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Dreamworld opens Sky Voyager as owners commit to $50 million in new rides including a major launched roller coaster

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I'll plonk this here as it covers everything and it adds to the article but here is a full edited transcript of the investor presentation:

 
Quote

Full Year 2019 Ardent Leisure Group Earnings Call

Milsons Point, NSW Aug 23, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Ardent Leisure Group earnings conference call or presentation Friday, August 23, 2019 at 12:01:00am GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Christopher D. Morris

Ardent Leisure Group Limited - President & CEO of US Entertainment Centres

* Darin E. Harper

Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO

* Gary Hilton Weiss

Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Chairman

* John Osborne

Ardent Leisure Group Limited - CEO of the Theme Parks Division

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Conference Call Participants

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* Brian Han

Morningstar Inc., Research Division - Senior Equity Analyst

* Jordan Rogers

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Small Caps Research Analyst

* Sam Teeger

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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(technical difficulty)

I would now like to hand the conference over to Dr. Gary Weiss, Chairman of Ardent Leisure Group. Please go ahead, sir.

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Gary Hilton Weiss, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Chairman [2]

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Thank you, and welcome, everybody. Just some introductory comments from me. I've been involved in corporate turnarounds in Australia and overseas for some 30 years. The playbook is almost always the same: balance sheet repair, simplification of businesses and rationalization of activities, recruitment of first class management teams, business recovery underpinned by investment with a commitment to quality, transparency in financial and other reporting metrics and engagement with relevant stakeholders.

In the case of Ardent, much of this has been achieved. FY '19 should be viewed as a year of transition. We view FY '20 as the first year of recovery, and we do so with confidence in the future. At Main Event, we have a first class management team, a strong growth platform has been established and some very positive leading indicators, including guest experience results, traffic trends and so on. At Dreamworld, again, first class management team in place, significant investment in safety and engineering, an exciting pipeline of new rides and attractions and significant opportunity to recapture revenues.

With those introductory comments, I'll now pass to Darin Harper, our Chief Financial Officer.

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [3]

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Thank you, Gary, and good morning, everyone. Drawing your attention to Slide 3, I'll briefly cover the key messages we'll discuss on the call today. First, revenue and EBITDA before specific items from continuing businesses were up 14.4% and 15.7%, respectively, year-over-year. Main Event revenue in U.S. dollars grew 7.9%, reflecting contributions from centers opened in FY '18 and FY '19, while constant center revenue decreased by 1% on a like-for-like basis. We also reaffirm that Main Event is targeting EBITDA margins in excess of 20% over the medium term, not for FY '20 but beyond.

Theme Park revenue was broadly in line with prior corresponding period. Attendance was adversely impacted by the Coronial Inquest hearings held during the first half of 2019 -- fiscal 2019, along with the opening of Sky Voyager taking longer than anticipated. This is partially offset by a 13.1% increase in the average per capita spend. Sky Voyager received regulatory approval and will be opened today, the 23rd of August 2019.

High-caliber leadership teams now in place for both businesses supported by experienced management teams. We now have a simplified corporate structure, post de-stapling and corporatization, allowing greater flexibility to fund investment in growth. There's sufficient headroom to fund growth in the near term following the finalization of a USD 225 million loan facility. And lastly, a further reduction in corporate costs was achieved in FY '19.

 

Moving to Slide 4, let's discuss the consolidated financial performance of the group for the 2019 fiscal year. There are a number of factors impacting comparisons versus the prior year. First, the $64.2 million reduction in revenue year-over-year reflects the sale of the Marinas in August 2017 and Bowling & Entertainment in April 2018. These 2 businesses contributed $125.1 million in the prior period. This was partially offset by an increase in Main Event revenue associated with growth of new centers.

Year-on-year comparison of business unit EBITDA, which improved over $65 million, was impacted by a reduction in several large noncash and nonrecurring items, partially offset by a reduction in EBITDA contribution following the sale of the aforementioned businesses. These specific items impacting EBITDA, which includes noncash impairments, valuation losses, preopening restructuring and other nonrecurring costs, decreased approximately $76 million year-on-year, while the impact from discontinued operations resulted in a decrease year-over-year of approximately $18 million, excluding specific items.

Excluding the impact of specific items, EBITDA from continuing businesses grew $7.3 million, up 15.7% versus the prior year. On Slide 6, we provide a bridge which reconciles reported EBITDA to EBITDA excluding specific items on a continuing operations perspective for FY '19. Staying on Slide 4, however, the decline in borrowing costs was driven by large debt repayments and facility reductions following the sale of 2 businesses in the prior year.

With regard to income taxes, FY '19 had a $12.3 million tax expense compared to a $29.4 million tax benefit in FY '18 due to a few factors. First, the current year includes a $15.9 million expense for estimated tax payable in respect of previous financial years. The group has been in discussions with the ATO regarding the tax treatment of inter-group leases by the previous stapled group in prior years. Although these discussions are ongoing, it is likely that the outcome will result in a tax payment and liability recognized to represent management's best estimates at the 25th of August of 2019.

Second, the group recorded an expense of $12.4 million in the year in respect of Australian tax losses for which deferred tax assets have now been derecognized. And lastly, the prior year benefited from a $12.2 million credit relating to restatement of Main Event deferred tax balances due through U.S. tax reforms which lowered the U.S. corporate tax rate.

Turning to Slide 5. Here, we're presenting a summary of our continuing operations, including and excluding specific items. We believe this presentation provides a clear view of our underlying and continuing business performance. Revenue increased 14.4% year-over-year, driven by growth in Main Event, while Theme Parks had moderate revenue growth. Main Event accounted for over 85% of FY '19 revenue and grew at 7.9% in U.S. dollar terms or 17% in Australian dollars after impact of foreign exchange movements. As previously mentioned, excluding the impact of specific items, EBITDA from continuing businesses grew $7.3 million, up 15.7% versus the prior year. This increase was driven by a $7.8 million improvement in Main Event's EBITDA as well as a $2 million improvement in corporate costs, partially offset by a $2.5 million decline in Theme Parks due to higher safety repairs and maintenance spend.

