Here's the latest person to take on the SeaWorld CEO job

November 7, 2019, 3:42 PM · Please welcome Sergio (Serge) D. Rivera aboard the mystical merry-go-round that its the CEO position at SeaWorld Entertainment. (Can SeaWorld just name that office "King Triton's Carousel"? Disney California Adventure isn't using that name anymore.) Rivera replaces interim CEO Marc Swanson, who replaced CEO Gustavo Antorcha, who replaced interim CEO John T. Reilly, who replaced CEO Joel Manby, who left just last year, in 2018.

Rivera comes to SeaWorld from ILG (formerly Interval Leisure Group), where he worked as President and CEO of the company's Vacation Ownership Segment. Prior to that, Rivera was was the President of the Americas for Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

"Serge has a strong track record as a leader and operator in the hospitality and leisure industries," SeaWorld Entertainment Chairman Scott Ross said. "Serge brings to SeaWorld exceptional leadership and management skills across sales, marketing, operations, development, finance and commercial management."

What he doesn't bring, though, is experience in the theme park or attractions business — not that years of such experience helped former Herschend executive Manby in this job.

In case you were wondering, interim CEO Marc Swanson is returning to his previous job as SeaWorld's Chief Financial Officer, while Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy, who had been interim CFO, goes back to being the company's Chief Accounting Officer.

Also today, SeaWorld reported that attendance at its parks declined again — down 2.6 percent in the third quarter of 2019 from the same period a year ago, to 8.1 million guests. Attendance for the year to date is down 0.3 percent from a year ago, to 17.9 million guests total across all park brands, which include SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Aquatica, and Sesame Place.

Total revenue was up slightly for the year to date — up 0.7 percent to $1.1 billion — though total revenue declined year over year by 2.0 percent in the third quarter.

SeaWorld Entertainment also today announced the appointment of former Facebook marketing executive Neha Jogani Narang to its board of directors. I don't know that associating with Facebook leadership is the strongest PR move right now, but the company basically just hired a timeshare salesman as its CEO, so what do I know?

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Replies (12)

November 8, 2019 at 2:29 AM

Robert, can you please explain why the investors and the stock market - which jumped up today upon this CEO announcement - think that hiring a time-share/hotel guy to be in charge of theme parks is a good idea? I don't understand the enthusiasm about this.

November 8, 2019 at 11:25 AM

@Beacher - Wall Street usually rewards companies that make "competent" decisions. Regardless of the background of a CEO, previous executive level experience usually wins out, and investors will see the replacement of an interim leader with a permanent appointment with positive reviews. It's not like they hired someone outside the industry, and while Mr. Rivera doesn't have any themed attraction experience, he understands tourism, which is really all that's needed here.

My question is what is Sea World's explanation for lagging attendance? They appeared to be turning the ship around for much of the summer, and now that they reach the end of the busiest months of the year (particularly for a company with quite a few seasonal properties that generate most of their revenue between April and October), they fall short of even last year's mediocre numbers?

Makorider, a frequent visitor to Sea World Orlando, reported that the park seemed more crowded than in past summers, which would belie the report here that attendance is down. The numbers here are for the entire chain, so perhaps other parks are responsible for the decline, but it makes you wonder why a chain that was appearing to be on the upswing would suddenly report a 2% decline (following a year where there was an 8% decline). This definitely requires some further analysis and data to figure out why Sea World is continuing to lose market share, particularly when Cedar Fair bullishly reported significant attendance gains despite making few major capital improvements in 2019.

November 8, 2019 at 10:26 AM

Investors and the stock market consistently reward companies and executives who prioritize short term income over long term growth, due to America's current federal tax structure. They demand the opposite of what consumers want. I am a consumer advocate, so I want to see companies deliver for theme park fans.

I have no idea if this new CEO can do any better than the previous ones. But SeaWorld's recent track record with hiring successful CEOs is obviously not good. So what has changed with this hire to ensure different results?

I don't know.

November 8, 2019 at 11:02 AM

The summer at SWO was crazy busy. Some of the pics showing the cars going into the park, especially at weekends, would suggest there hasn't been a decline in attendance in Orlando. Although a perfect storm of the beer fest, $10 SW bucks, and an extra take a friend for free pass, did undoubtedly inflate those numbers for part of the summer.

I'm finding Mako is easier to get on during the last half hour, more so than it has been for a while, but I'm not seeing a deserted park during the 5:30 to 6pm time frame that I used to see a couple of years ago.

I went to BGT yesterday, and that place was deserted. Walk on everything all day, and to see Cheetah Hunt running with half filled trains for most of the day was something I had never seen before. Maybe people are waiting for Gwazi .... which by the way looks absolutely amazing. Not sure if I really need to leave Florida for my 2020 vacation with what's coming to the sunshine state next year.

Maybe my F325 fix, and a ride on Pantheon will do it for me ... :) I'm still disappointed CP didn't get a new coaster for the 150th .. :(

November 8, 2019 at 11:25 AM

The CEO of Sea World is the theme park world version of the drummer for Spinal Tap.

November 8, 2019 at 11:29 AM

John T. Reilly is a fantastic character actor.

On a serious note, I'd be interested in more analysis, such as on a per park basis. Which parks are doing well, and which ones are dragging the chain down?

November 8, 2019 at 11:29 AM

John T. Reilly is a fantastic character actor.

On a serious note, I'd be interested in more analysis, such as on a per park basis. Which parks are doing well, and which ones are dragging the chain down?

November 8, 2019 at 11:36 AM

Any park (except an Orlando park/Disneyland) is going to be totally empty on a weekday in November. I've been to BGT many times where all the rides were walk ons.

It took long enough but Sea World has finally realized that nobody cares about them enough for them to get away with pricing like Disney and Universal. Now that Universal has Potter they can charge like Disney but before that they were dead most all the time for years similar to how Sea World was. I know a few Sea World top level people that every time I told them they needed to do more deals/lower their prices they would say "our parks are just as good as Disney" blah blah, there is definitely a market for more affordable theme parks.

November 8, 2019 at 12:41 PM

@the_man ..... BGT is quiet at the moment because they are in-between Howl o' scream and Christmas. Exactly the reason I went ... :) So yes, I expected it to be deserted. But I can't ever recollect a 1/2 empty Cheetah Hunt running for most of the day. Mind you, it was running all day, so that might have been a first as well .... LOL !!

Christmas Town starts on Nov 16th, and even in mid-week it gets busy. (Been there, done that)

I also like to mention how busy the parks are because a lot of people on here are looking for tips from 'us locals' when to visit Florida, and in particular when the parks aren't at their busiest.

November 8, 2019 at 4:43 PM

@Russell Meyer @Robert Niles - Thank you for your informative comments. Much appreciated.

November 9, 2019 at 1:32 AM

I think The Man does raise a good point. I remember being at IOA on a Wednesday in mid-November 2012, literally walked onto Harry Potter and barely waited for anything. This after being at an incredibly packed Magic Kingdom on a Saturday. It does happen but sure it picks up later in the month.

November 9, 2019 at 9:21 PM

To address the first few posts in this topic, while I in no way advocate for timeshares or anything along those lines as I think they are a scam like many other people do, this guy is certainly not alone in top industry execs having shady jobs in their past. Remember Matt Ouimet, who is universally loved by Disney and Cedar Fair fans, was the president of Corinthian Colleges for a year (in fairness I think he left because he realized how much of a scam it was). Also Kevin Mayer, who has been a top exec at Disney for a long time and is the top candidate to replace Iger as CEO, was the CEO of Playboy.com. Oddly enough they left that out of his bio on the Disney website lol.

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