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MAGIC MOUNTAIN GETTING BRANDED.

Byline: ALEX DOBUZINSKIS

Staff Writer

VALENCIA -- Families visiting Six Flags California's Magic Mountain this spring will find plenty of brand-name ice cream and photographers ready to snap their pictures with Bugs Bunny on Kodak cameras as the theme park works to spruce up and reinvent itself.

It's all part of corporate owner Six Flags Inc.'s family-friendly strategy, in place this year for the first full season.

Brand names are playing a big part in the new strategy. Cold Stone Creamery will dish out the ice cream, Kodak will do the photos, Heinz will be the official ketchup and the Nintendo Wii will hold the title of official video game console, which means park visitors can play Nintendo's Wii for free.

"When people come to our parks with their families, they want to find products and services that they're familiar with," said Wendy Goldberg, spokeswoman for Six Flags.

"These are brands that they love and trust. And when they find them in a Six Flags, it increases their confidence level even further that they're going to have a terrific day at the park."

Magic Mountain is one of theme park chain Six Flags' premiere thrill parks. But on top of teenage thrill seekers, the company is hungry to attract families to its Valencia park.

The fact that major brands want to partner with Six Flags is not surprising, given that park visitors are a captive audience of consumers.

Along with bringing in new concessions, the park is getting a face-lift, cleaning up in hopes of attracting parents with kids and giving them reasons to come back. While teens have long made up the customer base, drawn by the thrill rides, the park wants adults who are likely to spend more on food and concessions.

Work on the park includes a complete refurbishing of a 95-year-old Grand Carousel and a resurfacing and striping of the parking lot.

Buildings at the Six Flags Plaza are also being painted, and two coasters that fell out of favor with riders and the park's owners are being dismantled.

The nation's theme park market is growing, with total consumer spending expected to go from $11.2 billion in 2005 to $13.4 billion in 2010, according to a report released last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

For Six Flags, the cross-branding strategy is new. Before Mark Shapiro became the company's CEO in December 2005, individual parks handled their own corporate alliance agreements, and the only company-wide deal was with Coca-Cola, Goldberg said.

Shapiro created a corporate alliances division to land deals with major brands, and now in addition to Coca Cola Co., Kodak, Cold Stone Creamery, Nintendo and Heinz, Six Flags partners include Home Depot and Papa John's Pizza.

Magic Mountain in Valencia starts daily operation March 17. Visitors will be given a Kodak photo card, which they can hand to photographers tagging along with the park's Warner Bros. characters. Visitors will access the photos over the Internet when they get home.

Cold Stone Creamery will open a shop in the park in early spring, said Sue Carpenter, spokeswoman for Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor.

Attendance at Magic Mountain was 2.8 million in 2005, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report. Attendance dropped about 25 percent in the last half of 2006, which Shapiro blamed on uncertainty surrounding a possible sale of the park.

Now, the park is no longer for sale, and the company is hoping the cross-branding strategy will increase the park's profitability.

"I think it will probably pay off," said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "Because probably people haven't been to Magic Mountain for a while, so there is always the interest factor. And the economy is good, so they have money to spend."

Kyser called Six Flags' cross-branding strategy "very savvy marketing," and said it will help the company.

"They can cement a reputation for being a family-friendly place," he said.

In past years, Magic Mountain has held a number of events that attract families. Those have included its Gospel Celebration and Hallelujah Jubilee concerts.

It has areas for children, but the park is known more for its 15 heart-pounding rides. The park does plan to expand its offerings for children.

Six Flags has capitalized on the kid-friendly appeal of British TV show Thomas & Friends, the Australian band The Wiggles and skateboarder Tony Hawk to build play areas and rides centered around them at its parks. Magic Mountain does not have any of those attractions this year, but it is working on getting some or all of them in the park in the near future, Carpenter said.

Six Flags, the world's largest regional theme park company, was facing $2.1 billion of debt last year. But in January, it announced a sale of seven parks for $312 million, bringing its total number of North American parks to 21.

In the meantime, CEO Shapiro and his executive team are continuing to look for brand names to partner with.

"This year is really the first year that Mark's team will be able to have an impact on a full operating season," Goldberg said. "So this is really the year that you are going to see the family-friendly strategy go into effect."

alex.dobuzinskis@dailynews.com

(661) 257-5253

Magic mix

Six Flags is entering into a cross-branding strategy with more than just Coca-Cola. New alliances include:

Cold Stone Creamery

Kodak

Heinz

Nintendo Wii

Home Depot

Papa John's Pizza

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

(color) Six Flags Magic Mountain painter Dionisio Roman Medrano works on the carousel at the amusement park. The park repainting many attractions before the start of summer.

Box:

Magic mix (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 3, 2007
Words:944
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