Using brands in the leisure sector – at any cost?

Attraction and leisure operators are continuing to work with international brands to enhance their sites and also develop new concepts for roll out.  The involvement of these brands varies from themed rides or single attractions to whole sites – all will aim to create footfall whilst also offering additional retail opportunities.

Recent Developments

The last 18 months alone have seen further expansion in the licensed sector such as:

  • Merlin Entertainments introducing the Bear Grylls Adventure in Birmingham
  • Merlin Entertainments rolling out Peppa Pig World of Play centres in China and US
  • Europe’s first Legoland water park being announced for Gardaland, Italy
  • Aardman Animations have teamed up with Farmer Ted’s, to bring the first permanent Shaun the Sheep Farm attraction
  • The London Resort (Kent) has reached a new agreement with Paramount Pictures Corporation meaning that the theme park at the heart of the project will feature rides and attractions based on major movies as well as home-grown UK intellectual property. This follows existing licensing deals with ITV Studios and BBC Studios.

Numerous other branded attractions and parks are in the pipeline.

Unexpectedly, a brand owner has acquired an operating company.  In July, it was announced that the owners of Lego had teamed with private equity company Blackstone and the Canadian pension fund to acquire Merlin Entertainments for £6 billion.  Merlin is the second largest operator of visitor attractions in the world, behind Disney.  The strategy (bringing Merlin into private ownership) includes expansion of the Legoland parks, Legoland waterparks and Legoland discovery centres.  Will other brand owners being looking for operator partners to fast track their brand expanion?

Brand Power – but at what cost?

Brands will bring very powerful marketing resources with them - many of these brands produce films, produce TV content or own the channels, or are global, established retail players.   Their marketing and brand power is immense – this would otherwise have been outside of budget constraints for most operators.  This does come at a cost - the operator (licensee) will have to:

  • Make royalty payments based on turnover - mainly ticket and retail income, but also other areas such as party or corporate bookings, sponsorship or supplier rebates.
  • Provide a minimum guarantee on royalty payable – normally set at 60% to 70% of the projected annual royalty
  • Give the licensor total control over brand assets e.g. all marketing material will need licensor approval before use
  • Contract to spend certain levels on attraction/site marketing and training each year
  • Give exclusivity to the brand’s retail lines

The list will be extensive in the license agreement and the cost will not only be financial as the operator will have lost significant control in exchange for the power of the brand.  The integration and merging of brands with attractions continues at great pace, but will this always result in the best result for either or both parties?