Is Merlin trying to buy Busch Gardens from SeaWorld?
A Bloomberg News report suggests that theme park operator Merlin Entertainments has made a bid to buy
part of the SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment chain.
The assumption is that Merlin is seeking to buy just the Busch Gardens parks, as Merlin's corporate policy does not allow for the keeping of dolphins, whales, and other larger marine mammals as the SeaWorld parks do. But Merlin is in the aquatic animal business, too, as the Sea Life aquariums are among its many holdings in the industry.
According to the TEA/AECOM Theme Index, Merlin Entertainments is the world's second-largest theme park company by attendance, following Disney. In addition to Sea Life, Merlin also owns Legoland, Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Gardaland, Madame Tussauds, and the London and Orlando Eye attractions.
Both companies have been owned by the private equity from Blackstone in the past. Merlin currently has a market value of about US$6.1 billion, while SeaWorld is valued at $1.3 billion. SeaWorld owns six theme parks: the three SeaWorld parks, in Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego, the two Busch Gardens parks in Williamsburg, Va. and Tampa, and the Sesame Place park outside of Philadelphia. The company also owns five water parks around the country and Discovery Cove in Orlando.
SeaWorld's parks have been suffering flat to declining attendance since they were spun off from Anheuser Busch in 2009, following the brewer's acquisition by InBev. Earlier this year, China's Zhonghong Group bought 21 percent of the SeaWorld chain.
SeaWorld is licensing the Busch name from InBev and also licenses the Sesame Street characters in a deal that the company recently extended. Would those licenses continue after a sale? Would SeaWorld agree to split the company? How much could SeaWorld get for the two Busch parks and would that be enough to allow it to mount any reasonable challenge to the Universal parks that have pulled away from the SeaWorld parks over the past decade?
Stay tuned for answers.
God I hope not. I’ve had my season passes there since 2000 and they never raise the price if you renew it every year. A new company might be rid of that perk.
SeaWorld needs to spin off its Orcas and Dolphins from the park. It’s name hasn’t recovered from Blackfish. It would seem foolish to sell its good properties, but not a good idea to keep using Busch. Keeping them around is a slow delay as the animals dying off continues to be bad publicity. No good options unfortunately. Consider building that huge Orca tank in Orlando and gradually move the Orcas to Orlando over the next 2 decades. The tank itself is billed as the largest ever. When no more Orcas, convert to largest ocean ecosystems like Epcot’s large tank. Maybe sell one Busch park to finance these plans.
Although you're right about Merlin's corporate policy on large marine mammals, it hasn't stopped them from buying properties that feature them in the past, then working to phase them out. Gardaland and Chang Feng Ocean World in Shanghai being two examples.
It's a good strategy but I can only see them wanting the tampa park to be their first Alton Towers park in the USA.
Merlin is HORRIBLE at running parks. Legoland is horrible. These folks would ruin Bush Gardens.
Agree 100% with Ben. Sesame Place is the obvious fit with Merlin's portfolio - Busch Gardens would be bigger than any of their current parks. But that would require obtaining the Sesame Street license - in whole or part - as part of the deal, which potentially complicated things. Who wants a repeat of what Disney and Universal have with Marvel?
Busch would mirror what they do at Chessington - Zoo and park - so this wouldn't be out of their wheelhouse at all.
With Sea World parks Merlin will be a good rival to Universal. Just imagine a Bush Gardens with a LOTR land and a revamped Sea World, with high tech attractions BESIDES the animal attractions.
Great strategic move by Merlin if it comes off. SeaWorld can re-invest some of the money in re-theming its flagship park, enhance Aquatica and Discovery Cove and add a couple of themed hotels. Or Comcast may come in for the I-Drive properties to augment with their existing footprint and completely re-theme SeaWorld to a true Universal park, retaining Aquatica and Discovery Cove. Now that would put Disney on the back foot and hopefully stir them into their long awaited fifth park.
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