What's up with the Blackstone/Busch Entertainment deal?
Published: October 5, 2009 at 8:42 PM
Here's my prediction for the Blackstone Group/Busch Entertainment Corp. deal, involving the sale of the Busch Gardens and SeaWorld theme parks. Keep in mind that this a prediction, offered Monday night, when nothing yet has been announced. Read the comments through the night for news of any official announcement.
The prediction: A deal will be announced between midnight and noon (Eastern Time) on Tuesday. The deal will be for the purchase of a majority stake in the Busch Entertainment Corp. by Blackstone (70-80%). InBev will retain a minority stake. The Busch family might purchase a small stake, as well. Neither Merlin nor any other Blackstone holding will be part of the deal.
BEC will be privately held going forward and current BEC management will remain in place, as will the names of the parks. InBev will retain pouring rights within the parks for its alcoholic beverages, reflecting its minority stake in the company.
No replacement for Big Bad Wolf will be named. ;-)
This is an open thread, for news of the BEC deal, or any other theme park-related news. If nothing's happening, feel free to jump into the comments with your predictions, as well. If there's any wagering involved, remember, the house gets a taste of all action.
As always, thanks for reading Theme Park Insider!
Update: [9:22 PDT AM Tuesday] Well, noon has come and gone on the east coast, and nothing yet. So either I am an idiot or the announcement will come after the close of trading today.
Published: October 5, 2009 at 9:35 PM
Published: October 5, 2009 at 9:41 PM
Jason and I do talk from time to time, you know....
Published: October 6, 2009 at 2:49 AM
Got any predictions related to Blackstone/Inbev's corporate policy regarding the use of animals as performers (i.e.: Shamu)?
Published: October 6, 2009 at 5:50 AM
As has been mentioned several times before, Blackstone does NOT have a rule on performing sea animals; MERLIN does, and yes, Blackstone owns Merlin. But to avoid any future problems, I believe, as again has been mentioned in several postings, that Blackstone will NOT place Worlds of Discovery (what WAS Busch Entertainment) under the Merlin umbrella, and run it as a separate entity. I also believe that Blackstone is doing this to also see what plays out with the NBC Universal/GE/Vivendi/Comcast debacle, they may wish to purchase or increase their ownership in UO as well. I am still leaning more toward a licensing deal with whatever is left from NBCUni to use the Universal name and logo in several WOD parks.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 9:10 AM
Mr. Anonymous Writes: As has been mentioned several times before, Blackstone does NOT have a rule on performing sea animals; MERLIN does, and yes, Blackstone owns Merlin. But to avoid any future problems, I believe, as again has been mentioned in several postings, that Blackstone will NOT place Worlds of Discovery (what WAS Busch Entertainment) under the Merlin umbrella, and run it as a separate entity.
I Respond: You are correct. But It would be equally accurate to conclude that if Blackstone acquires the WOD parks and then directs its operators to continue to place animals in performance roles, that the standards applied by (and promoted by) Merlin appear to be just for show. Merlin closed shows in parks it took control of that featured animals performing. Blackstone had no objection.
Now if Blackstone attempts to circumvent the policy by merely placing the WOD parks under a different letterhead it would become clear that the Merlin policy is a thin public relations gimmick. It would be as if Blackstone were saying: "We support the Merlin policy ... unless it undermines the financial viability of a successful business model that we are attempting to acquire."
Such an action not only makes Blackstone look shameless, it undermines the credibility of the standards in place at Merlin.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 10:57 AM
If your father and sister both eat steaks for every meal, and you're a vegetarian, but both you and your sister are living in dad's house, it does not make you look shameless nor undermine your credibility.
The important thing is that Blackstone would own both, and allow each to have their own policies and be separate entities (as any good parent does).
This says nothing about the credibility of the owned entity (which has no control over its parent or siblings).
If anything, it makes the children (both SeaWorld and Merlin) incredibly happy that their parent allows them to pursue their own beliefs, even if they are different from each other.
