Busch/Blackstone Open Thread
By Robert NilesThere'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.
Published: September 23, 2009 at 12:01 AM
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. :-)
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