We'll discuss the performance of the individual businesses in greater detail later in the presentation. As discussed previously, our continuing operations were impacted by several specific items and occurring in the prior years. The impact of these items on EBITDA was $41.9 million in FY '19 and $142 million in FY '18, and a breakdown of these costs represented in the appendices to this presentation. The primary factors leading to this $100 million reduction year-over-year were a $75 million valuation loss related to Dreamworld that was recorded in the prior year, along with lower noncash impairment charges from previously impaired Main Event centers.

Moving to Slide 6, here's a reconciliation which presents the components of specific items impacting EBITDA in FY '19, including additional noncash impairment and onerous lease charge on previously impaired Main Event centers; restructuring charges which include costs associated with the de-stapling and corporatization of the group; nonrecurring consulting cost and employee-related costs; and finally, Dreamworld incident-related costs due to the Coronial Inquest hearings.

Now turning to Slide 8, let's discuss the performance of Main Event for FY '19. Sales grew 7.9%, reflecting full year contributions from 3 centers that opened in FY '18 and 1 new center that opened in FY '19. Constant center revenue decreased 1% on a like-for-like basis. It's down 0.2% on a statutory basis, and this decline was primarily driven by fewer promotional activities and increased competition year-over-year. As mentioned earlier, FY '19 continued to be impacted by noncash impairment charges for the previously impaired centers as well as restructuring and other nonrecurring costs.

EBITDA margins, including specific items, improved over 700 basis points led by a reduction in general administrative costs as a percentage of revenue and lower noncash impairment preopening cost, restructuring and other nonrecurring items. Partially offsetting these improvements was a decline in center-level margins due to lower sales volumes per center. Preopening costs of USD 2 million in FY '19 versus USD 4.5 million in the prior year reflect fewer new center openings in the current year. And the increase in depreciation and amortization primarily reflects the investments in new center openings during FY '18 and FY '19.

On Slide 9, I'll call your attention to the 8-year constant center sales trend, in which we ended FY '19 down 1%. The decline in FY '19 constant center revenue primarily was driven by fewer promotional activities and increased competition. And note that the last 9 weeks of FY '19 generated positive constant center sales of 2%. Event business constant center sales grew approximately 6%, reflecting strong corporate business driven by sales leadership focus and realignment. And our event business, was up 8.5% in the first half of the year.

Constant center sales on a 2-year basis were up 0.9%. Constant center sales for this first 6 weeks of FY '20 were down 3.1%, impacted by unfavorable timing of U.S. Independence Day occurring on a Thursday versus at Wednesday, an unfavorable weather versus the prior corresponding period. Despite the softness during the short start to FY '20, we are guiding towards a full year FY '20 constant center growth of up 1% to 2%. And moving forward, we intend on updating the market on our full year guidance and not providing interim sales updates that aren't reflective of our longer-term perspective on sales trends.

Turning to Slide 10, we're providing a breakdown of the 70 basis points decline in EBITDA margins year-over-year excluding specific items. This decline is primarily driven by centers within the FY '17 through FY '19 cohort, excluding impaired locations, due to lower average unit revenue which has deleveraging effect on margins. Centers opened prior to FY '17 are delivering consistent margins year-over-year at approximately 29%, and our impaired locations have improved their margins 130 basis points. Excluding the impaired locations, 4-wall EBITDA margins would be approximately 28%. Furthermore, general and administrative costs improved by 50 basis points as a percentage of revenue driven by lower regional costs and central costs growing at a lower rate than revenue growth year-over-year. Lastly, we implemented cost savings initiatives and 20 basis points of margin improvement has been reflected in FY '19, and this is 100 basis points on an annual run rate basis. And we continue to target 20% EBITDA margins, excluding specific items, over the medium term.

Moving to Slide 11, we note our overall consistency in returns for our new center openings, despite higher investment costs and in some cases, lower average revenue. The FY '18 cohort averaged year 1 cash-on-cash returns of 30.7%. And this represents 4 centers all located in new markets. The FY '19 opening is in a new market and is continuing to build. The net investment for this location was higher due to the quality of the trade area, and the next several openings we have will have lower average net investments. 27 centers, excluding the 5 impaired locations that are part of the F '12 through FY '18 cohort, have an average year 1 cash-on-cash return of 40.1%, and returns in years 2 and 3 remained strong at approximately 35%.

Overall, our historical year 1 cash-on-cash returns in subsequent years remain strong when we focus on a disciplined site selection approach for our real estate strategy.

And so with that, I'll now turn the call over to Chris Morris.

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Christopher D. Morris, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - President & CEO of US Entertainment Centres [4]

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Okay . Thank you, Darin, and good morning, everyone. 2019 was a very successful year in terms of position us for long-term growth. We laid the foundation and put the building blocks in place and we're already seeing improvements across all areas of the business.

We recognize there's still work to be done but feel confident in the strategies we developed and the growth potential for our brand. In 2019, we built a world-class management team, developed extensive consumer insights and defined our target audience and core brand positioning. We reorganized operations and aligned incentives, bringing a unified focus to the guest experience. We reorganized the sales team, invested in new banquet equipment and pushed event sales. We developed a robust site selection process using consumer insights and market data to guide our new center development priorities.

