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Busch/Blackstone Open Thread

By Robert Niles
Published: September 23, 2009 at 12:01 AM
There's much talk that a deal between Blackstone and the Busch Entertainment Group for a purchase of the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks will be announced Wednesday morning.

Since I'm on the west coast, this deal could happen in the very early hours of the morning, before I log on. If it does get announced, I've opened this thread for readers to post details as they come available and talk about the deal. (And if it doesn't, just go ahead and talk about whatever you want to talk about.)

Update: Thanks to everyone on the east coast for the comments overnight and this morning. The overnight open thread worked well. I might do this more often in the future.

Let's see if we can put this all together:

There's no sale at this point. The meeting this morning was a regular employee information meeting at SeaWorld Orlando. As far as I can tell, there have been no meetings at other Busch theme parks.

From day one after InBev closed the deal with A-B and put the parks up for sale, folks who cover the entire industry (i.e. more than just Disney) have figured out that Blackstone Group was the only entity with any theme park experience that had the capital to make a play for the Busch Entertainment Corp. (though Disney and Universal would kick the tires to see how they were holding up).

Once reports got out that Blackstone execs were in the parks, getting the insiders' tour, observers figured that a deal was close. So as soon as one of the parks scheduled a big employee meeting, folks put two and two together and figured that would be the time of the announcement.

One Central Florida station went so far as to report the deal was done, and included quotes from yours truly, from an interview I did last week talking about the hypothetical of a Busch/Blackstone deal.

I concur with the commenter who said that the company wouldn't likely announce the deal on the same day as a big employee news meeting if it didn't announce it at that meeting. In my experience, deals like this get announced late in the day, anyway, not during trading hours.

FWIW, I also think there's a lot of BS floating around out there about how this deal would play with Universal Orlando. Let's not forget that Blackstone owns only half of UO. It wouldn't spend the cash to buy SeaWorld Orlando and create a synergy with UO unless its partner at NBC Universal brought some cash to the table, too. Why spend the money to give NBCUni half the benefit?

A Merlin synergy makes more sense, since it would allow Merlin access to the SeaWorld brand and... (this gets me really excited) could lead to bringing Lego and Sesame Street together in various parks. That's marketing gold there. Blackstone has a 70% stake in Merlin, with Lego as a minority partner. If the Busch family is brought in as another minority partner with this deal, taking some of Lego's equity in exchange for that equity becoming more valuable with the addition of the BEC parks, the deal makes even more sense. (I can't see Lego putting up cash to buy BEC.)

I can't see why NBCUni would front half the expense to have the UO entity buy the BEC parks. Where's the advantage for NBCUni, outside of Orlando?

If this deal happens, I see it as either a Merlin acquisition or an independent investment. In neither case do I see formal UO involvement, again, unless NBC Universal is going to put up cash. Of course, I could be totally wrong, in which case you may feel free to hop in the comments and call me an idiot. :-)

Readers' Opinions

From Derek Potter on September 23, 2009 at 3:39 AM
First headline in the Orlando Sentinel this morning...the old no comment from Sea World
From 94.245.127.13 on September 23, 2009 at 4:21 AM
Crew meeting seems to be at 8 am.
From 65.174.53.133 on September 23, 2009 at 5:14 AM
The news this morning said the announcement was to be made at 8 AM but I haven't seen anything posted yet.
From 97.100.71.129 on September 23, 2009 at 5:23 AM
Seaworld orlando is reporting to me they in the call centers have not heard anything but have heard employees talking about hearing about it, and they are guessing there is going to be a big meeting this morning, I will continue talking to them throughout the day will post any information i find out!
From TH Creative on September 23, 2009 at 5:29 AM
News 13 broke the story. Blackstone is buying Sea World, Aquatica and Discovery Cove. As I am typing this a news helicopter is flying above ore job site trailer which sits in the lot right next store to Aquatica.
From 68.205.98.152 on September 23, 2009 at 5:31 AM
Well since there is nothing to say regarding this, I just want to say, I am going to Halloween Horror Nights on Friday! And today is my birthday! Yay me!
From 151.145.238.93 on September 23, 2009 at 6:06 AM
big meeting is over at seaworld and nothing was said to the people that work there about the sale, Looks like it was all just over romers at this time. Things may change as the day goes on
From 166.137.7.166 on September 23, 2009 at 6:10 AM
According to all news sources (including news 13) SeaWorld owners have no comment on the possible sale. Nothing has been confirmed!
From David Graham on September 23, 2009 at 6:55 AM
News 13 started running reports about the sell, and on the web site the story quotes are own Mr. Niles.

Also TH if it's the trailers between Aqu. and 528, what are they for or company? Always wondered.

