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SeaWorld without Shamu? Or could a clash of corporate cultures keep Merlin out of a Busch theme park deal?

Written by
Published: September 23, 2009 at 10:43 AM

There's a great comment in the Busch/Blackstone open thread that directed my attention to Merlin Entertainments' corporate policy on the care of marine mammals.

Merlin is the theme park company that operates Legoland and the SeaLife Aquariums, and is 70% owned by Blackstone Group, the reported suitor of the Busch Entertainment Corp. theme parks.

Merlin's policy seems at odds with current SeaWorld operations, including the use of marine mammals in shows.

Dolphins at SeaWorld Orlando
Dolphins perform in the 'Blue Horizons' show at SeaWorld Orlando.

Would this conflict prevent Blackstone from using Merlin as the investment vehicle to acquire BEC? If so, that would mean the loss of some interesting synergies, such as between SeaWorld and Legoland in San Diego County, as well as a potential marriage between Lego and Sesame Street in the Merlin and BEC parks.

Even an independent investment by Blackstone in BEC could prove troublesome, if there is significant support within Blackstone's management for Merlin's way of handling marine mammals. SeaWorld without Shamu would be a very different company than what today's consumers expect.

Update: The comments keep getting better. Now, we've got word of a non-compete clause that Blackstone and Universal signed, which would keep Blackstone from buying or investing in any other theme parks in the state of Florida (e.g. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens), without Universal's blessing.

"Blessing" usually being a way of saying "getting money" in business.

Readers' Opinions

From TH Creative on September 23, 2009 at 11:09 AM
WOW!

That's .... wow!

From Gareth H on September 23, 2009 at 11:12 AM
Pretty sure those objections would be overcome when we're talking about billions of dollars.
From Vickie Boyd on September 23, 2009 at 11:30 AM
That is a major conflict in interest there. Taking Shamu from SeaWorld is like slicing your wrists, and that's what Merlin would be doing if they did take the whales and dolphins away. I'm now hoping someone else will step in to save Busch. I really enjoy the parks a lot and I really don't want to see them disappear.
From 151.145.238.93 on September 23, 2009 at 11:56 AM
it looks like that would just have to change the show to be what the were in the past. Teach people with entertainment and not just the shows they do now
From Gareth H on September 23, 2009 at 1:39 PM
You mean, gasp, LEARN????

oooooh no. School ended for me, I don't want to go back!! Yuk, lol!

From 161.44.193.232 on September 23, 2009 at 1:57 PM
Could it be that Merlin has this policy because they're based in UK/Europe which is home to more fanatical animal rights activists than in teh USA?
From 64.207.61.230 on September 23, 2009 at 2:08 PM
Have you mentioned before the non-compete that Blackstone signed with Universal in conjunction with the financing documents (S-4 filed with SEC) for parks in the State of Florida in February 2008? I believe the basic gist was that Vivendi, Blackstone, and Universal had to seek permission from the other parties if they decided to invest in theme parks inside of Florida.

Here's the language from the S-4

During the term of the Partnership none of the Partners nor any of their affiliates (while such Partner or any
affiliate shall be a Partner) shall, without the consent of the other Partners engage, directly or indirectly, in a Similar
Theme Park within the State of Florida. During the term of the Partnership, none of the Blackstone Partners nor any of
their respective affiliates (while any of the Blackstone Partners or any of their respective affiliates shall be a Partner) shall
without the consent of UniCo engage, directly or indirectly, in a Similar Theme Park anywhere else in the world. None of
the Blackstone Partners nor UniCo nor any of their respective affiliates shall be restricted in the ownership or, operation of
facilities similar to the Studio anywhere in the world. UniCo and its affiliates shall be free to engage in Similar Theme
Parks anywhere in the world outside the State of Florida. The provisions of this Subsection 31(b) are subject to the
exceptions and qualifications hereinafter provided in this Section 31.

From 98.166.90.148 on September 23, 2009 at 4:53 PM
Merlin is a subsidiary of Blackstone as will be Busch Entertainment Corp. Problem solved.
From Andy Guinigundo on September 24, 2009 at 4:48 AM
Wouldn't that be like being interested in buying Disney, but having a corporate policy about the use of rodent mammals?

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