It shouldn't come as a surprise that things haven't been going spectacularly for SeaWorld over the past year or so. Since the documentary Blackfish, which painted a damning portrait of the marine life theme park's alleged treatment of its animals and employees, was released in 2013, headline after headline has described SeaWorld's declining attendance numbers due in part to the film.
The recent release of SeaWorld Entertainment's fourth quarter and full year 2014 earnings report shows just how damaging that exposé has been for the theme park.
SeaWorld lost one million visitors from 2013 to 2014, with 22.4 million visitors in 2014 compared to 23.4 million in 2013. Revenue also decreased from around $1.46 billion in 2013 to $1.38 billion in 2014.
However, SeaWorld is hoping to turn things around with a new marketing campaign beginning April 1 that will focus on consumers who feel ambivalent toward SeaWorld. This campaign is aimed at those who are neither passionately for nor against the theme park and want "to know our side of the story," SeaWorld Board Chairman and interim CEO David D'Alessandro told industry analysts, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
It's unclear exactly what this marketing campaign to turn around SeaWorld's image will entail, but it will be carried out over the long term.
"This is not a hit-and-run, as we say in the marketing world, where you can just advertise for a month and hope it goes away," D'Alessandro said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "This is changing mind-sets and making sure mind-sets stay changed, recognizing that the opposition is not going to stand still as we do this."
PETA released a statement shortly after SeaWorld released its earnings report saying, "it has never been clearer that the tide has turned against the abusement [sic] park following the critically acclaimed film Blackfish."
However, SeaWorld has been on the defensive since it began experiencing backlash due to Blackfish. The theme park placed full-page ads in eight of the country's largest newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, back in December 2013 to counterattack the claims raised by Blackfish. You've probably seen those ads online that feature SeaWorld trainers talking about why the claims in Blackfish are inaccurate. There's also an entire section on SeaWorld's website called "Blackfish: The Truth About the Movie."
None of these efforts seem to be curbing the negative backlash toward SeaWorld that Blackfish has generated. However, the company pointed out a positive in its earnings report, that attendance declined less year-over-year in the fourth quarter at 2.2 percent, compared to 5.2 percent in the third quarter.