NOTo someone leaves Disney World in Florida thinking it was an inexpensive experience. waltz disney (NYSE: DIS) theme parks are not cheap. Over the years, prices for Disney World admission, food, lodging, and merchandise have far outpaced inflation.
But there is another side to this story.
A counterpoint to Disney’s perpetual price hike was on display at Epcot this weekend. The International Arts Festival kicked off on Friday, but it wasn’t the unique international food stations, art exhibits or even iconic rides and attractions that drew crowds when the park opened. Guests lined up to purchase a popcorn bucket in the form of Figment, an iconic Epcot character we’ll get to shortly.
Disney charges $25 for the bucket, and that includes a $5 serving of rainbow-colored popcorn. On Friday, the line snaked through the park, and at one point the wait time was estimated at over seven hours. Some of the people in the queue grabbed as many buckets as they could, despite the stated limitation of two Figment containers per guest, and put them up for sale on marketplace sites. Among the more than 200 that had already been successfully sold on eBay On Saturday, the average final sale price was well north of $100, a range up to a shipping price of $292.75.
The narrative on social media among Disney World enthusiasts is largely the outrage over the dealers. They took places in the line with the aim of potentially making four to five times their initial investment. However, there is also another side to this story: Why don’t we talk about how Disney is leaving money on the table by charging so little for Figment buckets in the first place? No one wants to discuss it, because that would be tantamount to admitting that the historically upscale resort sometimes undercharges its guests.
A small park of inspiration
Before we get into why I’m about to be ridiculed on Disney social media for defending the media giant’s awards, let’s talk about Figment. Unless you’ve been to Disney World’s Epcot, you probably have no idea who the amalgamation of real and fictional animals with yellow, pink, and purple eyes are to inspire such a feeding frenzy. He arrived at Epcot in early 1983 as the star of Journey Into Imagination, a slow ride that inspired guest creativity. The ride opened just months after the park itself debuted in late 1982.
The ride has had a few updates, but Figment is still here. He’s appeared in a few brief roles outside of the park and even inspired a comic book series, but he’s mostly unknown outside of Epcot regulars. In fact, Monty Python’s Eric Idle had a humorous but heated exchange with fans last year when he mistook Figment for another character. This is relevant as Idle plays the main role with Figment. He explained that he had never participated in the attraction, recording his part from a studio in Los Angeles. In short, even the ride’s current Dr. Nigel Channing himself has no idea who Figment is.
The lack of recognition outside of Disney World enthusiasts likely helped fuel its popularity. Figment has become something of a secret handshake among Disneyphiles, so of course throwing a festival with a bucket of collectible plastic popcorn in his likeness was going to be a big draw.
The line for Figment buckets was considerably shorter on Saturday, but still over an hour for most nostalgia-hungry collectors. Disney is smart. It’s apparently well-stocked this time around, and resale prices in third-party markets will eventually drop to meet supply. The problem is that merchandise pinball machines continue to be a problem for Disney theme park collectible releases. Make more buckets — and loading more for them – is a way to solve the problem, increasing its profits along the way.
To suggest that Disney might charge $45 and more than double its profit — it takes less than $5 to make and ship these bad boys in bulk — is going to be unpopular. Disney is regularly criticized for raising the prices of annual passes, special events and high-end theme park experiences. Inflation is only partly responsible for soaring food, drink and commodity prices.
But even when Disney World is criticized for raising its prices, the result is usually that it might charge even more.
- The after-hours Halloween party that returned to the Magic Kingdom last summer after a two-year hiatus was a bit of a shocker. Starting prices were 63% higher. The Internet was outraged. Yet every night, full.
- The return of annual passes in September came with reduced perks and higher prices. They sold so well that Disney World suspended sales of the most popular options two months later.
- Disney followed the lead of most of its rivals, introducing premium-priced access to fast-track queues three months ago. It was a controversial decision, but “Lightning Lane” access to top attractions – those that require one-time payments – has often been more popular than the pre-pandemic platform that was included at no extra cost.
Disney World isn’t cheap, and it probably never will be because it doesn’t have to be. It is the premium game in entertainment actions. It’s pricey, sure, but until park-goers back off, Disney has more elasticity and price flexibility than it thinks.
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Rick Munarriz is the owner of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends eBay and recommends the following options: January 2024 Long Calls at $145 on Walt Disney, January 2022 Short Calls at $82.50 on eBay, and January 2024 Short Calls at $155 on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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