From 94.245.127.14 on September 23, 2009 at 7:21 AM
I cannot image that insiders are incorrect on the closed deal between AB Inbev and Blackstone. Especially because they were communicating it so loud, clear and confident. They day still is long... Please Robert, can you elaborate?
From 66.161.59.254 on September 23, 2009 at 8:02 AM
So you do a full staff meeting and don't announce anything and then later that day you drop the bomb? Not likely. If it does happen, will show just how out of the loop the Busch people are.
From Corbin Barker on September 23, 2009 at 8:04 AM
Ok...so if this sale does go through, what does this mean for Seaworld and the other parks? Would the park be expanded and improved on or would it just be used to get money until it grows old and they'll just sell it to somebody else?
From David Sutter on September 23, 2009 at 8:33 AM
Lets see Bush Entertainment sold its theme parks to Blackstone, Balckstone owns Merlin Entertainment...
Which owns wet and Wild Water Park...Universal Studios
And its been a common practice all cast memebrs of all three can visit the other with IDS...Was that
way for years...So heres my guess...AB Inbev, sells to
Blackstone (which has very deep Pockets). Busch Entertainment Runs and Manages the parks..and down the line Busch buys it all back..Thus the Busch Family Retains control of them...Everyone must remeber that theres a lot of grant moneys in Busch for animal rescue and such..so We all need to think outside the box...
From Justin Trinh on September 23, 2009 at 8:41 AM
Just to correct something, Merlin Entertainment does not owned Wet-n-Wild and Universal. Blackstone Group owns Merlin Entertainment and Blackstone separately owns 50% of Universal.
From David Sutter on September 23, 2009 at 9:04 AM
Opps My mistake...but they are related...sorry
From 173.65.110.105 on September 23, 2009 at 10:23 AM
Merlin's marine mammal policy is incompatible with keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. Check the merlin website.
From 74.99.95.164 on September 23, 2009 at 10:27 AM
Just so you know, the hashtag on Twitter for the Busch Entertainment Company sale is #BECsale.
From Gareth H on September 23, 2009 at 11:15 AM
Sorry, I don't mean it Robert, but you invited it.

"You're an idiot"

Again, I don't mean it, nor believe, just got the flu and fancied a laugh:):):).

It was on the midday news today that there is no announcement, just bloggers speculating, so will watch the 5pm news and see if anything else is mentioned!

From 99.13.63.239 on September 23, 2009 at 4:26 PM
Someone please post on here as soon as they hear anything. I currently work at SWSD and would really like to know what's going down. Nobody here is talking. Should I quit my job once the sale goes through or does anyone thingk it'd be worth staying?
From 71.136.226.197 on September 23, 2009 at 4:56 PM
I also work at SWSD and some people are saying its a done deal while others havent heard anything at all about Blackstone.
From Jason Jackson on September 23, 2009 at 6:52 PM
And for what it is worth, Busch has regular open employee meetings every few weeks at all the parks, so in reality this "meeting" was just a regular scheduled all invited meeting that a lot of people speculated on. It is interesting that the Merlin policy on marine animals would not allow Sea World to operate its shows if Busch was under the Merlin umbrella. Let's throw something else out there...let's suppose Blackstone buys Busch and put's Merlin under the Busch Entertainment umbrella. Busch has some of the best run parks in the business...
From 67.162.165.115 on September 23, 2009 at 6:52 PM
It's my opinion that somebody called the news media and said there is a team member meeting scheduled for 8 a.m. today, thus starting the rumor of a sale. I work at Sea World here in Orlando, and the meeting was about benefits and new information about Halloween and Christmas......that's it. SWSD team members, stay put, right now it's a rumor.
From 71.136.226.197 on September 23, 2009 at 8:54 PM
Jason I dont know where you get your information but it is wrong.We dont have regularly scheduled meetings.We have them about twice a year.And until you work for a company you dont know how its run.
From Robert Niles on September 23, 2009 at 8:58 PM
Ummm... a meeting that happens every six months would be regularly scheduled, wouldn't it? Not frequent, by most standards, but certainly regular.
From 71.136.226.197 on September 23, 2009 at 9:00 PM
I said ABOUT twice a year.It depends on whats new or the economy.Sometimes more sometimes less.Certainly not every few weeks.
From 99.13.63.239 on September 23, 2009 at 10:29 PM
ABOUT is the keyword. In the past three years, SWSD has had maybe 2. During the InBev purchase only salaried team members got to hear all the sale news.
From 72.197.175.60 on September 23, 2009 at 10:36 PM
Ok folks, take a breath. Buying a multi-BILLION dollar company does not happen over night. It takes a while. Although this "secret" has been well kept, many people are very insistant that the process is under way. It makes sence that the announcement will be without warning if the rumor related to the IPO is true. The slow leaks of interest help build anticipation and test the financial waters. If an IPO goes out and no one knew there was a financial opportunity, no funds will be raised.
As for the SWSD employee questioning leaving your job... I too work for SWSD. You will be in a better situation upon this purchase. We can only hope we find this new company to be as good as AB! Here's to a great new chapter for us all. BELIEVE!
From Jason Jackson on September 24, 2009 at 8:12 AM
I am only familiar with what goes on at Busch Gardens Williamsburg where they have these communication meetings about every 4 to 5 weeks according to a friend of mine who works there. I was just assuming that the other parks did the same thing. Sorry if I offended the Sea World folks.
From 64.207.61.230 on September 24, 2009 at 8:55 AM
Busch Gardens and Seaworld are competitors to Universal Orlando. Universal would not want to own them. That would be cannibalistic not synergistic. Blackstone has a non-compete with Universal inside the state of Florida. My guess is Universal only waives that non-compete for a large sum of money. This deal while attractive for Blackstone is impractical without major concessions from Universal or Blackstone exiting that investment.

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