SeaWorld executive exodus continues with third resignation

SeaWorld Entertainment has lost a third senior executive in a week with Brian Morrow, vice-president of theme park experience design, announcing he is to step down.

Morrow is expected to leave the company in the next few weeks. His departure follows those of CEO Joel Manby and Chief Creative Officer Anthony Esparza. The exodus of top executives at SeaWorld started with the resignation of Manby last Tuesday. It was announced on the same day as the company reported that its net losses surpassed $200m in 2017.

Three days later, an internal memo published as part of a regulatory filing revealed that Esparza had stepped down. Interim CEO John Reilly announced that Mike Denninger, a 28-year veteran of SeaWorld, would be taking over Esparza’s role.

Manby and Esparza were relative newcomers to SeaWorld, having joined six months apart in 2015. They both came from theme park operator Herschend Family Entertainment and were brought in on the back of a decline in attendance and revenue following the documentary Blackfish, which criticised SeaWorld’s treatment of captive orcas.

mako SeaWorld

In contrast, Morrow joined SeaWorld in 2006 as director of design and engineering at its Orlando park. He was involved in projects such as the Manta and Mako roller coasters as well as Turtle Trek and Antarctica – Empire of the Penguin.

He was subsequently promoted to corporate director of creative development and then senior director of attraction development and design. In January 2016, he was appointed vice-president of theme park experience design. Morrow plans to set up his own production company when he leaves SeaWorld in the next few weeks.

SeaWorld generated $1.26bn in revenues last year, down from $1.34bn in 2016. Net loss for 2017 was $202.4m, compared to $12.5m the previous year.

Fourth quarter total revenues were $265.5m, compared to $267.6m in the same period in 2016, with a net loss of $20.4m. Attendance in the quarter also dipped 2.7% from the prior year and was down 5.5% across 2017 as a whole.

The company cut 350 jobs in October last year as part of an effort to shed $40m in costs by the end of 2018. It is also investing more in marketing to combat “public perception issues”.

Parques Reunidos and Merlin Entertainments were reportedly among a number of companies considering purchasing SeaWorld in late 2017.

Correction – This article originally implied that Brian Morrow had left SeaWorld Entertainment. It has been corrected to reflect that while he has announced his departure, he will still be working at the company for the next few weeks. Updated at 17:15, 05/03/2018.

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