Latest News

Back to Latest News back


Attendances at Disney’s theme parks beats the world’s top sporting leagues

Attendances at Disney’s theme parks beats the world’s top sporting leagues
December 23, 2019

Disney’s theme parks had higher total attendances in 2018 than any major sports league worldwide according to a review published in US business magazine Forbes.

Forbes’ reviews shows that Disney’s 14 parks around the world attracted an estimated 157.3 million visitors last year - more than double its nearest challenger, Major League Baseball. The MLB’s attendance total of 69.6 million is driven by 2,415 matches which is far more than the number held by the NFL or the NBA.

Aggregated, Disney’s attendance is greater than the three primary American professional sports leagues combined and based on current trends, the Forbes article suggests this will increase with the addition of new rides at Disney properties around the world.

Behind Disney, Merlin Entertainments, the world’s second largest attractions business, operates more than 130 attractions, including the Legoland theme parks, and until last month was listed on the London Stock Exchange.

It was de-listed after being bought for US$7.7 billion by private equity firm Blackstone, Canadian pension fund CPPIB and Kirkbi Invest, the private holding company of Denmark’s billionaire Kristiansen family which founded the Lego toy company.

Kirkbi Chief Executive Søren Thorup Sørensen said that the new owners have “the unique collective resources necessary to equip Merlin for their next phase of growth.”

As the table below shows, 67 million guests streamed through its turnstiles last year – again, a total that is set to rise with the UK-based business due to open a new Legoland in Shanghai after 2023 and two other parks are on the way before then in New York, USA and South Korea.

Merlin is closely followed by NBCUniversal which runs the Universal Studios theme parks and is also rapidly expanding. In 2023 the doors will swing open to the fifth Universal Studios park and it promises to be a blockbuster. At an estimated construction cost of $6.5 billion, Universal Studios Beijing is set to be the world’s most expensive theme park and comes complete with an on-site entertainment district and two hotels.

The media giant is also adding to its collection of parks in the US theme park capital of Orlando, Florida, with Universal’s Epic Universe which will occupy a 303 hectacre site. It will nearly double Universal’s total available property in Orlando and create 14,000 jobs to add to the 25,000 it currently employs there.

In 2018, Universal’s theme parks revenue was up 4.4% to $5.7 billion and onsite hotel occupancy reportedly topped 90%. Attractions themed to Harry Potter have cast a spell on Universal’s parks in Japan, Florida and California and given them greater attendance growth than any of their rivals over the decade to 2018.

It helped to give Universal an estimated 56.1 million visitors last year which was 27.7% more than the combined totals at every NFL and NBA game. Even its smaller rival SeaWorld Entertainment had higher attendance than the NFL, NBA and NHL as well as international leagues like Formula One auto racing and the ATP World Tour of tennis.

Forbes advised that the sports attendance data is provided by the leagues themselves, industry analysts or major news organisations while the leisure consultancy AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association cover the theme park industry and museums.

Click here to view the full article in Forbes. 

Images: Shanghai Disneyland (top), Tokyo Disney (middle) and concepts for Legoland Shanghai (below).

Related Articles

20th December 2019 - Private equity firm makes $750 million offer for Village Roadshow

15th December 2019 - Construction starts on eighth themed land at Shanghai Disneyland

9th December 2019 - Tokyo Disneyland reveals details of its largest expansion

4th October 2019 - Tokyo Disney announces record 15.7 million visitation

18th November 2019 - Merlin Entertainments announces Legoland Shanghai development

16th November 2019 - Legoland Malaysia goes cashless

30th September 2019 - Merlin Entertainments announce plans for LEGOLAND Resort in Western China

28th June 2019 - Lego owners lead £5 billion acquisition of Merlin Entertainments

28th November 2018 - Merlin Entertainments opens children’s immersive indoor attraction in Shanghai 

23rd May 2019 - Attendance at the world’s themed attractions exceeds half a billion visits for the first time in history

15th January 2015 - Harry Potter pushes Universal Studios Japan towards attendance records

8th September 2014 - Universal Studios Japan’s new Harry Potter attraction draws record visitors in August

2nd August 2019 - MLB China hires former Fox Network Asia Vice-President as Managing Director

19th September 2018 - NHL looks to grow in China ahead of 2022 Winter Olympics

9th August 2018 - NBA China announces inaugural NBA Championship touring exhibition

25th October 2019 - China blacks out coverage of opening games of NBA season

20th August 2018 - NFL draft event to be held on the Gold Coast

14th November 2016 - NFL partners with NEXTVR to offer virtual sport experience

17th October 2019 - New ticketing initiatives drive increased attendances at Shanghai Tennis Masters

14th June 2018 - Optus Stadium celebrates one millionth visitor as AFL attendances hit new highs

4th October 2017 - Small decline in attendances at Stadiums Queensland venues

Asking a small favour
We hope that you value the news that we publish so while you're here can we ask for your support?

The news we publish at is independent, credible (we hope) and free for you to access, with no pay walls and no annoying pop-up ads.

However, as an independent publisher, can we ask for you to support us by subscribing to the printed Australasian Leisure Management magazine - if you don't already do so.

Published bi-monthly since 1997, the printed Australasian Leisure Management differs from this website in that it publishes longer, in-depth and analytical features covering aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues management.

Subscriptions cost just $90 a year.

Click here to subscribe.


supplier directory

The Complete Guide to Leisure Industry Products & Services.

See the directory see all


SLE Worldwide Australia is a Managing General Underwriter specialising in insuring risks in the world of Sports, Leisure and Entertainment. Be it relaxing, playing, organising or watching sports,…

read more

Insurance / Venues



Clubware’s online gym software is not your run of the mill management system. It has been carefully designed to incorporate all the elements that a fitness club would need. How did we do that?…

read more

Access / Billing / Fitness / Recreation


Pico Play

Pico Play is a global leader in the planning, design, development and construction of world-class themed attractions and entertainment that deliver extraordinary and memorable experiences to millions…

read more

Attractions / Consultants / Design / Recreation / Tourism



BODY BIKE® International is a leading manufacturer of indoor bikes with a 20-year track record of creating the best indoor bikes. Stay connected with Body Bike Australia…

read more

Fitness / Recreation / Sport / Technology / Wellness


BioLab Australia Pty Ltd

BioGuard is Australia and New Zealand’s most trusted supplier of premium, innovative and affordable commercial water treatment systems and chemicals. BioGuard offers a comprehensive range of…

read more

Aquatics / Technology / Waterparks


The Jump Pad

The Jump Pad is a safe, flat inflatable made in a variety of sizes which can be used indoor or outdoor. From 3mx3m up to a whopping 9mx21m. Markets include Indoor and outdoor playgrounds, schools,…

read more

Attractions / Entertainment / Play



ICP is an Australian-based company focused on indoor climbing. ICP will manage your project from initial design to completion and beyond, whether you're building an international-level climbing…

read more

Attractions / Fitness / Recreation


get listed with our suppliers directory

Get your business noticed in our targeted directory. Viewed by 10,000 industry professionals per week!

list your business