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Harry Potter beats Mickey Mouse — but he also helps him

11 August 2010 by By Jason Garcia

We know that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has worked wonders for Universal Orlando so far this summer: The hugely popular addition to Islands of Adventure propelled Universal to its first quarterly attendance gain in two years for the April-through-June period and to what appears to be a mammoth monthly gain in July.

But what has the boy wizard done to — or for — Walt Disney World? Disney’s just-announced earnings report for the second quarter (the third quarter of the Walt Disney Co.’s fiscal year) offers a few clues.

On the most basic level, Harry Potter beat Mickey Mouse. Universal’s attendance rose 2 percent during the second quarter, compared with a 2 percent attendance decline at Disney World.

A couple of caveats: First, Universal benefits from easier comparisons because it had a much weaker second quarter last year, when its attendance plummeted 14 percent. Disney World’s attendance was flat a year ago.

Second, Disney and Universal operate on different fiscal calendars, so the quarters aren’t exactly aligned. Universal’s quarterly results covered from March 29 through June 27 and Disney’s results were for April 4 through July 3. The timing shift helped Universal’s results by including more of the travel rush around Easter (which fell on April 4 this year) but also hurt Universal’s results by robbing it of an extra week of Wizarding World (which didn’t formally open until June 18).

Still, it’s the first time Universal has outgained Disney World since late 2008. It’s also worth noting here that per-capita guest spending jumped 14 percent at Universal thanks to sales of Potter-themed snacks and souvenirs; per-capita guest spending rose 3 percent at Disney World.

But there is also some evidence that Harry Potter is helping Disney World.

Consider Disney World’s performance against Disneyland’s in Anaheim, Calif. While attendance at Disney World fell 2 percent during the second quarter, it fell 4 percent at Disneyland.

That’s the first time attendance at Disney’s Orlando resort has outperformed attendance at its California resort in almost two years.  By comparison, during the first three months of 2010, attendance at Disney World fell 6 percent but was flat at Disneyland.

What’s more, Disney World fared better even though the second quarter included the debut of the heavily hyped “World of Color” show at Disney California Adventure. The extravagant water-and-light show premiered June 11 and Disney Co. CEO Bog Iger said it has been drawing record crowds to Disneyland’s second gate. (UPDATE: A reader points out an important caveat to the Disney World/Disneyland comparison. Disneyland’s attendance this year was likely hurt by the fact that it cut short a popular promotion in which local customers could buy a ticket to one of the resort’s theme parks and get free admission to its other park within the next 30 days. The “SoCal 2fer” offer ran through June 3 last year but only April 12 this year.)

The reversal of fortune between the two coasts suggests that Disney World may be picking up extra visits from the throngs of tourists now descending on Universal and Wizarding World.


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