Large investor has ideas for Six Flags, if board will accept them

Sunday, September 19th 2004, 2:46 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ After Six Flags' fifth straight year of losses, the Oklahoma City-based theme park company is getting some pointers from its newest large investor.

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who owns almost 9 percent of the company's outstanding shares, has said he wants to force a merger or sell-off. He also may try for a position on Six Flags' board of directors, which has room to grow, according to corporate governance principles.

He has said Six Flags' revenues weren't being maximized and the company should sell off extra land around its parks to pay down debt. The company has 31 theme parks, including one in eastern New Orleans.

Through a spokesman, Snyder declined to be interviewed by The Oklahoman.

Analyst Kathy Styponias with Prudential Equity Group met with Snyder recently and wrote in a research note earlier this month that Snyder believes Six Flags should take advantage of cross-marketing and sponsorships.

``He believes natural partners in that regard include companies that manufacture products that appeal to the core theme-park constituent, including video game console manufacturers, candy bars, fast-food franchises and extreme sports events,'' Styponias wrote.

Snyder bought the Redskins and their stadium for $800 million in 1999 and has raised the franchise's value to $1.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

To increase revenue, Snyder emphasized marketing and sponsorships, including deals with Anheuser-Busch, Nextel Communications and PepsiCo.

He also raised prices of game tickets and parking, angering longtime fans.

Still, the bottom line has benefited under his watch, said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based SportsCorp. Ltd., which sells portable debit-card devices for concessions at St. Louis Rams and Baltimore Orioles games.

``He has been absolutely extraordinary in terms of taking a mass-audience activity and generating substantial additional revenue from the attendees, who are delighted to fork it over,'' Ganis said.

``His marketing success with the Redskins bodes well for Six Flags if he chooses to have an active involvement in that company.''

It's unclear if Six Flags officials would listen to Snyder's ideas.

``The top four shareholders own about 40 percent of the shares outstanding, and two of those four have expressed disappointment in how the company has been run so far,'' Styponias wrote. ``We think other large shareholders may not be all that hard to convince that action needs to be taken.''

Theme-park consultant Bill Haralson of Richardson, Texas, is not sure that Snyder could make much of a difference if he gained a seat on the board or persuaded management to make changes.

``There are only so many ways you can generate revenue,'' Haralson said. ``You either draw more people, or you get more spending per person, the per-capita spending.''

Haralson, who runs William L. Haralson & Associates Inc., expects Six Flags to eventually sell lower-performing theme parks.

``Any operating company in the amusement business that has as many venues as Six Flags does is going to have problems,'' he said.

In the short term, Six Flags is financially stable. It collects enough cash from park tickets and concessions to operate its parks and make debt payments. It has no long-term debt that matures before 2009.

Board Chairman Kieran Burke thinks the company and the industry are coming out of a three- to four-year decline, he said last month.