6 Things I learned at 6 Flags.

Yesterday, my office staff and about 40 other folks from the shows that we’re working on right now took a bus down to Jackson, NJ for the 4th Annual Davenport Theatrical retreat to Six Flags.

I’ve used the Broadway-show-is-like-a-thrill-ride simile before, so on this trip I tried to find some more specific things that all of us in the theater could learn from this pillar of an amusement park.

Here’s what I picked up:

1. Make everyone on your staff a marketer.

When I stepped through the entrance turnstile, the ticket-taker tore my ticket and then said, “Ride El Toro!”  Then she said the same thing to the person behind me.  And to the person behind them.

When I grabbed a good but expensive chicken sandwich, the lunch lady put my sandwich on the tray and said, “Check out The Dark Knight!”

The management of 6 Flags have turned their entire staff into marketers pushing their own product.  Why can’t we do the same thing?

Could shows buddy up and have their respective ushers pitching the other show?  Imagine an usher seating a family at Lion King and saying, “2 seats off the aisle.  Enjoy the show and check out Mary Poppins on your next trip to NYC!”  Or what about box office personnel suggesting to stop by the merch stand, or even the bar.  We’ve got people.  They’ve got voices.  We should (be able to) use them.

2. It’s not what you win, it’s that you play a game.

Does anyone really want a giant stuffed banana?  Or a Batgirl cape?  The prizes at the carny game booths are crap, but that doesn’t stop people from playing. Because it’s not about the prize.  It’s about the contest.  For what people spend on these games, you could BUY any of the prizes!  I spent $30 trying to get a plastic red ring around a bottle top, for you-know-who’s sake.  I don’t even remember what I was trying to win!

Maybe that’s why “Sign up to win free tickets” isn’t as effective as we all want it to be.  More effective would be “Sink this putt for a chance to win free tickets.”  People love to play, and they lust to compete, and they don’t even care what for.

(I won the Batgirl cape, by the way)

3.  Get ’em to take photos, and they’ll have something to talk about.

Enter the park, and there’s someone there ready to take your picture.  Exit any ride, and they snapped your picture.  Throw up in the bushes?  Most likely they’ve got in on film.

They’ve even got folks roaming around like the guy in the show above, reminding you to check out “your photos.”

Why?  Yes, because they sell them and make bank.

But also because they know that each souvenir photo that goes home is literally ‘captured fun’, bound to inspire the desire to return upon each look.

I’d put a photo booth in my lobby if I could, or even have a floating photog in the audience.

4.  Use your assets to advertise.

Something new at the Flags this year were the branded roller coasters and the outdoor advertising for other products.  Gum, hair products, candy bars, and more were being pitched to me all day.  (FYI, I only remember Snickers . . . the others brands are a loss to me, and I STARE at advertising . . . sorry, guys).

I’m certainly not suggesting we turn our theaters into minor league baseball stadiums, but there has to be ways we can use our assets to advertise other products (or our own) and offset some of our expenses.

Google AdWords, affiliate links, etc. are non-invasive ways to generate some income on your show’s websites.  As long as you’re not pushing people away from your shows, there is a way to make some additional money.

5.  Small crowds don’t pay less.

It rained yesterday . . . which means smaller crowds, less lines, and . . . unfortunately, less staff.  Look, I get it.  Reduce the staff if your revenue is reduced.  But unfortunately, they went a bit too far, and our experience was not as dynamic and exciting had it been a sunshiny day.

Just because we were weatherly challenged, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get all 6 Flags.  We got about 4.  And they’re paying, because I just told the whole world wide web about it.

This one is for all the actors out there.  I remember what it’s like looking out at an audience with only a handful of people in it.  I once did You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown to 7 people.  Yes, there were more of us on stage.

It ain’t easy, but those 7 people deserve the same show as the houses that have 700.

6.  The Premium Premium ticket. 

I’m a big believer in the pay-for-play Flash Pass system that allows you to jump the line and plan your day better.  And I’m happy to pay for it. Six Flags has obviously been taking lessons from Gordon Gekko, because this year they added another level to their Flash Pass:  Platinum.  Obviously they had seen enough traction on the Gold level, that they added another level to nudge some people up.  And it worked.  There were no lines, yesterday, and yet the woman next to me had to have Platinum . . . even though the woman selling her the pass advised her not to get it.

There is always someone who wants to fly first class.  Coming up with a high-roller ticketing option might be a way to get a few more dollars from a few more people with very little effort.

Broadway is not a theme park.  And it should never be.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from what the parks do well, and what they don’t, in order to make our world the happiest and most profitable place on earth.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.