There’s an old-time baseball tradition of discussing team strategies as either being “singles and doubles” or “home runs,” with the first strategy being about slow, methodical progress and the latter about big, lurching mini-victories that are harder to obtain. There’s a little of “tortoise and the hare” reasoning in the analogy, and the entire model could be fruitfully applied to the battle royale we’ve got going on now in Orlando between WDW and Universal (and the metaphorical knifefight we’re seeing now between Disney and Universal fans online!)
The assignment of the home run strategy, of course, goes to Universal. When a baseball team wants to build its strategy around home runs, it drafts new players who can swing for the fences–sometimes just one superstar; other times a select few players. The order you select for them to appear at bat (“the lineup”) is carefully chosen so that a few good single-hitters come up first, and then your big hitter(s) show up to try to earn more than one run with a single swing of the bat. Universal clearly has a home-run hitter with Harry Potter in IOA. The land is still always crowded, the merch flies off the shelves as if magically attached to enchanted Firebolt broomsticks, and most importantly, people still come back from vacations there and chatter excitedly about it with their friends. It’s a winning formula.
And Universal is clearly betting its next move–think of it as the theme park version of the player draft–on another home run hitter in the form of the Studios expansion of Diagon Alley, another Harry Potter section. To keep the analogy going, we could say that Universal has been hitting home runs lately in general. Transformers is not just a big, kinetic, popular, and successful ride, it was also built in less time than it takes Disney to get halfway through building one of their own smaller rides. The rumor now is that a King Kong attraction is possibly coming to IOA (on an expansion pad next to Jurassic Park), and that would be another big ride (another “home run”).
If Universal is swinging for the fences, the theory goes, Disney seems to be just hitting singles (and doubles?) Some fans decry that Disney looks like it’s standing still next to Universal, because the big splashy home run attractions overshadow the Disney “singles” like the Princess Fairytale Hall or even the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which is not as “big” a ride as Transformers. The latter is an E-Ticket, but Disney’s train is going to feel like something less (D-ticket? C-ticket?) for the thrill-seeking crowd. And Disney has no immediate answer for Gringott’s.
That much is received wisdom (or at least commonly argued). What people are forgetting, however, is that you can win baseball games by hitting singles and doubles. And it may seem controversial to assert it, but the same is true of the theme park battle. The big hits are splashy and noticeable, but they do not in themselves guarantee a win.
Think of it this way: Universal has “momentum” now, and is on many people’s lips. Disney may look at first glance like it’s resting on its laurels and getting by on reputation. But it’s not. Disney is clearly spending money on things, from renovations and maintenance to new smaller experiences (interactive games, Princess Fairytale Hall, a great new parade, a completely revamped Downtown Disney, an entire bevy of small attractions in the “new Fantasyland”, and many others). If the first glance suggests Disney is simply coasting, the second (deeper) look shows you something else in the baseball analogy: Disney ALREADY has a solid lineup of E-ticket rides (“home run hitters”) and is fleshing out the rest of its lineup with alternate types of experiences.
Now, you could take issue with the idea that Disney has *enough* home run hits in each park (I take issue with that myself), but the fact remains that Disney is not necessarily doing something stupid by providing what amounts to “counter-programming” for the Universal home runs. (For those too young to remember, counter-programming refers to the old television days when a competing network wouldn’t try to match action movie with their own action movie, but would instead put on something to draw other audiences, like a romantic comedy).
And it’s around this time you remember that Disney already has a pretty solid line-up of “singles and doubles” in their parks. In fact, the deeper you scratch at this, the more it becomes clear that Universal has paid little attention to the “singles and doubles” segment of the theme park world. Can you name a dozen family rides in the Universal parks? I can’t, even when you add both parks together. Universal staked its claim early on as being more action-oriented and more edgy than Disney – this was decades ago – and the legacy of that early building means that Universal can’t really keep families around like Disney can. It’s a related, but separate, question to ponder whether Universal’s properties really have that much “pull” compared to Disney’s. Do they resonate as much with audiences? Some do, some don’t.
I agree Disney can (and should) be thinking of more home runs and not only singles and doubles. But there’s an argument for zigging when the competition is zagging, especially when you already beat the competition (arguably) on the current statistic and the competition is playing catch up (as Universal surely is). Let’s remember that IOA and Uni attendance does not hold a candle to the Magic Kingdom’s annual attendence totals.
It could be argued that MyMagic+ is like a VERY expensive batter who consistently hits singles. It’s not a home run in the customer’s eyes, but it could generate some nice feelings and some low-level excitement. Things that make a Disney vacation different from Six Flags, like when Mickey knows your name and speaks to you. And Disney likes it if it brings home the bacon, as it were.
The problem with the “singles and doubles” strategy is, while fans like wins, they also like excitement. Baseball has seen its national attendance wane over decades – I’m not a viewer myself and apologize for the parts I’m getting wrong in this analogy – and Disney would do well to keep in mind the value of the viewer’s excitement. There is something to be said for “momentum” in the theme park wars mattering more than supposed “momentum” mattering in professional athletics. In the latter, it’s the players and their attitude that matters. But the opinion of the fans dictates who actually wins in the theme park wars.
Do you agree with the “singles and doubles” metaphor for describing Disney’s approach? Do you think it will work over the long term? Is it a better approach to take when targeting more than the thrill-seeking young adult crowd? Leave a (civil) comment at the bottom of the article to join the conversation!
Ultimate Orlando Clicks #14 – Ihu Breakaway Falls
Aquatica has opened a new slide for summer called Ihu Breakaway Falls; we look around (and down) the platform! Then it’s off to Medieval Times for a look around the authentic Medieval Village (not new, but new-to-me), and some glances at Eye Drive Live expansion for the Ferris wheel. We pause at Wasabi, a float/belt sushi eatery in the Florida Mall (it’s almost two years old, but also “new to me”), and also look at the construction walls around Islands of Adventure.
Ultimate Orlando Clicks #13 – Expedition Everest Challenge Photos from the Course and Backstage
I was late last week in posting the Clicks show, so it was not linked in the previous article. Here it is now!
We view the soggy Expedition Everest runDisney event – 5K race, obstacle courses, and scavenger hunt – and also look at some minor ways DHS has updated its operations (new Tower of Terror lights, queue pole changes, some new signage)
Direct link: http://youtu.be/abgRQHcTdCs
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