Several members of our management team, including myself and representatives of our Board, typically Brad Richmond and/or Gary, visit every single site before it's approved. We developed a pipeline of innovation and new entertainment attractions, completed a standalone U.S.-based capital structure to fund our growth plans, entered into a national gift card program where we will soon be selling Main Event gift cards in over 5,000 retail outlets nationwide and we have developed a new exciting and relevant brand identity after a thorough consumer research.

We accomplished a lot, and as I said earlier, as a result of these accomplishments, we're already seeing improvement and driving results in all of the right areas and believe we're poised for growth in constant center sales in 2020.

In 2019, we improved the previous 3-year negative traffic trend by 300 basis points. We grew constant center event business sales by 6%, the most significant growth in the last 4 years. Our guest experience measures ended in 2019 at an all-time high, and 2020 has started even higher. Additionally, from February 2019 through July 2019, birthday guest satisfaction scores have improved a staggering 600 basis points over previous 6-month period. We're seeing improved turnover stats and increasing employee engagement metrics. We developed a healthy pipeline of new centers for future development with 4 new centers set to open in 2020 and 5 to 8 every year thereafter. And finally, we achieved our targeted 100 basis point improvement in EBITDA margins on an annualized basis, including 130 basis point improvement in margins at impaired centers for the full year.

In 2020, we're going to build upon these improvements. In particular, we're going to build upon the improvements made in the guest experience. We know we cannot build long-term sustainable guest count growth without consistently delivering a truly remarkable guest experience. In addition to several specific operating initiatives, we're investing in and implementing technology to enable an even better guest experience. In 2020, we're implementing a mobile POS allowing for seamless and engaging guest experience while eliminating long lines. We're implementing handheld tablets to improve the quality of the guest greeting; various kiosks throughout the center to provide consumers with a more transactional options; payment processing that will empower the guests to pay anyway they choose like Apple Pay, Google Pay or the like, or traditional credit card and cash payments; we're investing in your infrastructure at the center level to better track our guests throughout the center and improve WiFi connectivity and we're implementing a one of a kind mobile app. We believe these investments, along with our focus on operations, will materially improve the overall guest experience.

Beyond improving the guest experience, we're focused on a number of sales-driving initiatives. In late July this year, we successfully launched a new brand identity with a fresh up-tempo logo, brand tagline and messaging. Our new tagline, "Together We Play", clearly articulates our mission to bring people together for memorable moments. This will continue to thread through everything we do moving forward. This rebranding has injected new energy and relevance into our brand and has been well received on social media and guest feedback.

After extensive testing, we recently rolled out Kids Eat Free Tuesdays. This will be a permanent value offer similar to our long-standing Monday Night Madness. We expect over the longer this will drive strong incrementality on a traditionally low sales volume day. With school now back in session in most of our markets, this offer helps us serve as a point of differentiation versus the competition during the week. We are currently rolling out 2 new virtual reality attractions. First, we just completed a system-wide rollout of an exciting new VR attraction titled Beat Saber. Beat Saber is a rhythmic, virtual reality experience where guests use lightsabers to slash their way through a virtual word to the beat of music. We're very excited about this transaction. It's easy to learn, fun to master, appeals to a wide audience. We're going to promote it through a variety of fun and engaging ways.

Second, throughout the first half of this year, we will be rolling out Hologate in select locations. Hologate is a physically engaging immersive VR experience that's suitable for a wide range of guests. It boasts multiple games to engage our guests, allows future exclusive content and enables us to continuously change content to adapt to growth in VR. The rollout of these 2 pieces, in conjunction with the recent rollout, the VR Rabbids, puts us in a position to subtlety promote a VR platform with over 15 distinct experiences with evolving content, and gives us the ability to upsell VR packages for birthday parties and corporate events.

Later in the first half of the year, we're launching a Halloween promotion, including fun and interesting F&B items and a themed laser tag area. This will be seasonal news to our fall LTO program, which uniquely positions us to drive both value and experience at the same time. We plan to continually invest in buzz-worthy experiences to drive brand engagement throughout the F '20 year. We believe these experiences align well with our brand positioning and will prove to be a differentiator in the marketplace.

We'll be investing in incremental marketing aimed at building awareness. However, before we move forward with investing additional marketing dollars across the entire system, we want to prove out the business case for this type of investment spending. In the first half of 2020, we're testing incremental marketing spend in 1 specific trade area to prove increased awareness will drive sustainable sales growth. The results of this test will inform our plans for the second half of the year and marketing plans for 2021 and beyond.

For the second half of the year, we're currently in the process of reinventing our birthday party packages, and expect to rollout new packages at the beginning of the second half of the year. Growing birthday parties is a top priority for us in F '20, just as corporate events were in the 2019 year.

We will be rolling out a new pricing optimization program in the second half the year to increase game revenue while improving our value proposition. The previously mentioned rollout of a nationwide gift card program is expected to begin contributing to revenue in a more meaningful way in the second half of the year as we reach 5,000 retail outlets. In addition to these initiatives, we have a number of exciting entertainment attractions. We're currently testing for both potential near-term implication and over the longer. As we begin to lead through innovation, we will always have a number of items being tested or being developed.

So moving on to new center development plans. As I said earlier, we're on track to open 4 new centers in F '20, 3 of which are in new markets. We continue to be on pace to deliver 5 to 8 new openings each year thereafter. There remains considerable whitespace for ongoing development. Our brand continues to be well received across many developers, and we are now becoming the preferred tenant among many landlords. In fact, 2 recent instances, we were awarded a space over a strong competitor who is willing to pay more money and take less space. Landlords like our family-friendly positioning and the quality of our buildout and product offering.

We're excited about the opportunity to grow our unit base and build a national brand. Our management team has considerable depth in new unit development. We are composed of key executives from large multiunit businesses with a proven track record of successful new unit openings. Among myself, our Chief Development Officer and our Chief Operating Officer, we have collectively opened well over 600 units.

