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Robert Niles

Just how much money is Busch making from the Busch theme parks?

Published: November 12, 2009 at 10:57 AM

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the soon-to-be-former owners of the Busch Gardens and SeaWorld theme parks, reported its third quarter earnings this morning, which prompted me to take another look back at last month's sale of the parks to Blackstone Group.

Busch Entertainment Corp., the subsidiary which runs the theme parks, reported revenue of $480 million for the third quarter of 2009, and $1.06 billion in revenue for the first nine months of the year. That's down from the same periods last year, but at least the rate of decline seems to be slowing over the past three months.

SeaWorld Orlando

Blackstone bought BEC for $2.3 billion last month, also giving Anheuser-Busch InBev up to $400 million in future BEC revenue. But this was not the first time that BEC's parks have been sold.

Old-timers, like me, might remember that BEC bought the SeaWorld theme parks from textbook publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich back in 1990. Busch paid $1.1 billion for six parks then - SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Antonio, as well as the now-closed SeaWorld Ohio, Cypress Gardens and Boardwalk and Baseball, in Haines City Fla.

Busch sold SeaWorld Ohio for $110 million to Six Flags in 2001. Six Flags combined the park with the old Geauga Lake to form Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. (Six Flags eventually sold the park to Cedar Fair, which closed it, leaving only a water park.) Busch also sold Cypress Gardens for an undisclosed amount in 1995 to a group of company executives. That park changed hands twice more before closing again this year.

The $1.1 billion that BEC paid HBJ is now worth $1.8 billion, in today's dollars. So Busch really didn't make much on the sale to Blackstone, given that the sale also included the two Busch Gardens theme parks, the Sesame Place park, Discovery Cove and several water parks.

Contrast that with HBJ, which bought the original three SeaWorld parks (San Diego, Ohio and Orlando) in 1976 - for just $65 million. HBJ came in as a white knight when SeaWorld's original owners and developers were fighting off a proposed $45 million takeover from MCA, the owner of... Universal Studios.

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