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Busch Gardens could be bought by Merlin Entertainments

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Merlin Entertainments, owner of LEGOLAND, has expressed interest in buying Busch Gardens from its beleaguered parent company, SeaWorld Entertainment.

Merlin’s Chief Financial Officer, Anne-Francoise Nesmes disclosed the company’s interest during a conference call with analysts.

“It takes two parties to do a deal so we do not know what SeaWorld’s intentions are,” says Nesmes. “But we do believe that those assets (Busch Gardens) are interesting and we could certainly do a lot with them, particularly around accommodation.”

SeaWorld currently owns 12 theme parks and water parks. These include the original Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida and a second Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The company has struggled with plunging profits and a poor profile after the documentary Blackfish came out in 2013.  Although SeaWorld is phasing out the breeding and showing of killer whales, attendance at its parks continues to decline.  It has announced an end to its orca breeding programme and is shifting its focus to rides. Live animal performances are being restaged in favour of more nature-based encounters.

Last week SunTrust analyst Michael A. Swartz suggested that SeaWorld could generate between $800 million and $1 billion if it chose to sell off regional parks such as Busch Gardens.

Recent reports suggested SeaWorld is talking with investment adviser Evercore about finding a potential buyer. SeaWorld has not commented on the rumours.

Merlin is based in the United Kingdom.  The company has enjoyed healthy growth in recent years with its eight LEGOLAND theme parks around the world.  It also owns other key tourist attractions, such as Madame Tussauds, The London Eye, Thorpe Park, and the recently opened Orlando Eye.  Merlin has announced that visitor figures are up 6.2 percent to 29.7 million with revenue up 19.4 percent to $893 million for the first half of 2017.

So a purchase could well be on the cards.  “To us it’s about having the right discussion with a willing partner and making sure we have the right financial return,” says Nesmes.

Image courtesy of Busch Gardens.

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