So in summary, we have a number of important initiatives underway to drive sales in 2020 and beyond. The most important of which is our ongoing commitment to deliver a one-of-a-kind guest experience. We're pleased with the progress made in 2019 and believe we are well positioned to have a successful year in 2020. We continue to be incredibly enthusiastic about our future. We have a strong brand with ample whitespace to grow for many years so come. We will continue to use our scale and resources to create competitive advantages, and we'll lead through innovation and a maniacal focus on the guest experience.

So with that, I will now hand it over to John to walk you through an update on Theme Parks.

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John Osborne, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - CEO of the Theme Parks Division [5]

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Thanks, Chris, and good morning to everybody on the line. Darin covered the financial performance of the company and Dreamworld in some detail earlier, so I'll just touch on the key points on Slide 16. The first one is that revenue was broadly in line with the prior corresponding period due mainly to an increase in the average per capita spend of 17.4% of Dreamworld and 13.1% for the Theme Parks division, which includes SkyPoint. Excluding specific items, the Theme Park division recorded an EBITDA loss of $10 million for FY '19 compared to an EBITDA loss of $7.5 million in the prior period, which was due mainly to increased cost in the safety and repairs and maintenance areas. Nevertheless, EBITDA in the second half of 2019 improved by 29.7% when compared to the prior corresponding period, which reflects the benefit of the expense reduction program that we began implementing in the second half of -- financial year 2019.

Gary mentioned that this year has been a transitional year for the company overall and that's certainly the case for the Theme Parks division. The restructuring that has already occurred, the opening of Sky Voyager today, which we're all very excited about, and other key projects planned for FY '20 should see Dreamworld experience growth in both attendance and revenue during FY '20.

We've had a number of key achievements in the -- particularly in the second half 2019, and we believe that we've reestablished a very solid platform and set Dreamworld up for return to profitability in FY '20. We have a highly capable and experienced leadership team now in place most of whom are newly established in the business. We draw from extensive experience in the theme park industry as well as from the Australia aviation industry, the latter being relevant to our engineering and safety parts of the business. The guest experience has been significantly enhanced with NPS scores remaining high, and we've implemented a number of special events during the course of the year, which we did talk about at the last half year presentation.

Some of those events include the Cosentino Grand Illusionist show, which occurred between the 6th and 21st of April over 16 days and 23,000 people from Southeast Queensland and all around Australia and the world attended those shows. Our new annual event called Winterfest, which was held in July, was very well received by our guests, resulting in attendance growth at Dreamworld over the July school holiday period on a -- compared to the prior period of 12.3%. We've also had a number of very successful night events at the park, which we call Park After Dark, Neon Nights and Winterfest Nights, and both of those events sold out well in advance, and we entertained 4,000 people on each of those occasions when those events were held.

Per capita spend for F&B and retail at Dreamworld has improved by 6.4% and 4.1%, respectively, compared to the prior corresponding period with no margin erosion. And as I mentioned earlier, the annual expense base, particularly in the second half, has been reduced and on a like-for-like basis, that's been reduced by approximately $5.5 million. On the -- on Page 18, there's some photographs of some of the events that I talked about just to show the activity that we've had at Dreamworld, particularly in the second half.

As Darin mentioned I think at the beginning of the presentation, we're delighted to announce that Sky Voyager was recently approved by the regulator and is opening today at Dreamworld. It's very exciting day for us. For those of you that don't know, there's 24 similar rides globally across 14 countries, and there's a further 19 in construction right now. And in 2018, over 13 million people rode an i-Ride around the world in locations including Europa Park in Germany, which is one of Europe's most awarded theme parks; LEGOLAND in Florida; the Mall of America in Minnesota; and Warner Bros. World, Abu Dhabi, which is the world's first indoor theme park.

To describe the ride, you and 59 other people will be suspended over a screen and you'll fly over some of Australia's most spectacular both natural and man-made landscapes. And hopefully, there's some people at Dreamworld right now riding on the ride given it opened at 10:00 this morning. Based on the success of similar rides in other parts of the world, and the pent-up demand for new product in our market, particularly at Dreamworld, we're confident that Sky Voyager will be a great success.

In relation to the Coronial Inquest, we're expecting the report to be released by the Coroner towards the end of 2019. And as previously stated, the Board is committed to implementing the Coroner's recommendations in consultation with Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and the broader theme park industry. We've made a number of improvements to our safety systems, and we continue to focus on that. The Queensland government introduced some new major amusement park safety regulations on the 1st of May 2019, including the move to a Safety Case licensing model. And we strongly support the new regulations which we believe will be a global benchmark for the industry.

Dreamworld continues to implement best practice safety initiatives across the Theme Park business, and we're in the process of continually bolstering both our systems and our people in that area. The new management team, as we talked about earlier, brings extensive experience from both the theme park and the aviation industries to this part of the business.

Industry opportunity. We believe that when you look at the last 3 or 4 years on the Gold Coast theme park industry, that presents a very significant opportunity for the industry to recapture some of the lost ground, and we say the price is up for grabs. Attendance is reduced by approximately $1.6 million people across Gold Coast theme parks since FY '16. Now this equates to a loss of revenue to the industry estimated to be in the order of $130 million based on increased yields that are currently being experienced at Gold Coast theme parks.

This thematic suggests that there is pent-up demand in the market, and with careful investment in new product, Dreamworld can win more than its fair market share of the expected industry recovery and restore its earnings to historical levels or better over the next 3 to 5 years.

