Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hard Rock Woes

Ever heard of Hard Rock Park? Probably not, which is why they filed for chapter 11. Hard Rock Park announced on its Web site that it is closed for the season "to allow management to focus on restructuring efforts." The announcement says the park will reopen in 2009. The closure will help the park reduce debt and ensure it can stay around. HRP filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which will allow the park to stay open and try to cut back on its debt.

To give you a little background, Hard Rock Park is branded just like the restaurant/hotel chain in terms of theme, except here it is executed on a 140 acre, $400 million dollar amusement park. The star attraction is the B&M sitdown looping coaster "Led Zeppelin: The Ride," a steel machine that is set to the music of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love". The park features six “rock environs” celebrating rock’s culture, lifestyle, legends and irreverence. There's a dark ride called "The Trip" and the theme is, you guessed it, doing drugs and getting high. At an amusement park. Intended for families. Another notable ride is Maximum RPM, the first roller coaster to utilize a Ferris wheel type lift system and karaoke queue line.

Located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the park opened its doors for the first time this past spring with high attendance expectations: 3 million projected the first year. That didn't happen. Not even close. Poor planing did this park in. The rides had surprising low capacity (not that that's mattered thus far). The lack of a proper water ride was a big mistake. They had a water play structure with a dumping bucket that you find at most water parks, which was a stupid choice to put into a dry rides park. And the ticket pricing was probably too high for what the park had to offer.

That is one of the major problems of this park. The pricing versus the perception. Visitors go expecting a bunch of kick-ass rides and leave disappointed and feeling ripped off. There are a few good rides but not a lot of them, and the park is definitely lacking attractions the entire family can enjoy together. When the only major ride that families can experience together is the "Acid Trip Ride" I'm not sure that's going to go over too well! HRP is an amusement park but it's focused on the whole "experience" and it's not just about "the rides." The question is how do you market that?

HRP must have had some amount of operating capital or they would've closed in June. I'm guessing the original game plan was that they hoped to make enough money to operate year-round, even if it was at a net-loss for the first few years. It would seem to me that marketing would be even more important than any one attraction, so I wonder why the plan didn't include one less big attraction and a boat load of cash to sell the park to the world. What probably really happened is that they spent way too much operating the park and made way too little, a bad combination of poor marketing and a perfect storm of economic suckage.

Many people compare Hard Rock's situation to that of the now defunct Wild West World in that a brand new amusement park that opened has financial difficulties right from the start and closes soon after. The major difference is Wild West World was some guy who decided to build an amusement park without a proper business plan. He mortgaged his house and hoped people would come to his park. At least Hard Rock Park has investors.

Hard Rock Park is not going anywhere anytime soon. They just need to make some changes in order to be a viable entertainment option in their market, but it could work if the right balance of price vs. product is reached (see Profit-maximizing blog for more). This park has a lot of potential, it's in a great location where families are already going for vacation, and I think there is too much invested for it to go away. I hope they'll get their act together next year.