The thing that WOULD undermine Blackstone's credibility is if THEY had a policy and didn't enforce it for all of the things they owned. That would be like dad being the vegetarian but allowing the kids to have meat in the house.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 10:57 AM
Merlin may have a policy that will not allow show animals, Blackstone with them is just a financial backing, its the money behind it. Its going to be the same with BEC, Blackstone isnt going to buy all the BEC parks which ALL have animals, especially Sea World, there would be no point to buy the business if there are no animals to show. So BEC will continue to run as BEC or WOD whichever you call it, and Blackstone will be what blackstone is, an investment firm, not a boss, managment for the parks will remain the same, which means, BEC will not change. If you think otherwise, or think that it should change, maybe you should crawl back into the hole you came from. Unless you visit these parks weekly, and actually see the good that they do, you dont know anything.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 11:51 AM
Wow, random IP address, that's kinda harsh. But probably factually correct.
However, other random IP address, I think the relationship of parent company --> child company is a lot different than an average human parent --> child dynamic. In a real family, even a child has a lot more autonomy and freedom of choice than an owned business subsidiary does. And that description may not be wholly accurate, but it is and will be the public perception.
I've never heard of Merlin until this moment and will have to do some research to learn about them and why they seem to forbid animal performing, but for a parent company to allow it under one sub-business (Busch) and not allow it under another (Merlin) just seems odd. I would imagine TPTB would either come to a compromise, or simply change the policy at both child companies to be fairly uniform in favor of the one that has most to lose by changing (i.e. Busch parks).
Again, maybe there's more to the relationship between Merlin and Blackstone I will find out as I read on, but that seems pretty basic on the surface.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 12:09 PM
Business dynamics are no different from family dynamics. In other words, they vary drastically: in some families, dad rules with an iron fist and tries to control how everyone lives their lives
In other families (and businesses), the parents let the kids live their own lives, totally autonomous, PROVIDED THEY ARE GETTING BY SUCCESSFULLY ON THEIR OWN. That's how Blackstone (and many other companies) run things: They let the hundreds of organizations that they own each do their own thing as long as they are being successful and making money for Blackstone. If one of them starts losing money (or not making enough), THEN dad--I mean Blackstone--steps in and starts mandating changes.
Another example: some parent companies actually ENCOURAGE their subsidiaries to compete with each other. I remember hearing stories a few years ago about Warner Bros movie division not making a movie out of a successful WB TV franchise because each division got bonuses for outperforming each other, so they didn't want to help the TV division's bottom line. That's the exact opposite of how most companies (especially Disney) use synergy from one division to make money in other divisions.
The point is: Business relationships vary as much as any other type of relationship. You seem to think they all work in one particular way. They don't. Open your eyes and expand your horizons
Published: October 6, 2009 at 12:35 PM
The more I read the Merlin policy the more I believe it IS in fact simply a way for them to get activists off their case. They continue to do Dolphin demonstrations at Gardaland in Italy, and their policy states...
"We are never complacent however, and we are always mindful of our responsibilities to the welfare of the animals in our care, so this policy is constantly monitored."
...which to me says 'we will do what is most beneficial for us [and the animals] when we want.' The statement also goes on to mention that all possibilities are going to be evaluated (not just rehab/ retirement/ release).
When reading the WDCS's statement on the policy, they are far are less wishy washy- they get right to the point of what they want.
"We look forward to working with Merlin to achieve a permanent alternative and much more positive solution to the confinement in captivity of the dolphins that have come into Merlins care through these acquisitions."
When reading through their website their anti-captivity section is riddled with inaccurate and misleading information (though I refer to them a lies). *As a disclaimer I would like to add that I work with marine mammals in zoos- so I am a bit biased on the issue.
With that said, it is apparent to me that the two companies each have different agendas regarding this collaboration.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 12:39 PM
First of all everything posted in response to my comments was written under the assumption that Blackstone would not place the WOD parks under Merlin.
Mr. Anonymous 220.127.116.11 writes: "If your father and sister both eat steaks for every meal, and you're a vegetarian, but both you and your sister are living in dad's house, it does not make you look shameless nor undermine your credibility.
I Respond: I do not question Merlin's (the child) credibility. I question Blackstone -- who controls Merlin. Blackstone could have changed the Merlin policy (as the owner) chooses not to. What will be open to question is Blackstone's motives (not Merlins) as to why it would support the policy within one operation but not the other? Is it money? If so it is shameless. All of this was indicated in my post.
Mr. Anonymous 18.104.22.168 writes: "The thing that WOULD undermine Blackstone's credibility is if THEY had a policy and didn't enforce it for all of the things they owned.
