I don’t play the lottery often. However, if the prize gets up to enough money to start getting reported on the news, I’ll give it a chance. There are stories of people who win life-changing amounts of money only to fritter and waste it away. I would like to tell you that I’d be better than that. However, that would absolutely be me. One thought that never crossed my mind, however? Buying Dollywood.
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Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who worry about just how much it would cost to go to Pigeon Forge, write the check to buy Dolly Parton and her partners out, and then just own the Tennessee Tornado coaster and all the other Dollywood attractions. Timesaver pass? Forget that son, at Johnnywood I would ride that fire truck roller coaster any time I please.
How much does Dollywood make a year?
The best estimate I could find on the internet was the rather wide range of $100 million to $500 million annually. It can’t possibly be only $100 million. It should be much closer to $500 million and I think that might be low. But it’s hard to say definitively. Dollywood is owned by a private company and doesn’t have to report that information. When you Google it, a link to a Fox Business story based on the Forbes article pops up. That article claims Dollywood makes $3 million a year, which seems like a mistake.
Think of it this way: Most estimates I’ve seen say that 3 million guests per year visit Dollywood whilst on Tennessee Smoky Mountain vacations. Some of those visitors will have purchased season passes, which will reduce the overall average price for entrance paid by those 3 million significantly. Also, there are some other special discounts, promotions and giveaways.
The basic price of a Dollywood ticket is currently $89. Let’s say that three million with their season passes and discounts paid less than half of that value. Let’s say the average price paid for those people to get into the park was $35 – and I feel this is a conservative number. Then, the company made $105 million in Dollywood ticket revenue alone. I suspect that figure is higher. And that doesn’t count merch or concessions. But keep in mind, however, that’s revenue. Running a place like Dollywood ain’t cheap. I imagine costs eat a significant portion of that revenue as well.
Does that include the other ventures?
No. That $500 million revenue is just Dollywood. It doesn’t even include the water park Dollywood’s Splash Country, Pirate’s Voyage Dinner and Show, Dolly’s Stampede or Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa. And soon, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge. How much are resort guests willing to pay for the special privileges that come with staying at a Dollywood theme park resort? Quite a bit.
Who owns Dollywood?
We’ve mentioned Dolly Parton’s partners quite a bit. Herschend Family Entertainment has owned the park going back to the days of Goldrush Junction and they still own Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. According to the Forbes article, Dolly owns half of the park with her name on it. Does that mean they’re 50-50 partners? It is not clear. All we know from Forbes is Dolly owns 50 percent. If anyone else has a piece, that means HFE has less and Dolly is the majority owner.
Would Dolly Parton sell the Dollywood theme park?
I mean, I suppose if the check was big enough. They say everybody has their price. However, our girl Dolly has shown that her price – and business sense – is higher than almost everyone else’s. Back in the 70s, none other than Elvis Presley wanted to cut a version of Dolly’s classic “I Will Always Love You.” At that point, Dolly was famous and rich. But she wasn’t Elvis famous and she wasn’t so rich that she couldn’t have used the boost that Elvis singing her song would give.
However, at that point, the King had been around and he understood the value of publishing and he understood exactly what it meant when he cut somebody else’s song. Elvis wanted a piece. Dolly said no. He didn’t cut the song and she didn’t get the royalties. A decade or so later, Whitney Houston cut the song and it was a massive hit, earning Dolly a ridiculous amount of royalties.
Over the years, you’ve heard all the stories about artists like the Beatles and John Fogerty and others who sold their music publishing for what amounted to pennies on the dollar. Not Dolly. She kept her catalog. Today, it is worth about $150 million, according to Forbes, last year. Dolly is an astute businesswoman who knows the value of the things she owns. Is she likely to sell Tennessee’s most-visited tourist attraction? It would cost a fortune, and I’m not sure that would even do it. And if you paid that much, what would be the return on your investment?
Does Dolly Parton make money from Dollywood?
Yes, more than likely. She owns half the park and that stake is a major part of her net worth. Does she get a salary or a piece of the gate or something each year? I mean, she’d just about have to. But with all of her philanthropic endeavors, I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that’s the revenue stream she uses to support things like the Imagination Library or the 2020 research she helped fund. In addition to her ownership stake, I’m sure she gets money annually. But does it actually hit HER bank account? I suspect we’ll never know.
So how much is Dollywood worth?
This we have a pretty good figure on. Again, Forbes – last year – said that Dolly’s 50 percent is worth $165 million. I’m no math whiz, but I’m pretty sure that puts the park value at approximately $330 million if we’re guessing. And we are. That still seems low considering the additional attractions from The Dollywood Company.
So, could I buy Dollywood for $330 million?
I don’t think you could. I’m not sure a billion would move Dolly or HFE off of that park at this point. But, I’m also not sure you’d want it to. The year after Dolly bought her way into the park – then known as Silver Dollar City – there was a 75 percent increase in visitors. It was 1986 and Dolly was incredibly famous, but even then she wasn’t the icon that she is now.
The investments in the park and planning and care that have gone into making it one of the premier theme parks in the world will ensure the park will go on even after Dolly joins the heavenly chorus. Disney World carried on after Walt, and I suspect Dollywood will do the same. But if she was bought out? If she was no longer associated with Dollywood? The park certainly survives – probably even continues to thrive – but it takes a hit. There’s no doubt in my mind it would take a hit.
So, if I win the lottery, I shouldn’t buy Dollywood?
No. But you’d be wise to do as Dolly did. Find a park with potential, invest and hire smart people to help it grow. In the meantime, there’s a little concert venture I’d like for us to go over.
What do you think Dollywood is worth? Let us know in the comments.