We've also looked at the other theme park businesses around the world that have had similar situations to Dreamworld and we've identified the key success factors that have helped those businesses turn around, which include investing in core rides and attractions, increasing the entry price commensurate with investment and resisting the temptation to enter a price war, effective use of technology such as ticketing and marketing platforms, constantly improving F&B and retail and making regular small investments in key customer-facing areas, and consistently demonstrating the value of the annual pass or season pass by staging regular events and staying lean by controlling operating expenses. We've used those 6 points essentially as a bit of a template for what we'll be doing over the next few years.

So our plan over the next 3 to 5 years is to put something new into Dreamworld essentially each major holiday period, which will include new rides and attractions and also new special events. And I'm delighted today to announce the construction of a new game-changing roller coaster will commence in the quarter 1 FY '20. We've chosen to work with MACK Rides, who is a Tier 1 ride manufacturer from Germany with over 230 years experience. The design of the new roller coaster is based on the highly successful MACK Blue Fire Launch coaster, which operates in 14 locations around the world, including Europa Park, Disney Hollywood Studio's and Cedar Fair Carowinds. Of the 70 attraction at Europa Park, which is Europe's most awarded theme park, Blue Fire is the #1 roller coaster. It's proven to have broad market appeal and is the winner of multiple industry awards and regularly features in the best ranked customer experiences around the world.

Yet to be named, the coaster's key features will include: the southern hemisphere's first multiple launch with stall and reversed twisted half pipe, and we'll put this on our website for those that are interested in having a look at the ride; the world's first separate spinning gondola attached to the rear of the roller coaster train; and is a 1.2-kilometer track with multiple inversions; and the train achieves a maximum velocity of 105 kilometers an hour. This is a real game changer for Dreamworld, and this roller coaster is one of the most patronized around the world so we're very excited to be bringing it to Dreamworld.

We're also undertaking a major transformation of WhiteWater World, which is our waterpark. Works have commenced on the refurbishment and expansion of WhiteWater World essentially in 2 phases: the first phase is the construction of a new water slide complex incorporating 6 body slides attached to a 13-meter tower. The new slide will be highly visible from the M1 Motorway, and the slide format chosen will fill a gap in our current offer.

The second part of the project is to complete refurbishment of all of the existing slides at WhiteWater World, including repainting and gel coat application, along with improvements to the general amenity of the park itself. When the slide complex is complete, we intend to reintroduce a separate entry fee for non-annual pass holders, and we're doing that to make sure we reward our loyal pass holders by adding considerable value to their pass. There's some images of the new water slides on the bottom of the page for those that are interested in having a look at them. Fills a gap in our current offering in that we've got some very good family and young children facilities, and we've got some quite exciting thrill water slides, and the body slides fill what we think is a significant gap in the offer so we're over excited to be bringing that to our customers.

We've got a number of other key projects planned for implementation in FY '20 including the implementation of the Safety Case and further enhancement of safety systems. I mentioned earlier the government's regulations in relation to that and we're well advanced in meeting those and very excited about that process. The staging of special events and entertainment every school holidays including 2 major annual events that we want to become famous for, one of which will be Winterfest and one that we intend to announce in the not-too-distant future. Those events, along with our new rides and attractions, will add considerable value to our annual pass and we believe will increase annual pass sales.

Implementation of a new ticketing and marketing system to increase share of wallet by improving the online experience, increasing higher yielding sales and allowing more flexible bundling and pricing options. Theme Parks that have introduced state-of-the-art technologies in these areas have been very successful in increasing both sales and yield, and we think this, along with the new product that we're bringing in to the park, is a real game changer for us.

Commencing the refurbishment and expansion of the ABC KIDS and Wiggles precinct. That's an area of our park that's looking a little bit tired and we're very keen to make sure that we bring that up to a higher level, introduce a new product to it, and it gives us a point of difference, we believe, from some of our competitors in the market.

We are well advanced with the completion of a master plan for all of the land holdings that we have at Dreamworld showing the footprint for the leisure and the theme park precinct and identifying clearly what the surplus land is or where the surplus land is that can be developed and made available for -- potentially for commercial development with partners. The site there is in one of Australia's fastest-growing corridors, located on the M1 freeway between the Gold Coast and Brisbane on the rail line, and is highly sought after by developers of all types. So we believe that spending a little bit of time adding value to the site will be a tremendous benefit to the shareholders.

And preparation of a pipeline of additional rides and attractions and systems for installation over the next 3 to 5 years. So once we get into the ground with our roller coaster and complete our water slides, we'll have a list of what the next rides and attractions that we think we need to add to the mix will be.

Having said that, I'd like to now hand back over to Darin.

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [6]

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Thanks, John. Just a few more comments and then we'll open it up to Q&A. Slide 26 presents a roll-forward summary of our net debt balance at the end of June 2019. Overall net debt increased $76 million, reflecting the investments made in both businesses during the year to support the growth of Main Event and the recovery efforts at Theme Parks. Furthermore, ongoing restructuring and incident costs as well as the distribution made on August 2018 required the use of additional cash flow.

Turning to Slide 27, in April 2019, the group concluded the refinancing of its debt facilities with the completion of a USD $225 million debt facility comprised of $125 million drawn term loan; a $75 million delayed drawn term loan as well as a $25 million revolving credit facility by Main Event. The proceeds of the drawn term loan were used to repay Ardent's existing Australian bank debt facility, and the balance of the drawn proceeds were available to support investment in Theme Parks and Main Event as well as general corporate purposes.

On Slide 28, we note that we have seen significant reductions in the group's corporate costs from $16.5 million in FY '16 (sic) [FY '17], excluding nonrecurring items, to $10 million in FY '19. We anticipate further opportunities to reduce corporate costs in FY '20, excluding any nonrecurring items.

Moving to Slide 29, the group has adopted the new lease accounting standard effective for fiscal year 2020. While this will have no economic impact on the group, it will significantly change reported results. First, we expect the pretax balance sheet impact will result in new right-of-use assets of approximately $320 million and new lease liabilities of $360 million. Further, EBITDA will materially increase as a result of operating lease expense being replaced by depreciation and finance costs.

