June 30, 2024, 3:19 PM ·

Today is the final official day of operation for two of America’s largest theme and amusement park companies – Six Flags and Cedar Fair.

Starting tomorrow, the two companies will legally combine into a new one, also to be called Six Flags. The new company will control seven of the top 20 most-visited theme parks in North America – more than any other single company. So how did we get here?Six Flags company historySix Flags began as the Great Southwest Corporation – Angus Wynne’s company that developed the original Six Flags Over Texas theme park, which opened in 1961. The Pennsylvania Railroad, later Penn Central, obtained controlling interest in the company a few years later. The company built Six Flags Over Georgia in 1967 and Six Flags Over Mid-America (now Six Flags St. Louis) in 1971 before buying Great Adventure in 1977 and Magic Mountain in 1979. Bally acquired the company in 1982, then acquired Marriott’s Great America theme park outside Chicago in 1984. (The other Great America, in the San Francisco Bay Area, went to Kings Entertainment Company, which eventually was acquired by Paramount, and then Cedar Fair. So this deal has brought the two former Marriott theme park siblings back together… at least for a little while, as the California park is slated to close within the decade, following a land sale deal.)A private equity form gained control of Six Flags in a leveraged buyout in 1987, with Time Warner taking control in 1993. The entertainment conglomerate, which continues to license its Looney Tunes and DC Comics characters to the Six Flags theme parks, only controlled the company until 1998, when it sold Six Flags to Premier Parks, which then in 2000 renamed itself Six Flags. (History just keeps repeating itself, doesn’t it?)The early 2000s, following the dot-com bubble and an emerging real estate bubble, were not kind to Six Flags’ bottom line. In 2005, Dan Snyder gained control of the company, which played out even worse after the real estate bubble crashed the economy. Six Flags’ stock was delisted and the company declared bankruptcy in 2009.A year later, Six Flags emerged from its Chapter 11 restructuring and issued a new stock. A decade of relative corporate calm followed, leading to the pandemic and, ultimately, the merger with Cedar Fair.

Cedar Fair historyCedar Fair began in 1978 when Cedar Point acquired the Vallerfair amusement park outside Minneapolis. The company added Dorney Park in 1992 and Worlds of Fun in 1995 before its biggest acquisition – Knott’s Berry Farm in 1997. The company grew again in 2006 when it acquired the Paramount Parks, adding Kings Island, Kings Dominion, Carowinds, and the aforementioned Great America in California.The company also added two water parks from Texas-based Schlitterbahn in 2019. That same year, Six Flags offered to buy Cedar Fair, but the company rejected that proposal. SeaWorld made a pitch for the company in 2022, also to be rejected.And that brings us to last year, when Cedar Fair and Six Flags announced their “merger of equals.” The new company will retain Six Flags’ name and Cedar Fair’s stock symbol (FUN), with former Cedar Fair managers continuing as CEO, CFO, and COO. Six Flags’ current CEO will become the Executive Chairman of the new company. The new Six Flags will be headquartered in Cedar Fair’s home in Charlotte, N.C.The new Six FlagsSo, as of tomorrow, here are the biggest parks now part of the new Six Flags chain, as ranked by industry attendance reports:As well as the following:California’s Great AmericaCarowindsDorney ParkFrontier CityKings DominionLa RondeMichigan’s AdventureSix Flags AmericaSix Flags Darien LakeSix Flags Discovery KingdomSix Flags Fiesta TexasSix Flags Great EscapeSix Flags MexicoSix Flags New EnglandSix Flags Over GeorgiaSix Flags Over TexasSix Flags St. LouisValleyfairWorlds of FunThe merger leaves fans with plenty of unanswered questions as the two companies work to merge their operations. Will any of the former Cedar Fair parks adopt Six Flags branding? Will the company offer new annual and season pass products that allow fans to visit multiple parks across the now-combined chain?Can Cedar Fair theme parks start using DC branding for their roller coasters? (Project 305, I am looking at you first.) Will the children’s lands in the former Cedar Fair parks adopt Six Flags’ Looney Tunes branding in lieu of Cedar Fair’s Peanuts license – or vice versa? What about branding for Six Flags Fright Fest versus Halloween Haunt? Or – and I can sense people in California shuddering now – Knott’s Scary Farm? And will the new Six Flags end up selling or dropping operation contracts at any of its parks as it looks to strength other properties in the chain?
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