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MaxPass Paid Digital FastPass Coming to Disneyland

Sometime in 2017, Disneyland will finally roll-out a digital FastPass service. It’s not what we were expecting, though, which was a modified rollout of FastPass+ (we’ve been detailing the progress of this, which has been testing for over a year now, in our Disneyland Trip Planning Guide). Instead, Disneyland is introducing MaxPass: a paid digital service allowing guests digital downloads of their PhotoPass images, and the ability to book FastPass return times via the Disneyland App.

Disney MaxPass will be available for purchase at the introductory price of $10 per day. Disneyland Annual Passholders will also be able to purchase MaxPass on a daily or yearly basis. Alternatively, guests will continue to have the option of using paper FastPasses at no cost by obtaining them at attraction FastPass kiosks, just as they do today.

Beyond that, FastPass will be added to Toy Story Mania in Disney California Adventure and Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland. This has all been confirmed by Disneyland, and is an interesting development that contradicts a lot of the rumors based on leaks and observations from the past year or so. Here are some of our thoughts on this news…

First of all, it’s a pretty big deal that MaxPass is a paid service. We know: it’s “only” $10/day and paper FastPasses are still available for free, so why care? Well, our concern lies both in the precedent and allocation of paid MaxPass v. unpaid FastPasses.

If MaxPass proves to be a hit with guests (and at $10/day with unlimited PhotoPass, it won’t be too tough of a sell, we predict), the allocation of MaxPass v. paper FastPass will undoubtedly tip in favor of MaxPass. Only so many combined Max/FastPasses can be distributed per day based upon attraction capacity, and it’s easy to envision a day when Radiator Springs Racers paper FastPasses are (again) gone within 30 minutes of park opening, as a result. Heck, it’s easy to envision a day when Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters FastPasses are gone first thing in the morning.

Second, Disney explicitly calls $10/day the introductory price. I don’t think it requires a vivid imagination to see this climbing much higher (perhaps $40/day?) if it proves popular. Based on recent pricing trends, I’m actually a bit shocked to see the price not starting higher. My guess as to why it isn’t is because this is a very important growth revenue stream to Disney, and they don’t want to doom it to failure by pricing it too high to start. As we’ve seen with several one-and-done upcharge offerings, an exorbitant price can lead to a quick downfall.

Finally, there’s the financial angle of MyMagic+. It’s pretty well known that Disney spent a lot of money on this NextGen initiative at Walt Disney World (to the tune of billions of dollars), the cost of which has not yet been recouped. Beyond updating an extremely dated backend technology infrastructure, the idea was that it would increase guest spending and more efficiently allocate resources (staffing, etc.). To what extent any of this has occurred is unknown, but it has ceased being a positive topic of discussion on investor calls. My guess would be that it has not–and will not–recoup its costs at Walt Disney World.

The other way some of those costs were expected to be offset was using the system in other parks. Early in Shanghai Disneyland’s development, MyMagic+ was supposed to be integrated into that park. Ultimately, Shanghai Disneyland opened with paper FastPass, which should speak volumes about the internal view of MyMagic+’s viability. (Likewise, there is little doubt Disney pushed MyMagic+ for Tokyo Disney Resort, where it could have licensed the technology to Oriental Land Company, but it is not present in any of OLC’s near-term or long-term plans, meaning they most likely passed.)

You can draw your own conclusions about why MaxPass is going to be a paid system instead of a free one at Disneyland, but my guess is because the return on investment has fallen short of expectations in the free system at Walt Disney World. I’d go one further and hypothesize that financial performance has been so poor that it was not practical to commit the resources to something comparable at Disneyland without converting the system into a paid one.

Please note: none of my conclusions are corroborated in any way whatsoever. I’m just making (marginally) educated guesses. However, if MyMagic+ had led to increased spending and decreased costs at Walt Disney World, why not roll it out in much of the same manner at Walt Disney World? The research and development is done, and other sunk costs would not be incurred the second time around. To be sure, there would be infrastructure costs, but those would all be minimal as compared to the outlay of cash at Walt Disney World.

The reasonable conclusion, I think, is that MyMagic+’s efficiencies and being a supposed driver of spending are not enough to offset even infrastructure costs at Disneyland. With that said, another conclusion is certainly possible: MyMagic+ is delivering in the promised ways at Walt Disney World and will save Disneyland money, but Disney is willing to bet that guests would also be willing to pay for it. This is another reasonable conclusion, and certainly in line with Disney’s current trajectory with regard to upcharges. In either case, don’t be surprised to see a modification of FastPass+ at Walt Disney World in the near future to incorporate a paid element if Disneyland’s system proves “successful” for the company.

It will be interesting to see how MaxPass is received by Disneyland guests. At the current price, I do not predict failure. There will be a lot of complaints by online commentators like me, but ultimately, enough guests will pay to justify MaxPass’s existence. People pay a lot more for Universal’s system, so I’d be shocked if this is not a financial success for Disney. I worry that this will quickly increase in cost, spread to Florida, and continue the trend of further stratifying Disney guests. What do you think?

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