From a capital management perspective, given the reinvestment of earnings and available capital into the business to drive growth at Main Event and support the recovery efforts at Dreamworld through the development of new attractions, the Board has declared there will be no dividend for fiscal year 2019. Further dividend payments will be dependent on the performance, gearing levels and capital requirements of the group.

Lastly, on Slide 30, we provide some key pieces of guidance for FY '20 and beyond, and I'll just touch on a few highlights. First of all for Main Event. Reiterating constant center revenue increase of 1% to 2% for FY '20; opening 4 new centers in FY '20, adding approximately 16 -- 60 additional operating weeks. Additionally, we anticipate that the average net CapEx for each of these new centers will be USD 8.5 million. And lastly, reiterating our EBITDA margins, excluding specific items, in the medium term. And I'll reiterate that this is not our guidance for FY '20 but for subsequent years.

Then lastly, Theme Parks, we plan to invest approximately AUD 50 million on new the rides, attractions and systems over the next 3 to 5 years with significant investment to incur in FY '20, continue focus on reducing expenses. And the purposed investment on new rides along with the improvements made in the second half of 2018 is expected to set Dreamworld on the path to recovery with the aim of returning to historical pre-incident earnings or better over the next 3 to 5 years.

And with that, we'll now open up the line for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) The first question comes from Sam Teeger who's with Citi.

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [2]

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Maybe if we can just start at Dreamworld. From the perspective of a difficult theme, can you talk about how your roller coaster will compare with the new wooden roller coaster being built at SeaWorld?

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John Osborne, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - CEO of the Theme Parks Division [3]

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Yes. Look, I think the coaster we're building sort of based on the successful Blue Fire coaster that's operating as I mentioned earlier in a number of places around the world, it's a coaster that's proven to attract a much broader audience than coasters that sort of polarize the market. So we actually think that it will open up the market to a bigger range and user group. It's also got a couple of individual features that -- the twisted half spike (sic) [pipe] is first in the Southern Hemisphere, and the spinning gondola is the first in the world. So there's some unique features that will attract people in their own right.

Specifically in relation to SeaWorld, look, I think it's just fantastic news that both us and Village have decided to invest in this sector on the Gold Coast. In my view supply induces demand. I mentioned earlier that there's 1.6 million less people attending theme parks on the Gold Coast now than was the case in 2016, and I think that's partly because of the lack of investment in both of the theme parks frankly over a long period of time. So I think if both of us are investing in different unique products that are first to Australia, so we've got Sky Voyager and the new coaster and hopefully some other things that we'll announce in the coming years, I think the theme park sector will be reinvigorated and hopefully, more than the 1.6 million people that don't attend theme parks now that did in FY '16 will come back.

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [4]

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Sure. I agree with you. And just in the plans occurring, well, it definitely seem very exciting. Now, can you talk maybe a bit about what you learned from the Sky Voyager delay and what was the main cause of the delay and I guess how can you ensure that you won't have other delays when you release -- when you launch all your new attractions to include the roller coaster?

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John Osborne, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - CEO of the Theme Parks Division [5]

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Yes. Look, I can say a few things about that. Look, to be very honest and frank, I think we're a little bit ambitus about the timing on Sky Voyager. So we started constructing Sky Voyager in August last year, and that's almost 1 year to today that it's taken to open it. Now if you think of an investment of $20 million in something that has never been done in Australia or in the Southern Hemisphere before, I don't think 12 months is an unreasonable time to build it, commission it, test it and have it approved by the regulator. So I actually think we're just a little bit ambitious in relation to the timetable firstly.

And then secondly, I think what we learned is that we would involve all of the stakeholders earlier in the process going forward and we'll certainly -- that will certainly be the case with the roller coaster. We haven't given any guidance on when the roller coaster will open but I can assure you that anybody that needs to be involved in that project is either already involved or will in the very near future be so. So we've learned some lessons from Sky Voyager that I think -- I think thinking that we could open it in 6 months was possibly ambitious.

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [6]

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And I guess heading into the key Christmas trading period, it looks like the Coroner's report is now scheduled to be released just before then. How do you manage any potential risk around attendance if that stuff's thrown out in the news again?

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John Osborne, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - CEO of the Theme Parks Division [7]

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Yes. So look, the -- we don't know when the Coroner's report is going to be released, to be honest. We believe that it may be before the end of the year. The Coroner's not mandated to any sort of timetable as far as we know so it will be released when it is. The best thing we can do is just continue to provide a really good guest experience, and everybody at Dreamworld's focused on that. Execute on our plans to improve the product in a timely fashion. And certainly, Sky Voyager is the start of that. And that's the best we can do.

In terms of publicity that may or may not occur when the report's released, we'll have to deal with that at the time. What I can say is that our safety systems are, I think, up there with the best of any theme park in the world and they're continuing to be improved with every day that goes by. So we'll certainly be in a very strong position as we are now, and even stronger in the future to demonstrate to our guests and to the marketplace, if I can call that generally, that we're in a very good place in relation to any safety concerns that anybody may have.

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [8]

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Got it. And sorry, last question really for Darin. In terms of the 20% EBITDA margin target, the introduction of the lease accounting standard should help you get there. Do you have a margin target without the impact or can you talk about the benefit to margins that this step will have. Just trying to get a sense of what the underlying improvement in margins is going to look like. And just the 4 new centers you're opening in FY '20, what's the first half and the second half split?

