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Legoland owner says it's not in talks to buy Busch Gardens, SeaWorld

October 11, 2017, 11:17 AM · Merlin Entertainments, the UK-based owner of the Legoland theme parks and multiple other properties, today denied that it is in talks to acquire SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment or any of its holdings, which would include Busch Gardens.

Bloomberg News reported last week that Merlin had approached SeaWorld about buying some of its properties, which was assumed to be the Busch Gardens parks. However, today Bloomberg reported that a Merlin spokesperson has said that "we can confirm that Merlin is not involved in any discussions that might lead to an acquisition of SeaWorld or any of its constituent parts."

No one seriously believed that Merlin was interested in the SeaWorld-branded parks, given the company's policy against keeping cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises). But the Busch Gardens parks would have been an interesting fit for a company that is seeking to broaden its global presence. It might be of interest to note that the Merlin denial is written in the present tense, so there's no denial that talks might have happened in the past, then concluded.

I used the report about a potential Busch Gardens acquisition as an excuse to reminisce about the history of Busch Gardens in my hometown of Los Angeles, in my Orange County Register column this week. (The LA area has been home to two different iterations of Busch Gardens over the years.)

Bloomberg is not done in stirring up talk of a SeaWorld acquisition. The publication now is reporting that Spanish operator Parques Reunidos might be making a play for SeaWorld. Parques Reunidos is about the same size overall as SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, attracting 20.8 million visitors worldwide last year to SeaWorld's 22 million, according to the annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index attendance report. Both trail far behind Merlin's 61.2 million annual visitors, which puts Merlin second only to Disney among global themed entertainment operators.

More coverage of Busch Gardens:

Replies (8)

October 11, 2017 at 11:40 AM · My guess is that Sea World was unwilling to spit off the Busch Gardens parks. The Sea World parks by themselves would be a difficult operation to manage on their own. There's value to the chain as a whole in the sharing that the 6 theme parks (and 5 water parks) do between each other, that would be lost in a split sale. While it seems logical to split the Busch Gardens parks from the rest of the chain for Merlin, there really isn't an advantage from Sea World's perspective. They're not necessarily hurting for cash, so a sale of assets doesn't really help.
October 11, 2017 at 11:51 AM · Agreed. Especially if Parques Reunidos (or anyone else) is interested in buying the whole thing. Why potentially devalue the chain by selling in pieces if it can get a good deal for the entire company?
October 11, 2017 at 12:16 PM · Parques Reunidos can buy the whole thing and then sell the Busch Garden parks afterwards to defray the costs. It works both ways. SeaWorld wants a good price nonetheless and it can't get it for SeaWorld alone.
October 11, 2017 at 12:17 PM · Duplicate
October 11, 2017 at 1:42 PM · Six Flags makes more sense than  Parques Reunidos. They have talked in the past of expanding into the Tampa Bay/Orlando market and Sea world does not have any overlap with their current markets. Six Flags has also shown in recent years that they can add dark rides and make their parks more than just roller coasters. As a matter of fact the new area around Justice League at Great Adventure in NJ show they can actually build a themed area that looks nice.
October 12, 2017 at 6:01 AM · Thank the Lord!!! I love Sea World and if Merlin buys those parks, I would no longer go. Merlin is a horrible operator. Food and beverage (not to mention the rides) at Legoland are worse than a third rate carnival. Seriously, how is it that my County Fair has better food than Legoland?
October 12, 2017 at 9:53 AM · It is a bit of a stretch to say the Gotham City at Great Adventure looks nice.

It is OK. They put a fake suspension bridge on the pathway to Gotham City which was a nice touch, but what is there other than the Justice League headquarters(which is where the dark ride is).

It is a start, but just barely. Meanwhile next year they are building a geometric spinner.

October 12, 2017 at 1:31 PM · Let's hope not. Seaworld parks are so nicely landscaped and maintained. Six Flags would replace the green spaces with concrete, gravel, and dirt.

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