I Respond: I disagree. What would undermine the credibility of Blackstone is the motivation behind the decision to support the policy in one business model (in the case of Merlin a policy which claims to be in the best interest of the animals) and not to apply the same policy in another of its business models. Again, if its because they have a product that works, that they can "sell" it gives reason to question whether the reasoning behind implementing the policy is based upon an ethical standard or a dollar value. Did Blackstone allow its subsidiary to close performing animals because it met a corporate standard or because it reduced operating costs? To raise the question is IN NO WAY UNREASONABLE.
Now we come to the "charming" Mr. Anonymous 22.214.171.124, who writes: "Merlin may have a policy that will not allow show animals, Blackstone with them is just a financial backing..."
I Respond: Actually Blackstone holds majority OWNERSHIP of Merlin Entertainment meaning it retains control of the company.
Mr. Anonymous 126.96.36.199 continues: "Its going to be the same with BEC, Blackstone isnt going to buy all the BEC parks which ALL have animals, especially Sea World, there would be no point to buy the business if there are no animals to show.
I Respond: Blackstone would have majority ownership in the parks and can therefore dictate policy. There is no claim that there would be "no animals" in the parks. Rather (per the corporate standards implemented in Merlin parks) animals would not "perform" in shows. They would be in display environments and the shows would be discontinued. Not only has Blackstone/Merlin done this before, they boast about it within the text of their published corporate policy statement.
Mr. Anonymous 188.8.131.52 continues: If you think otherwise, or think that it SHOULD (my caps - THC) change, maybe you should crawl back into the hole you came from.
I Respond: I never said it "should" change. I am asking if Blackstone. Rather I am wondering if the OWNER will apply a consistent POLICY with its subsidiaries and if not "WHY NOT?" If it is for money then I would contend that Merlin's claims about its high standards for treatment of animals seems like nothing more than PR fluff.
Mr. Anonymous 184.108.40.206 continues: "Unless you visit these parks weekly, and actually see the good that they do, you dont know anything."
I Respond: I have never questioned either WOD or Merlin's treatment of their animals. Nor have contended that the use of animals as performers is somehow unethical.
Bill Wallace Writes: "I've never heard of Merlin until this moment and will have to do some research to learn about them and why they seem to forbid animal performing, but for a parent company to allow it under one sub-business (Busch) and not allow it under another (Merlin) just seems odd.
I Respond: In terms of total park attendance worldwide, Merlin is second (albeit a LONNNNNNG DISTANCE second) only to the Disney company. But here's something that may interest you. Not only does Merlin operate parks with display animals, they have taken over parks that have used animals as performers and have closed the shows.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 1:08 PM
Very interesting. The only thing I would say is that to the average park guest, they probably wouldn't even care as long as they are getting their money's worth when going to these parks.
Now for people like us who follow the industry, it makes a good argument but to the regular average guest, they probably wouldn't care that Worlds Of Discovery was owned (assuming the deal goes through) by Blackstone who owns Merlin Entertainment who are against using animals in shows which contradicts what SeaWorld does.
That is just my two cents.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 1:17 PM
What about the clydesdales?
Published: October 6, 2009 at 1:30 PM
I agree with Justin. For the most part, I would have to believe that Blackstone would continue to tend to be a "hands off" kind of investor. I think that's the most important word that everyone on this thread has missed: Investor. That's all they would be. True they would "own" both Merlin Entertainment and Worlds of Discovery, but they are not (generally) a day-to-day mangaging owner. So, they tend to run their investments as exactly that, investments. All are separately business entities that happen to have the same investor. In this sense, and in this sense only, would I believe that they can run Merlin (based in the US) and Worlds of Discovery (based in the US) without so much as a hiccup as far as animal performances, or lack of them, in either case.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 1:32 PM
Sorry that should read "Merlin (based in the UK)" not the US. Apologies.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 1:42 PM
Interesting that Noon EDT has come and gone and the market is now closed and still nothing.
I've got the feeling that the deal has either fallen through or else another bidder has popped up ****cough, Disney, cough****. Ten parks for $2.5-$3 billion? That's a steal.
When Disney bought Marvel, they specifically said they still had more funds for additional acquisitions. BEC (other than the Tampa park) would be a perfect fit. (Disney could do with the Tampa park what Busch did to Cypress Gardens or Boardwalk and Baseball when they made the deal to buy SeaWorld.)