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [9]

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Yes, sure. So first part of the question, the guidance on the 20% EBITDA margins does not reflect any benefit from the new lease accounting standard. Any benefit that would come from that would be fairly significant. I think roughly to provide some quantum, you're probably looking $47-some-odd million of benefit to EBITDA for the group with respect to the new lease accounting standard. So the 20% does not include that. And so hopefully -- was there another part to your first question there that I had missed before I go on to the new center timing?

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [10]

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No, I think that was pretty clear. It sounds like it will be pretty significant to benefit EBITDA next year.

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [11]

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Yes, yes. Yes, it'll be significant. Yes.

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [12]

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And when you report that, will you kind of provide pro forma with and without standard just so we can get a sense of what is the underlying improvement?

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [13]

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Yes. I think that would be our expectation because it's significant. And year-over-year the comparables, unless we quantify that, are going to be very confusing, so yes.

With respect to your second question. So for the 4 new units that we're going to open, we only anticipate circa 60 operating weeks. So we just opened up 1 of those 4 units this week. Another 1 will -- is anticipated to open in February, and the other 2 approximately in May.

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Operator [14]

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The next question comes from Jordan Rogers who's with UBS.

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Jordan Rogers, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Small Caps Research Analyst [15]

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Just first question around Main Event margin improvement for the second half that you are sort targeting 100 basis points, sort of 20 was the main difference there just the operating deleverage from the negative comp in the 6-month period versus where you're expecting? Or is there anything else at the cost line?

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [16]

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No. Hey Jordan. No, the anticipation was, in the second half, that we would implement effectively cost savings initiatives that would get us 100 basis points on a run rate basis. So we did not intend to be able to capture 100% of that 100 basis points in the second half. So what I'd say is we're on track with what our expectations were with that. And based on the timing of the rollout of those savings, we capture 20 basis points for FY '19. But the full run rate -- and the remainder -- the other 80 basis points, which has been effectuated, will be captured in FY '20.

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Jordan Rogers, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Small Caps Research Analyst [17]

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Okay. Great. And just your -- that question around the Theme Parks, just jumping back to that. Is it possible or again, another one of your target that was a bit of a stretched target given it was dependent on Sky Voyager being opened and the Coronial Inquest being in the rearview mirror but -- to get into that EBITDA breakeven line. Is that now a target for sort of second half of FY '20?

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John Osborne, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - CEO of the Theme Parks Division [18]

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Look, we haven't given any guidance on that. But now that Sky Voyager has opened and assuming we don't have any delays with some other things, we've said that we hope to be in a position of breaking even in FY '20, so haven't really focused on first half or second half at this stage.

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Jordan Rogers, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Small Caps Research Analyst [19]

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Okay. Great. And is there any way you can give a sort of ballpark figure around potential specific items for the Theme Parks with the Coronial Inquest coming in and anything else that you know you've got to pay?

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John Osborne, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - CEO of the Theme Parks Division [20]

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No. I don't think we're in a position to give a ballpark figure. I don't think that would be appropriate. And as I think I said earlier, it's until we see the report, we really can't predict what it's going to say other than to the extent we're aware of areas that the government -- or the Coroner might focus on, we're well positioned to have -- we've made good progress with Safety Case and other safety systems that we think might be the focus of the Coroner's report.

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Jordan Rogers, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Small Caps Research Analyst [21]

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Yes. Okay. Just another question for Darin. Around the -- you've done a great job of reducing those corporate costs coming down to $10 million on a recurring basis. Can that go further? Or are you kind of -- do you think you're kind of done there on that corporate line?

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [22]

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Yes. We think it can go further. Not going to provide specific guidance, but yes, we certainly think there's more opportunity on the corporate costs.

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Jordan Rogers, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Small Caps Research Analyst [23]

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Got it. Another sort of specific one around that accounting standard change, you talked to the EBITDA line so it's less clear at the NPAT line. Have you got a rough estimate on that -- on the impact there on the profit line?

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [24]

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I don't. But I think -- largely, I would think that would be generally unchanged just because it's largely a reclass from operating lease expense to depreciation and interest. And while the overall cadence might be a little bit different just based on some of computations, I don't anticipate that the NPAT line will change significantly.

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Jordan Rogers, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Small Caps Research Analyst [25]

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Okay. Just a couple of quick ones for Chris. Can you comment, perhaps give information, obviously, this Main Event-led increased competition, can you talk to, I don't know, specific brands or specific areas around the U.S. where that's the case.

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Christopher D. Morris, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - President & CEO of US Entertainment Centres [26]

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Yes, sure. Yes, look, it's -- I wouldn't necessarily say it's increased competition. We operate in a very competitive category. Our greatest strengths is we're operating in a robust growing category where consumers are gravitating to these experiential locations. And as a result of the strength of the category, there's a lot of capital being deployed and a lot of competitors are in our space. But you can't escape competition. So I think that the impact that we felt in FY '19 was in select markets, in a handful of markets where we saw a competitor open up and when a competitor moves in to market, they're going to generate trial. And with such a small unit base in our comp base, when that happens, it has an impact, we feel the impact on total comps. But it's not something that we would characterize as systemwide, it's more market to market and is a reflection of the strength of the category.

The most -- what we're focused on is things that we can control, and that's the guest experience and the products that we're delivering and the innovation that we're bringing to the table. The most important way of defending competition is to create a clear point of difference in the marketplace and to deliver on the brand promise. And that's where we're focused. And as we walked through in the presentation, we take comfort in the fact that all the leading indicators are suggesting that we are making a noticeable impact in the guest experience, in the employee experience, and as we start to continue to execute against that, we believe strongly that we will be in a much greater defensible position to face competition. But it's something that's real. It's something that we pay attention to. But it does not, in any way, shape or have a negative impact on our belief of the long term. There's a lot of good things happening at Main Event, and we're going to continue to focus on the guest experience and use our size and our scale to our advantage.

