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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?

8 thoughts on “SeaWorld, Busch Gardens officially sold to Blackstone”

  1. I would certainly hope SeaWorld/Busch Gardens would survive this. Looking past the Orlando market – SeaWorld in other states/cities that have SeaWorld (Ohio for example)are a huge draw($$)! And going back to the Orlando market, there are so many opportunities to develop and grow both the Blackstone and SeaWorld name/assets. As you mentioned, Legoland would do great hear as would madame Tussades.

    Dropping the Busch name will be a hard thing though, there has been a lot of branding that has gone into it. Always an issue when you confuse your customers.

    Great article as always!

  2. I think the question is, does the new deal include rights to the ‘Busch’ brand. That has always belonged to the Busch family up until the sale to InBev. Although I recall reading somewhere that the family retains some rights to their name.

  3. I wonder if Comcast, if it does go ahead and buy NBC Universal, will sell more or the rest of Universal Orlando to Blackstone?

    One thing about the (former?) Busch parks… in addition to Sesame Street, they could benefit from some sort of tie-in to media for characters and concepts and stories. I’m not saying to shove cartoon characters into every corner… but to keep the places in the Disney league. Maybe Blackstone will be able to work something out with NBC Universal to bring appropriate themes to the Busch parks. If so, I hope they do it well.

  4. Pingback: Margie

  5. The new deal absolutely included purchase of the “Busch Gardens” brand name, as well as all the management teams in the parks. A-B products will still be sold, and the only really tangible thing they’re losing are the Clydesdales for some reason.

    I don’t really think they will lose the Busch identity anytime soon, as there is so much brand equity tied into that name it wouldn’t make sense to try to rebrand them. What would call them – Blackstone Park Williamsburg and Blackstone Park Tampa?

    Oh, and there will be no crossover between Merlin’s animal policies and the Busch parks – they will both be separate entities with separate practices. So Shamu and his buddies won’t be going anywhere :)

    Speaking of Merlin, unless I’m mistaken they only own the Legoland name/brand in Europe. In fact I believe all their properties are Europe-based. I haven’t heard anything about this acquisition possibly clearing the way for a Legoland Orlando. Madam Tussaud’s, maybe, but even then I doubt these two business worlds will cross.

    Peronally wax museums creep me out as much as anything does, due to a certain Vincent Price movie I saw as an impressionable youngster, so the farther away Mme. Tussaud’s stays, the better :)

  6. Russell Hammond, Hollywood

    “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.”

    Yeah, because Disney doesn’t do that. BTW, how are all those Disney layoffs going? That has to be “fun.” No one has been laid off from a BEC park and probably won’t.

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