It would get Disney the long-rumored Texas foothold they've sought with the San Antonio SeaWorld plus it would get them into Virginia where they could finally bring Disney's America to fruition not only in the state they originally intended, but right near the inspiration for it -- Colonial Williamsburg which Walt Disney often visited himself.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 2:07 PM
Mr. Rede writes: "Blackstone would continue to tend to be a "hands off" kind of investor."
I Respond: Excuse the correction, Blackstone is not a mere "investor" in Merlin Entertainment. It is a majority owner. Second, I am wondering where it has been indicated anywhere that Blackstone is a "hands-off" owner. Does anyone actually have any documentation indicating that the "no performing animals" policy is solely the edict of Merlin and not the policy dictated by the parent company, and/or managing executives placed in power at the direction of the parent company?
There are a lot of assumptions being made in this thread. Some by yours truly.
Published: October 6, 2009 at 11:51 PM
You know if you go to Google Finance, and look up BEC it shows Busch Entertainment Corp. under "Related Companies" as having a "Private Exchange Symbol".
Its at: http://www.google.com/finance?cid=6768838
Published: October 7, 2009 at 5:36 AM
TH-- USF has a show-- an entertainment show featuring many different types of animals (Animal Actors on Location). I understand how this Merlin policy seems like a huge mountain, but it is really just a mole hill and it is time to walk around it!
I would LOVE it if Disney came in and swept BEC right from Blackstone... I think at this point it is unlikely... but how awesome would that be?!?!
Published: October 7, 2009 at 7:56 AM
220.127.116.11 writes: USF has a show-- an entertainment show featuring many different types of animals (Animal Actors on Location).
I Respond: Blackstone is not a majority owner of USF and thus does not have control to dictate policy. Blackstone is a majority owner of Merlin and thus can control policy.
Published: October 7, 2009 at 8:23 AM
Ok we,ve all walked arounf this for weeks now. And heres a real simple take on the whole deal.
Blackstone buys Busch Entertainment. Busch retains the ddaily operations and over all managment of the parks. In-Bev owns part and sits back and doenothing but collect the checks.
Ownership break down:
Busch Faimly 35%
I dont see Blackstone changing anything about the parks or the way there run. As far as the shows ...I belive they will stay as is..Shamu and all.
Published: October 7, 2009 at 8:58 AM
Jason Garcia reporting sale is done deal for upwards of 2.7B. Story to be up shortly.
Published: October 7, 2009 at 9:17 AM
Here's the link to the story. no word yet on Busch family involvment. Wonder what this means for the Clydesdales? Hmmm... seems like everything is coming to fruition... they're already down to 4 horses and the dalmations were put up for adoption.
What a shame. Also be interesting to see what this means for annual passholders...
Published: October 7, 2009 at 9:19 AM
Your thoughtful (and I am NOT being sarcastic) response has merit. But (again) The question I posed was based upon the reasoning behind the enforcement of the policy after Blackstone's subsidiary acquired other parks. Specifically, Merlin's release on the policy outright BRAGS about how it has closed theme park productions involving animals in performance roles. While I do not doubt that Blackstone will leave things as they are at (for example) Sea World. Why? Because the shows at the parks play an integral part of a successful business model. In other words, jumping whales make them money.
What I am wondering is if the shows that were closed in other acquired parks were as important as those at Sea World, would Blackstone have directed Merlin to keep them open?
Published: October 7, 2009 at 9:21 AM
Breaking News! WISH 2 just confirmed Blackstone has purchased Busch Entertainemt for $2.7...
Published: October 8, 2009 at 4:12 AM
And Blackstone quickly confirmed that BEC will remain fully incharge of the day to day operations. AKA, the shows remain. Blackstone is an investment group, not a management corporation. Just like Merlin Ent. they will have a majority share if not 100% ownership of BEC. But that does not translate into management of. To my knowledge, they do not manage Merlin.
Blackstone even went so far as to specify that Merlin and BEC are NOT being merged. So regardless of your opinion as to if BEC should have animal shows are not, the word out of the gate is that it definately will continue as is. Time to move on.
Published: October 10, 2009 at 1:53 PM
I work for the InBev/Busch parks and we have been bought out. We all have gotten emails stating what will happen. We will be sold Jan/ late Jan.
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