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Six Flags to Visitors: Toe the Line

The theme-park operator writes a code of conduct, taking effect next year, in a bid to lure more families and fewer rowdy teens.

October 19, 2006|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

Bad behavior and bad dress are now out at Magic Mountain and the other 29 amusement and water parks operated by Six Flags Inc.

Hoping to attract more visitors to its parks, Six Flags said Wednesday that it had adopted rules requiring shirts, "appropriate footwear" and considerate conduct, among other things.

The new code of conduct is part of Six Flags' effort to draw families to its struggling collection of theme parks, which have a reputation for attracting rowdy teens.

That means no more line-jumping, saving places for pals or other disorderly behavior, said the New York-based company, which recently drew fire from animal-rights activists over a promotion allowing people to jump to the front of lines by eating cockroaches. And leave that rude T-shirt at home.

"We thought it was important to say that this is the type of family-friendly environment we want to provide for our guests," Six Flags spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg said.

Six Flags wanted to standardize varying codes at its parks to create an inoffensive atmosphere, she said.

The rules will be posted outside ticket sales areas beginning next year at the company's parks. The parks may deny admission to violators or eject offending visitors, including those who use profanity or are unruly, Goldberg said.

The code is not, Goldberg said, an acknowledgement of trouble at the turnstile. "None of our parks have problems, per se," she said.

Some analysts and visitors disagree.

In November, a frustrated group of investors led by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder won control of Six Flags and hired former ESPN executive Mark Shapiro as chief executive.

Shapiro has focused on building a family-friendly image for the parks, banning smoking at the parks in January and raising prices to keep out unruly teens.

Attendance for the first half of the year dropped 15% from the same period last year.

Shapiro's efforts have been monumental, but "too many consumers still think of the brand name as a dirty, abandoned, run-down set of theme parks," said David Miller, managing director and media analyst at Sanders Morris Harris in Los Angeles. "There's been an element of undesirable teens that plagued the overall image of the parks."

Jeff Putz, chief editor of Coasterbuzz.com, a theme parks website, said many enthusiasts have considered Six Flags parks as subpar for nearly a decade.

"Their image problem goes well beyond who is visiting the park and what they're wearing," he said. Complaints include closed rides, inattentive staff and large amounts of litter.

In June, Six Flags announced that it might sell Magic Mountain and neighboring Hurricane Harbor water park in Valencia and five other theme parks to reduce its $2.1 billion in debt.

The company also said that it might not be able to comply with its credit terms, causing Moody's and Standard & Poor's to lower their ratings of the company.

These financial difficulties might be handicaps that no new dress code can solve, said Robert Niles, a Pasadena resident who edits Themeparkinsider.com. He said the company hasn't had the money to develop new attractions, and so its rides attract thrill-seekers rather than families.

"Ultimately, it is the attraction lineup that you offer in the park that determines visitors," he said. "They've got a long way to go."

Teriann Hanks, a mother of four from Bear River City, Utah, still drives the 12 hours to Valencia with her family every year to visit Magic Mountain and try out the thrill rides, even though she says parks such as Disneyland are cleaner.

"It's not really family-friendly," said Hanks about Magic Mountain. She noticed many teens with bikini tops and short shorts last time she went to the park.

"In Utah we have a water park/theme park," she said, "but kids still put their clothes on when they're done."

The new code of conduct solves the bikini-top problem. But cockroach eating apparently is still allowed.

Shares of Six Flags rose 8 cents to $5.99.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Oh, behave!

IN

* Being considerate

* Behaving in "an appropriate family-friendly manner"

* Complying with local, state and federal laws

* "Appropriate footwear"

OUT

* Unruly, disruptive or offensive behavior

* Profane or abusive language, symbols or gestures

* Cutting in line or holding places in line

* Going shirtless

* Going shoeless

* Clothing with "rude, vulgar or offensive" language or graphics

* Bathing suits outside of water park areas

Source: Six Flags Inc.

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