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SeaWorld, Busch Gardens parks set to be sold to Universal part-owner

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Busch Entertainment is rumored to be close to announcing the sale of its Busch Gardens and SeaWorld theme parks to The Blackstone Group.

Blackstone already owns Merlin Entertainments Group, which runs the Legoland theme parks and major UK theme parks including Alton Towers and Thorpe Park. It also owns 50% of Universal Orlando, alongside NBC Universal.

The deal would give Blackstone ownership of all of Busch Entertainment's parks, including Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld San Antonio, SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove and Aquatica.

The sale has been rumored for months, but reports now suggest that SeaWorld staff are to be informed that the parks have been sold.

If the deal goes ahead, guests are unlikely to see major changes at the parks in the short-term. However, Blackstone would be likely to seek to exploit synergies between SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and its existing properties. Given that NBC Universal is not involved, this may be limited to Merlin parks such as Legoland rather than the Universal Orlando parks.

Opinion is divided on whether the deal would give the former Busch parks more cash to invest in new attractions. Merlin has continued to invest significantly at both Alton Towers and Thorpe Park over the last few years, which may give cause for hope.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the brewing giant, acquired the Busch theme parks following the merger of InBev and Anheuser-Busch. It has been looking offload the parks ever since, in order to pay down the debt that was required to fund the merger.

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