Ever since 2012, the hits have kept on coming for SeaWorld. Despite the fact that SeaWorld Orlando is currently the least expensive major theme park to visit in central Florida, has an annual passholder program with serious perks, and offers some truly aggressive deals and discounts, SeaWorld has not bounced back from its attendance lows in 2014 and 2015 and has confirmed this week what many have long suspected: this park's recovery is not going to plan at all.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that SeaWorld's biggest investor, Blackstone Group, wanted out of the pool, and their shares were being bought by a Chinese company with designs on making a Chinese SeaWorld park in the future, and just a few weeks ago it was confirmed that attendance across the board at all SeaWorld parks across the US dropped 3.8% from last year to 8.93 million, a truly staggering low.
With all this bad news piling up, rumors have been circulating about SeaWorld quietly looking for additional buyers. And according to recent reports, they may have found one, but there are some potentially HUGE complications...
Could Merlin be eyeing a partial buy of JUST Busch Gardens?
The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that Merlin, which owns Legoland parks across the world as well as several theme parks in the UK, has reportedly made a bid for part of the SeaWorld family of parks, specifically just the Busch Gardens parks, which include locations in Tampa Bay, Florida as well as Williamsburg, Virginia.
Though rumors seem to indicate that SeaWorld is looking for a full sale (not just a partial buy), Merlin is unable to take full ownership of the entirety of SeaWorld, as their corporate policy does not allow for the keeping of marine mammals inside theme parks, which would obviously make a full purchase an impossibility right now. However, even though it might not be ideal, with SeaWorld's parks in such dire straits, SeaWorld may be willing to let go of the two Busch Gardens parks in an effort to keep itself afloat.
If a deal can be struck for the two Busch Gardens parks, it will obviously lead to some huge changes for SeaWorld. But beyond the obvious changes, such a purchase could cause some major shakeups for the global theme park landscape as a whole, and perhaps not in the way you might think...
Merlin: The biggest theme park operator you've never heard of?
Most people know that Disney as the biggest theme park operator in the world, and if you ask, many would probably also say that Universal comes in second worldwide. However, that is actually not true, as it is actually the UK-based company Merlin, which is the second-largest theme park operator around the world, owning 14 theme parks across several countries, including Thorpe Park and Alton Towers in the UK as well as LEGOLAND parks in the UK, US, UAE, Germany, Malaysia, and Japan. In addition, Merlin operates several standalone attractions across the globe, including the London Eye, Orlando Eye, and over a dozen Madame Tussauds locations around the world.
With such a huge stable of entertainment offerings around the world, its no wonder that the company was valued at just under $6 Billion in 2013. And while the Busch Gardens brand may not be all that valuable in 2017, adding these two major parks to its US inventory could catapult Merlin right to the top of the themed park industry, potentially rivaling Disney in the US market, their home turf.
Though Merlin Entertainment may not be a household name, if this purchase does go through, it will cement their quiet domination of the US market, and could really start to draw the notice of Disney, which has been focused on competing with Universal in recent years.
Of course, it is important to remember that nothing is final right now and nothing has been publicly announced by either SeaWorld or Merlin. However, it is increasingly clear that SeaWorld has to do something to shore up its theme parks, and with Merlin looking to increase its theme park footprint in the US, a Busch Gardens sale would seem like a deal that would make sense for both parties.
What do you think about this potential deal? Would it be a good thing for Busch Gardens to come under new ownership? Or would you rather things stay as they are? Let us know your thoughts on this potential deal between these theme park giants in the comments below!