Disney steps up efforts to bring "Avengers" to parks

Thu Jun 14, 2012 9:20pm EDT
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By Lisa Richwine

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co's design team has increased its efforts to bring the Marvel superhero team "The Avengers" to the company's theme parks after the film's smashing success, the head of Disney's parks unit said on Thursday.

Speaking as Disney unveiled the final attractions of a $1 billion investment to boost its laggard Disney California Adventure park, Tom Staggs said he intends to bring "The Avengers" characters to the Anaheim resort and other parks outside the United States.

"We were hard at work on attractions using Marvel characters previously, and that work has only intensified given (the film's) great success," Staggs, chairman of Disney's parks and resorts division, told Reuters in an interview at the park's Golden Vine Winery.

"The Avengers" has sold more than $1.3 billion worth of tickets around the world. Executives and Disney's designers, called "imagineers," are still working out how to bring characters like The Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America to the parks. "The setting has to be right, the story has to be right. That takes a fair amount of time," Staggs said.

Disney is contractually restricted from bringing Marvel characters to its parks in Orlando, where they are licensed to Comcast Corp's Universal Studios.

The new 12-acre Cars Land at California Adventure, based on the hit 2006 Pixar movie, and other expansions should help the company lift its profit margins in the parks business to the 20 percent range, Staggs said.

A decade ago, theme parks were the company's most profitable unit, with operating margins of 18 percent. This year, margins slid below 13 percent as the economy sputtered and the company spent to overhaul the California park and expand elsewhere, according to Disney's latest SEC filing.

Staggs said margins at the parks and resort divisions had improved in the past couple years. "As we look at our business going forward, there is no structural reasons we wouldn't see our margins head back to the 20 percent targets," he said.   Continued...

Wax figures designed to look like characters from the Marvel Entertainment film "The Avengers" are on display at the "Marvel Superhero Experience" at Madame Tussauds wax museum in New York April 26, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford