The easy answers to that question: the recession, tourism down generally, cost is too expensive. But putting all of that aside, it crossed my mind this morning (I don't know why) that I don't know why theme parks (seemingly) haven't been able to capitalize on the fact that they're one of the few entertainment-related destinations that technology shouldn't be lowering the marginal appeal of. Let me throw these thoughts out there--
1. High-definition television, along with improved camera angles, instant replay, etc have made watching sports on TV really really good. The difference between watching sports on TV now and watching sports on TV 15 years ago-- as demonstrated by watching five minutes of a not-that-old game on cable, and being really baffled by how bad the color and detail is, even though it seemed to look fine at the time-- is noticeable. I'd go so far as to say it's a no-brainer that you see a game better on TV than live. And live sporting events have gotten so expensive that sort of hard to justify going, at least from the perspective of wanting to watch the game. As an activity once a year, as a destination involving food and crowds and nice weather, it's fine-- but given that every game is televised (which wasn't the case fifteen or twenty years ago), many out-of-market games are now televised as well, and the television broadcast is so good, I would argue there's less of a pull to go to live sporting events now than there used to be.
2. Bootleg live concerts available online, with pretty decent sound. So one of the pulls of live music (not the only one, of course)-- hearing the songs live, hearing how they sound outside of a studio-- is not so important anymore. There are more concert DVDs than ever before, recorded music quality is very high, live music quality is not always so good (loudspeaker systems in arenas, etc), concerts are crazy expensive and often overcrowded and way too loud... I would argue, again, there's less of a pull to go to live concerts than there used to be.
3. Movie downloads available online, Netflix, OnDemand, etc. HD-DVD and BlueRay. Less reason to go to the movies.
4. Discovery Channel and other stations showing animals in the wild-- this is a less compelling point than (1) through (3), but perhaps this makes zoos less interesting. I don't believe this, but I'm listing it anyway.
The one thing we haven't found a substitute for-- roller coasters. Watching a roller coaster on TV is nothing like being on one in person, at least not in the same way as watching a game on TV or listening to a bootleg concert recording can be.
So why shouldn't theme parks be doing amazingly well, in comparison with sporting events and concerts and movie theaters?
I don't really know.
Not to mention -- I don't have real data, but I'm pretty sure my points are all *completely wrong* -- that sports attendance, concert attendance, and movie attendance have all gone way up over the past decade, that more and more people are doing these things and spending more money doing them. And that amusement parks just haven't kept pace.
Intuitively, this seems wrong to me. And yet there it is. An incorrect theory I felt compelled to write about!