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Experiential

Licensing in the $40.4 Billion Theme Park Business

The amusement/theme park business is ramping up, and for licensed brands, it’s only getting better. Global theme park spending totaled $40.4 billion in 2015, up 7.4% from 2014, according to the Intl. Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA). The IAAPA points to a 5.2% increase in attendance, the largest gain during the past five years, as the biggest reason for growth.

Looking forwards, the IAAPA anticipates that the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East/North Africa will be the greatest growth areas. Indeed, major new parks scheduled to open around the world in the next years include motiongate Dubai (late 2016), Twentieth Century Fox World in Malaysia (2017), Universal Studios Beijing in China (2019), and a Six Flags park in China (2019).

As theme parks grow, they will need new ways to compete, keep their offerings fresh and attract new and repeat visitors. Using licensing to tap the fandom of popular properties—especially, but not exclusively, entertainment/character properties like Harry Potter—can be the perfect strategy. Theme park deals also make sense for licensors because they can provide a long-term flow of revenue from licensing fees and royalties on in-park merchandise sales, as well as an equally valuable continued consumer exposure to their top properties.


The top players are only getting bigger. The top 10 amusement park groups counted 420 million visitors in 2015—up 7.2% from 2014—according to TEA/AECOM’s 2015 Theme Index and Museum Index. In comparison, worldwide attendance grew 5.4% for the top 25 individual parks ranked by attendance.

NBCUniversal realized $3.3 billion in sales from its Universal Studios theme park business in 2015, an increase of 27% (after posting a 17% increase in the previous year). The new Wizarding World attraction in its Florida park (the attraction debuted in California last year) is credited with helping the park generate a record summer attendance this year. NBCU’s licensing deal for The Wizarding World runs into 2019 with renewals possible through 2029. And with its acquisition of DreamWorks, NBCU now has rights to the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar franchises. After dropping some licensed rides, Six Flags posted nearly $1.3 billion in 2015 revenue (up 7% from 2014)—marking its sixth consecutive year of record revenues. Those were but trickles, however, compared to Disney’s $16.2 billion in fiscal 2015 theme park revenue.

Top 10 Theme Parks Worldwide, by Attendance, 2015
Data Source: Attendance figures from TEA/AECOM 2015 Theme Index and Museum Index.
(Figures in Millions)
Rank Park Location Attendance, 2015 Attendance, 2014 Change, 2014–2015
1 Magic Kingdom At Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 20.49 19.33 6.0%
2 Disneyland Anaheim, California 18.28 16.77 9.0%
3 Tokyo Disneyland Tokyo, Japan 16.60 17.30 -4.0%
4 Universal Studios Japan Osaka, Japan 13.90 11.80 17.8%
5 Tokyo Disney Sea Tokyo, Japan 13.60 14.10 -3.5%
6 Epcot At Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 11.80 11.45 3.0%
7 Disney’s Animal Kingdom At Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 10.92 10.40 5.0%
8 Disney’s Hollywood Studios At Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 10.83 10.31 5.0%
9 Disneyland Park At Disneyland Paris Marne-La-Vallée, France 10.36 9.94 4.2%
10 Universal Studios At Universal Orlando, Florida 9.59 8.26 16.0%

Just this week, some major themed initiatives were announced. See a more complete list of upcoming attractions here.

Theme park owner and operator, IMG Worlds‘ latest project, IMG Worlds of Legends in Dubai, will feature nine branded zones spread across over 2 million square feet. The park features futuristic interactive rollercoasters, state-of-the-art rides, water-based attractions, and live entertainment from brands like:

  1. Nickelodeon: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants
  2. Ubisoft: Assassin’s Creed, Raving Rabbids, Just Dance
  3. Saban Brands: Power Rangers
  4. Pokémon
  5. Mattel: Barbie, Hot Wheels, Bob the Builder, Thomas & Friends, Mega Bloks
  6. (Anime Zone) Toei Animation: Dragon Ball Z, One Piece; TV Tokyo: Naruto
  7. Cartoon Network (a partner in IMG Worlds of Adventure): We Bare Bears and other brands to be revealed
  8. IMG Worlds’ proprietary brands: Legends of Arabia, Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure

Nintendo and Universal Parks & Resorts partner to bring themed areas—including brands like Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong—to Universal Studios Japan, Universal Orlando Resort, and Universal Studios Hollywood. Each interactive environment will include multiple attractions, shops, and restaurants.

Walt Disney and the Hong Kong government plan a $1.4 billion multi-year expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland. The expansion includes new Frozen-themed land, dedicated Marvel-themed area, Iron Man Experience, and an entertainment venue called Moana’s Village Festival in Adventureland. The expansion will be funded through cash equity injections from Hong Kong Disneyland’s shareholders, subsidiaries of Walt Disney and the Hong Kong government.

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