Drayton Manor Theme Park is a family company using the power of licensing to grow its business.
In 2008 the park opened Thomas Land to corner the pre-school market and the licensed section now has over a dozen rides and attractions. For the older thrill-seeking audience, Drayton Manor offers a host of extreme thrill rides like Apocalypse, G-Force and Shockwave. However, there was little to attract kids between those two age groups, especially the boys.
After opening Thomas Land, visitors to the park increased by 40 per cent, so its bosses were sure they wanted another licensed attraction.
“We'd already bought the rollercoaster and we were looking for a theme to go with it," explains general manager Ed Pawley.
With a young family, Pawley had seen his kids grow out of Thomas & Friends: “I saw what they were moving onto, and it was Ben 10. Ben is the most popular boy's character on TV right now, so it's an instant follow on.”
Theme parks clearly recognise the value of a good licence. In the UK, Paultons Park has Peppa Pig World and Nickelodeon Land opens at Blackpool Pleasure Beach on May 4th.
A family business: George Bryan OBE, Edward Pawley, Colin Bryan and George Bryan Jr with Water Hazard and Humungosaur
“Everyone seems to be keen on it - so it's a case of getting in quick, but making the right choices," Pawley says.
It seems to be the right choice: Cartoon Network recently aged the character for the new Ben 10: Ultimate Alien series, so the brand promises to retain its younger, growing audience while recruiting a new set of older fans.
The licence grants the park UK exclusivity for this type of Ben 10 ride, Pawley revealed, adding that Drayton Manor has more licensed attractions in the pipeline, and is considering even more.
The Ben 10 experience
“I don't think Ben 10 fans would let us get away with just label-slapping something, which is why we tried to immerse them in the Ben 10 universe," says Graham Saltmarsh, licensing director for the Cartoon Network, to the tune of jovial screams. A green rollercoaster packed with kids has just flown overhead.
“So many elements go into creating a rollercoaster and it's been a very interesting project. Getting it all ready for today has been a more white-knuckle ride than the coaster itself.”
Positioned at the front of the park, the ride's track is in the eye-catching 'Ben 10 green' and is complemented by the distinctive branding.
If kids make it past the one-metre height limit, the sage-like alien Azmuth greets them and breaks down the Ultimate Mission.
The queue area features themed installations which look like the alien creation chambers from the show.
The installations are styled like the DNA harvesting Omnitrix
Fans can find out about Ben’s allies and enemies on several interactive screens stationed throughout the route. “We wanted it to be enjoyable, so kids wouldn’t even realise that they were queuing up," Saltmarsh says.
These touch-screen panels are part of the Ben 10 experience
Cartoon Network was heavily involved throughout the creation of the attraction providing artwork, input and inspiration.
“Although as a broadcaster our role is to eventually generate revenue, everything we do has to tie in with the programme and the enthusiasm of the fans. We know that Ben 10 fans are really passionate and want to get as deeply involved as possible,” says Saltmarsh, visibly proud of the finished ride.
To complete the experience, a special effects ‘green screen’ is due to be installed, where kids will be “morphed into aliens like Ben himself”.
If any theme park ride manages to wow children by capturing the essence of their favourite brand, then it stands to reap rewards in merchandise and souvenir sales - the Cartoon Network shop positioned opposite the ride is well stocked with a huge range of Ben 10 goodies including toys, clothing and home entertainment.
As the park's general manager Colin Bryan reveals, “the toys side of it is very successful, we've got more toys being distributed to theme parks than ever before.”
“We'd already been successful with Thomas the Tank Engine, which opened in 2008. We had a 40 per cent increase in numbers and we believe Ben 10 is going to result in more or less the same increase,” the theme park boss added.
Graham Saltmarsh, licensing director for Turner CN Enterprises with park boss Colin Bryan
Drayton Manor Theme Park’s licensed portfolio now includes Thomas Land, a Marvin the Martian 4D cinema and a Cartoon Network store and will soon have Thomas & Friends themed rooms within its new hotel, which opens this summer. The park will continue to work with Cartoon Network on a Chowder-themed restaurant.
On licensed attractions, Bryan says: “I think they are very much the way forward - I think it's a very good thing for the future.”