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Jordan Rogers, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Small Caps Research Analyst [27]

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Great. And then just around your comments around increasing or trialing increasing marketing spend in one trade area, how many centers we'll add sort of a part of that trial and could you just talk to what the mix of marketing spend will be?

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Christopher D. Morris, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - President & CEO of US Entertainment Centres [28]

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So I'll answer the first part. I'm not going to answer the second part because that's part of what we're trying to understand and just due to competitive reasons, we'd rather not. So it'll be 3 centers. It's a smaller market, 3-center market. And as you've heard us, Jordan, we've talked about this several times in the past but because we've grown so quickly and we're still relatively a young brand, we're lacking just overall brand awareness. So systemwide, our brand awareness is around 50% compared to Dave & Buster's that's north of 90%. And so we strongly believe that as we build awareness, we will generate more trial and be in a strong position to grow our business. But it is -- it's a hypothesis. And in a world with competing resources and wanting to be good financial stewards, we don't -- we want the prove the business case and prove that we have the right formula on the right type of marketing investment that's going to resonate with the right guests to generate the sales. And so we're just trying to be prudent. And so we're going to some do some investment spending in a market, prove it out and if it works, then we will scale quickly. But every step of the way, we're going to be measuring the results and be methodical and earn our way into this as we move forward.

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Operator [29]

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(Operator Instructions) The next question comes from Brian Han with Morningstar.

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Brian Han, Morningstar Inc., Research Division - Senior Equity Analyst [30]

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Chris, the 3% fall in like-for-like for Main Event so far this year, how much of that can we attribute to the Independence Day impact? And are there any Main Event locations that you're sort of thinking of closing this year because they're simply not pulling their weight?

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Christopher D. Morris, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - President & CEO of US Entertainment Centres [31]

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Okay. So the first part of the question is about 60 basis points of the 300 decline is due to a holiday shift, and the rest is just due to weather changes year-over-year. And we've poured through -- we have an army of analysts at the support center -- I shouldn't say an army, we just have a couple of people that they -- their output is reflective of what an army would be. But our analysis team spent a lot of time going through and analyzing the business. And you have to -- when you look at what our sales performance, the last 9 weeks of the F '19 year, we had consistently, not only positive same-store sales growth but positive traffic growth. And that's the first time in 4 years we've had 9 consecutive weeks of positive traffic growth. And then moving -- and so felt great about the business and as I said, all the leading indicators are there. We move into the July time period and things traded down for a short period of time. But we don't believe it's indicative of a change -- a long-term change in the business. We think it's just weather patterns and things that are more temporary in nature. So still feel very comfortable guiding towards 1% to 2% overall comp store sales for the full year. In terms of the closures, anticipated closures, at this point in time, we don't have any immediate plans for any closures in the F '20 year.

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Brian Han, Morningstar Inc., Research Division - Senior Equity Analyst [32]

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Okay. And John, if I may, it looks like people are spending pretty well once they get into the park. So what are you doing differently that they are spending more money once they're in the park?

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John Osborne, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - CEO of the Theme Parks Division [33]

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Well I think there's a couple of things. We've had a couple of price rises over the last 12 months for entry ticket, and we'll continue to push that in small increments because what we're finding is that the price is relatively inelastic and I think we might have discussed this at the last call as well. So that's the first thing. And then the second thing, I just think we're doing a much better job with bundling products, selling F&B and retail items, presenting them differently and better, and that's resulted in what you can see from the presentation as some healthy increases in the yield in those areas. So ticket price increases and better presentation of food and retail -- food and beverage and retail items.

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Operator [34]

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We have a follow-up question from Sam Teeger who's with Citi.

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [35]

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Just a follow-up for Darin on the tax rate, which when I think about it, can you give us an indication of what we should we expect for an effective tax rate for the group for FY '20? And just maybe talk about what those Australian tax losses for the deferred tax asset and the amount of tax payable in respective prime periods related to the concept material.

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [36]

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Yes. Sure. With respect to your first question, Sam, yes, really -- not in a good position to guide to a good effective tax rate moving forward, just given -- just the overall pretax income projections, et cetera. So I can't give you good guidance there.

With respect to your other question on the changes this year, the primary factors impacting us this year was the ATO has been conducting a review of stapled structures within the industry for the past several years with a focus on transactions between flow-through trusts and corporate entities. And so we've been in numerous discussions with the ATO over the last few months regarding the tax treatment of intra-group transactions for the previous stapled group structure for the 2014 to 2019 year. And so the discussions have primarily been concerned with the cross-stapled leases between the corporation and trust. And so that's where, based on the discussions to date, we have reached an in-principle settlement to close out that issue, hence, the $15.9 million. And then there were some deferred tax assets that are being derecognized associated with losses that were generated under this cross-stapled structure as well. So we anticipate that once a formal settlement is reached, that, that will clean up that issue and that will be a onetime transaction.

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [37]

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All right. Are you expecting a lot less incident guidance overall in FY '20?

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [38]

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I'd say no, broadly. I think it would be fair to anticipate some form of ongoing incident costs and things of that nature. But obviously, we're not anticipating valuation or impairment charges. And further, we anticipate some of the other restructuring and consulting nonrecurring consulting costs to significantly moderate.

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Sam Teeger, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Analyst [39]

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You're not expecting restructuring to moderate?

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Darin E. Harper, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Group CFO [40]

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We are expecting it to moderate significantly. Yes.

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Operator [41]

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There are no further questions at the same. I'll now hand the call back to Dr. Weiss for any closing marks.

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Gary Hilton Weiss, Ardent Leisure Group Limited - Chairman [42]

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Okay. Thank you, everybody, for your attendance on the call today, and look forward to reporting continued improvement in performance in the periods ahead. Thank you.

Edited by Jamberoo Fan

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