It was a travesty. An outrage. Blasphemy!
In 2006, the Mall of America did the unthinkable: it parted ways with Camp Snoopy after failing to reach a new licensing deal for the Peanuts characters. (Cedar Fair, a Sandusky, Ohio-based company that operates seven theme parks nationwide, owns the exclusive right to use "Peanuts" characters at its U.S. theme parks under an arrangement with United Media, the New York licensing and syndication agency for "Peanuts.")
Aside from being a popular tourist fixture at the MOA since the mall first opened in 1992, Camp Snoopy held special emotional resonance in the Twin Cities. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St. Paul.
Today, Camp Snoopy seems but a distant memory, at least in the eyes of the MOA. Its replacement, Nickelodeon Universe, is averaging about 8.5 million rides a year, about 600,000 more than Camp Snoopy. MOA officials credit Nickelodeon for helping to boost traffic throughout the mall, a crucial factor in the 9.4 percent sales gain MOA posted through August.
But it was pretty dicey back five years ago. Getting rid of Camp Snoopy carried enormous risk of customer backlash.
"We're not too happy about it," Barbara Harper of Eagan told the Star Tribune in 2007. "It's a sad situation, really. It's something great for children, and with the Charles Schulz connection, it's a legacy. It's too bad we're going to lose that."
Officially, the MOA said it wanted to bring Camp Snoopy back but the financials did not add up. In hindsight though, mall officials say Peanuts, for all of its institutional value, was a tired property frozen in time and didn't offer many opportunities to expand or creatively stretch. For example, it wasn't as if you could introduce a new character. Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy were pretty much what you had to work with.
"I thought there would be far more backlash than there was," said Maureen Bausch, the mall's executive vice president for business development. "It’s a little bit of a lethargic brand. Like I Love Lucy or Happy Days. It’s a brand that could not be continuously renewed."
Bausch said kids were only associating Peanuts with the Mall of America.
"You want them to see [the characters] in the media and know that they can touch it at your facility," she said. "You don’t want to generate all of the awareness for that brand. It was time for a change."
Problem was, no one wanted to immediately follow Camp Snoopy. So the mall just renamed the park a bland "The Park at MOA" for two years. It was the "brand you love to hate," Bausch laughed.
(Interestingly enough, the mall still averaged about 7.6 million rides a year, not too bad considering it had no identity.)
"That gave us a window when Nickelodeon came in, they didn’t want to seem they were pushing [Camp Snoopy] out," Bausch said.
Today, Nickelodeon is basic cable's top total day network with kids ages 2 to 11 and total viewers, thanks to a steady pipeline of popular programming featuring characters, both animated and live action, like SpongeBob SquarePants, iCarly, and Dora the Explorer. The network is averaging more than two million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
iCarly is the number one program on TV with all kids and tweens, SpongeBob is the top animated series with kids, and Dora is the top preschool series. Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon, also recently acquired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beatrix Potter.
"Nickelodeon is a great business, a great brand, has a lot of opportunity to grow," Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman recently told analysts. "It's sharpened its programming orientation. Nickelodeon is going to have 500 original shows during the next year, which is the highest level it's had. The record is outstanding."
As a result, Nickelodeon Universe at MOA can tap a vast reservoir of characters and creative talent to constantly update rides and programming.
Peanuts may have a lock on the past. But it seems that Nickelodeon has a lock on the future.