Legoland Parent Looks to NBA for New CEO

November 14, 2022, 10:01 AM · Legoland owner Merlin Entertainments has appointed former NBA executive Scott O'Neil as the company's new CEO.

O'Neil replaces Nick Varney, who is stepping down after 23 years running the themed entertainment attractions company, whose other holdings also include Madame Tussaud's, SeaLife, and several theme parks across Europe, including Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, and Gardaland. [Previously: Merlin Entertainments CEO Announces Retirement]

"Nick has built an incredible business and achieved unprecedented growth in this industry and yet there are still tremendous upside opportunities ahead to continue the momentum," O'Neil said. "We are actively building and searching for new attractions and sites. We are fortunate in that we are not constrained to a single studio or content pipeline and are seeking additional brand partners to redefine the attractions business.

"Merlin will also aggressively look to expand our offerings and experiences in our current attractions. I have been impressed by the talent, energy and dedication of the people at Merlin that I've met so far and am looking forward to working with the wider team to deliver on the exciting growth strategy.”

Scott O'Neil
Scott O'Neil. Photo courtesy Merlin Entertainments

O'Neil most recently served as CEO of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and NHL's New Jersey Devils and before that worked as President of Madison Square Garden Sports, where he oversaw business operations for the New York Knicks and New York Rangers. O'Neil takes over at Merlin tomorrow.

"Scott has significant experience in the entertainment industry, a proven track-record of delivering business transformation, and the vision and ambition to lead Merlin through the next exciting stages of its global development," Merlin Chairman Roland Hernandez said. "The Board has every confidence in him, and we look forward to working closely together over the coming years."

Both sports and theme parks are multi-billion-dollar out-of-home entertainment businesses with loyal fanbases. In many markets, though, NBA tickets can make theme park tickets look cheap. And there's no luxury tax, broadcast revenue share, or draft in the theme park business. So while the day-to-day economics might be different, the ultimate goal of providing emotionally rewarding and engaging content for a price that customers are willing to pay remains constant between sports and theme parks.

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