-services account in summer 2003, Mr. Six has been a hit on news and talk shows and has his own blogs and fast-selling merchandise. The campaign effort featuring him has ranked among the top 10 most recalled ads by Intermedia Advertising Group. Yet attendance at Six Flags dropped 4% in 2004, according to financial reports. Mr. Snyder did not return calls for comment on Mr. Six.

Mr. Snyder's investment company has been a vocal critic of the Six Flags amusement park operation since it bought a stake in the company a year ago. Then, last week, Red Zone submitted a Securities and Exchange Commission filing indicating it would seek additional seats on the Six Flags board and offer to purchase up to 34.9% of Six Flags' outstanding shares. Its conditions included removal of three board members and the election of three new ones, including Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Snyder, to be named CEO and chairman, respectively.

RESUME

Mr. Shapiro, who is 35, has been with ESPN for the past dozen years and was a driving force behind the company's fairly recent emphasis on original, scripted programming, including series and TV movies. The strategy was meant to help expand the cable company's demographic reach but also proved to be the network's saving grace in the wake of the National Hockey League's canceled 2004-2005 season.

He also helped negotiate ESPN's recent gridiron coup, as it won the rights to air "Monday Night Football," the sports prime-time "appointment viewing" package.

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