There's irony in here somewhere: SeaWorld seems to be suffering an attendance hit from a documentary attacking its killer whales, on the same holiday weekend that the king of corporation-whacking documentaries, Morgan Spurlock, is triumphant because of his new positive documentary about a boy band.
Anyway, here's what we know: SeaWorld is slumping, having to cut the price of midweek tickets almost in half at its Orlando park and also offering price discounts at it its original park in San Diego, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The maker of the documentary polemic, Blackfish, is taking credit for SeaWorld's woes. The film explores the killing of a SeaWorld trainer by a killer whale in 2010. "Picture whales hanging in nets and flipping trainers around like ragdolls," as the publication put it.
SeaWorld tried a pre-emptive PR strike against the film, characterizing it as "shamefully dishonest." And Blackfish has only garnered $1.6 million in actual ticket sales. But it has gotten a huge boost in awareness from media coverage of the controversy. Certainly many parents are at least vaguely aware of "problems" with SeaWorld when it comes to vacation time with their kids, and maybe SeaWorld now suffers from more quick vetoes than it ever did before.
"It's likely people are realizing that nothing at that place is what it seems," director Gabriela Cowperthwaite said in an e-mail to Bloomberg Businessweek. "The jig is up."
Documentary hit jobs on companies typically don't do much damage. Certainly Spurlock's genre-defining effort, Super Size Me, hasn't exactly laid McDonald's low since its release nearly a decade ago (although McDonald's sales lately aren't anything to highlight in a film either). And this weekend, Spurlock has turned to the bright side with his documentary on One Direction, the British boy band, which has been topping the US box office.
The magazine said another factor in SeaWorld's woes could, indeed, be even bigger than Blackfish: Before recent discounting, the company had raised the average admission prices at its 11 parks by 9 percent in the past year, to nearly $39. SeaWorld also has blamed bad weather. And certainly the broader softness in the US economy hasn't made family vacations feel any more affordable to average Americans.
True effects of the documentary will become more evident later on. But for now it's clear that Blackfish is a harpoon in SeaWorld's side.