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No SeaWorld, Busch Gardens sale - yet

SeaWorld killer whale image

The rumored sale of the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks to The Blackstone Group was unconfirmed on Wednesday, although a deal is still expected at some stage.

Online rumors suggested that SeaWorld Orlando employees were due to be informed of the sale at a meeting on Wednesday morning. In the event, however, no announcement took place and SeaWorld's owner, the Anheuser-Busch InBev brewing giant, refused to comment.

Despite this, it is well known that Anheuser-Busch InBev is keen to offload the parks in order to pay down the debt it took on to fund the merger of Anheuser-Busch and InBev last year. Blackstone is believed to be one of few interested buyers with the capital required to complete a deal, and Blackstone officials have been sighted at the parks on a number of occasions recently.

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.

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.

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