Comcast bets on Universal theme parks during ‘bullish’ 2023

Demand for Universal’s U.S. theme parks is not slowing despite economic uncertainty, but parent company Comcast is still looking to recover straggling international guest numbers at these parks as it builds new attractions in Orlando, the Dallas area and Las Vegas.

Tourists take photos at the globe outside the entrance to Universal Studios Orlando on Thursday, July 21, 2022.

© Katie Rice/Orlando Sentinel/TNS
Tourists take photos at the globe outside the entrance to Universal Studios Orlando on Thursday, July 21, 2022.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Investor Conference on Monday, Comcast CFO and Treasurer Jason Armstrong gave an optimistic outlook on Universal’s theme park business in 2023 and mentioned the forthcoming projects, including Universal Orlando’s third theme park, Epic Universe.

The division has had an “exceptional start” in 2023 after the Orlando, Los Angeles and Osaka, Japan, theme parks outpaced pre-pandemic 2019 visitor numbers last year, Armstrong said.

One of the U.S. theme parks’ key focuses this year is attracting international visitors, which made up around 30% of their attendance before the COVID-19 pandemic. Armstrong did not say where these numbers stand now, but as of July NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said it was down by half of what it was pre-pandemic.

Universal hopes to bring in global tourists with new attractions like Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood, which officially opened Feb. 17 after weeks of local previews and is “off to a very good start,” Armstrong said.

“We try to refresh our parks almost on an annual basis with new attractions to try to drive attendance. I think we’ve been fairly successful in that,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of new attractions launching this year or in the pipeline, especially a big one around Epic Universe.”

Armstrong said Comcast is reaching its peak spending phase on Epic Universe’s construction this year and in 2024. In total, Comcast has budgeted $1.2 billion in capital expenditures for its theme parks in 2023 and expects a similar spend in 2024, he said.

The company also hopes NBCUniversal’s upcoming smaller-scale attractions in Frisco, Texas, and Las Vegas will increase revenue and help funnel visitors to its larger theme parks, Armstrong said.

Universal Parks & Resorts announced in January it is building a family-friendly theme park in Texas and a year-round horror attraction in Nevada. It has not yet released the projects’ official names or their opening timelines.

“We’re happy to go invest in parks. It’s been very high returns for us,” Armstrong said. and @katievrice on Twitter

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