Blackstone Group buys the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme park chain for $2.3 billion+
Published: October 7, 2009 at 9:17 AM
I'll be speaking with BEC chief Jim Atchison in just a few minutes and will update soon.
*Update: Just got off the phone with Atchison, and he said that Blackstone bought 100% of the parks (me - FAIL on that prediction), but that the parks would be operating "business as usual." Atchison and the entire management team has been retained to run the new company, which will continue to go by the name Busch Entertainment Corp. (though he said that they might start using the alternate name "Worlds of Discovery" more going forward).
The Busch Gardens parks will retain that name, and A-B will continue to have the pouring rights in the parks, thanks to a long-term sponsorship deal. The only change? Say good-bye to the Clydesdales. (Although, Atchison phrased it much more diplomatically than my blunt paraphrase.)
Quotes coming; give me a few minutes to transcribe.
Oh, and he declined to spill anything about a new ride in Williamsburg.
*Update 2: "This change is really a change in our corporate ownership, but it is very much a business as usual approach for BEC. The existing leadership team within BEC is all being retained and will be in their same roles moving forward," Atchison said.
"At the end of the day, the brands, the quality, the brands, the commitment to the parks and guest service and new attractions will remain as high as ever."
The Sesame Workshop and Anheuser-Busch brands are among those that will remain in the parks, he said. Busch beer brands will continue to be poured at the parks, and the Busch Gardens name will remain on the parks in Tampa, Fla. and Williamsburg, Va., as they were sold to Blackstone as part of the deal.
"The sponsorship agreement [with Anheuser-Busch/InBev] allows us to maintain that formal sponsor feel in the parks, but there will be changes moving forward," Atchison said.
Probably one of the more notable changes, he said, will be that the iconic Clydesdale horses will be moved from the parks, and instead go on tour to promote their A-B brands. Atchison said that A-B's "Here's to the Heroes" promotion offering free admission to military personnel will continue in the BEC parks for 2010.
I did get one prediction correct, though: The was a stand-alone deal, not related to Blackstone's investments in Merlin or Universal Orlando. So don't look for any new ticket or vacation deals between those parks, or for Busch to change its policies regarding animal care. Blackstone owns 80% of Merlin Entertainments, which has a somewhat different policy toward animals in its parks than does Busch.
"Policies, practices, customs at any other Blackstone entity really are different and apart from BEC," Atchison said. "I think we have set the industry standard and hold the bar higher than anyone in the world with respect to the care and quality of our husbandry, our veterinary team, our animal training. We're very, very proud of the work we do."
Atchison denied that having the parks up for sale for so long prompted Busch theme park management to delay or defer any new projects.
"We have been very focused to executing at the highest level in our parks. We haven't been distracted," Atchison said. But he declined to offer any specifics on new projects that might be coming, including a replacement for the recently closed Big Bad Wolf coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
"We are always looking at new attraction concepts within our parks and certainly Williamsburg is no different. We have some great concepts and ideas that are in various stages of development, either from the drawing board or even further along. We're not prepared to talk about the Wolf site - yet - but I understand full and well that people miss that ride," Atchison said.
"Blackstone is committed to support the business, maintaining all the things that have made the business unique and helped create our DNA. That involves, among many other things, ongoing capital investment in the parks. They have made to me very clear commitments to that. They are focused on continuing to keep the parks at the high level of quality that they are, and that involved having new attractions. They are committed to growing the business, something that I'm obviously equally committed to," Atchison said.
"Anheuser-Busch certainly made their fair share of investments and Blackstone is looking to continue that level of support."