SeaWorld, Busch Gardens officially sold to Blackstone

After months of rumors and behind the scenes negotiations the Blackstone Private Equity group has completed a deal to purchase Busch Entertainment Corporation from AB-InBev. This move places the second largest Orlando attraction, Universal Orlando, which is 50% owned by Blackstone, under the same ownership as the regions third largest attraction, SeaWorld, and creates a new powerhouse for themeparks at the same time.

Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel broke the story late this morning. It looks like Blackstone will keep Busch Entertainment Corp., which is headquartered in Orlando, together as an operating group, at least for now. Also it looks like all 10 parks were purchased from AB-InBev. InBev acquired the parks when it bought Anheuser-Busch.

So what’s the breakdown? First, I expect we’ll start to see all the last reminders of Anheuser-Busch’s ownership of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens properties disappear, eventually maybe even the Busch name. If Blackstone likes the ‘Worlds of Discovery’ brand, expect that to become more front and center in the branding. You might see a few shifts in management, but in reality BEC has been doing a great job, which is one reason AB-InBev was able to get 2.7 billion for them. Finally, I think this purchase brings Legoland Orlando closer to being, since Blackstone owns that brand via it’s Merlin division.

What I hope we don’t see is the typical private equity profit squeeze. Where ever last penny is optimized and every last labor hour marginalized to the point where the fun is left from the equation. Parks like SeaWorld and Busch Gardens need the fun, and they need constant refreshing to bring in the repeat business. Looking at Legoland, we see that Blackstone’s Merlin division gets it. Let’s hope they pass that message around.

What do you think? Was this a good deal for BEC and Blackstone? Will Shamu survive in the private equity world?