Six Flags and Apollo Global Management are both reported to be considering takeover bids for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, which runs the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens chains.
According to a Reuters report, both firms are in talks with SeaWorld's current owners, private equity firm Blackstone Group. SeaWorld has previously announced plans to launch an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2013, but is said to be considering an outright sale of the business as an alternative.
A deal involving Six Flags would come as a major surprise to many, with Six Flags itself having only emerged from bankruptcy in 2010. The chain has previous experience of acquiring a SeaWorld park, having purchased SeaWorld Ohio in January 2001. It subsequently merged the park with Six Flags Ohio, with the move proving to be a spectacular failure. It sold the park to rival Cedar Fair in 2004, and it returned to its previous name of Geauga Lake before closing for good in 2007.
Apollo is a more credible suitor, having previously attempted a takeover of Cedar Fair in 2010. The deal would have seen Apollo taking control of Cedar Fair's 11 theme parks and 7 water parks - including Knott's Berry Farm, Kings Island, Cedar Point, Carowinds and Kings Dominion. However, it collapsed due to a lack of support from Cedar Fair shareholders.
According to Reuters, an IPO remains the most likely option for SeaWorld, given the current strong performance of the US theme park industry. Both Six Flags and Cedar Fair shares have recovered in recent years, while giants Disney and Universal have also posted strong figures.
Blackstone acquired the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks through its $2.7 billion takeover of Busch Entertainment Corp. in 2009. It has continued to invest significant sums in new attractions, such as the Verbolten roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and the upcoming Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin at SeaWorld Orlando.