SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is a family entertainment, amusement park and attraction company headquartered in Orlando, Florida. It operates seven theme parks and five water parks in the United States.
Formerly a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch since 1989, under which it was known as Busch Entertainment Corporation, in October 2009, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced plans to sell the division to private-equity firm The Blackstone Group in order to reduce the debt load generated by InBev's 2008 purchase of Anheuser-Busch. The sale was completed on December 1, 2009 and with it came a new company name, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. It became a publicly traded company in 2012.
Anheuser-Busch initially created the subsidiary to run the various Busch Gardens parks. The parks at Tampa, Florida and Williamsburg, Virginia were located adjacent to breweries, and the parks included tours of the facilities and even free samples of the products made there.
In 1989, Anheuser-Busch purchased the theme park unit of publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which included the SeaWorld family of parks. The purchase also included two other parks in Central Florida: Cypress Gardens and Boardwalk and Baseball. Boardwalk and Baseball was promptly closed, while Cypress Gardens was later sold and transformed into Legoland Florida, which opened in October 2011. The parks were managed out of Anheuser-Busch's headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri until 2008, when the company relocated the division to Florida, where five of the company's ten parks were located.
In 2008, Anheuser-Busch was acquired by Brazilian-Belgian brewer InBev. Based on its previous acquisitions, it was widely expected that InBev would later sell off non-core assets in order to pay down the debt created by its purchase of Anheuser-Busch; the theme-park division was considered one of the most likely assets to be sold. In early 2009, InBev began soliciting bids for those assets in advance of an anticipated sale. As part of the plans to shed the division, Busch Entertainment ended the free beer-sampling programs at those parks that had them. Similarly, Busch Entertainment broke from its parent company and terminated a benefit where employees of legal age received two free cases of Anheuser-Busch beer per month, a benefit that continued for the rest of the company. At the time, InBev was thought to be considering selling the parks to the highest bidder, or spinning off Busch Entertainment as an independent company. It was suggested at one point that NBC Universal was interested in purchasing Busch Entertainment, and folding it into the Universal Studios Theme Parks chain, but no official bid for the company surfaced. However, other asset sales, such as the sale of Tsingtao Brewery, and an issuance of $3 billion in new long-term debt in May 2009, raised over $11 billion since the start of 2009, temporarily reducing the need to sell Busch Entertainment. Other cited reasons for an apparent reluctance to sell off the company included still-volatile credit markets and receipt of initial bids that were lower than expected.
In late 2009, the Blackstone Group reportedly entered into negotiations to acquire Busch Entertainment. The Blackstone Group already owned a partnership in Universal Orlando Resort, and a significant interest in Merlin Entertainments, which operates attractions and theme parks such as Madame Tussauds and Legoland. Previous estimates have valued Busch Entertainment at somewhere between USD $2.5-3.0 billion.
On October 7, 2009, the discussions came to fruition as Anheuser-Busch InBev announced plans to sell Busch Entertainment Corporation to the Blackstone Group in a deal worth approximately US$2.7 billion.
As part of the deal, Blackstone will maintain the current management team from Busch Entertainment and operate it as a separate entity. Further, Anheuser-Busch will sign a sponsorship agreement with the company, thus allowing the two Busch Gardens parks to keep their current names and promotions, including the "Here's to the Heroes" military appreciation program. In announcing the deal, Busch Entertainment President Jim Atchison said that Blackstone's acquisition brings "an awful lot of strategic vision for us. We're going to continue to grow the business together."
The acquisition would be done with no loss of jobs at the parks or at the company's Orlando headquarters. New departments will be hired to fill positions that would previously been managed by Anheuser-Busch, such as a legal department and procurement staff. The largest proposed change to the operation of the parks would be the removal of Anheuser-Busch's Clydesdale from those parks that currently have them and the removal of the A&Eagle logos. Anheuser-Busch licenses the "Busch Gardens" name to SeaWorld Entertainment perpetually.
On December 27, 2012, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment announced that it had filed for an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. Part of the proceeds from this sale would go to Blackstone group, which would retain a controlling interest in the company. It began trading April 19, 2013 on the New York Stock Exchange with a ticker symbol of SEAS.
Following CNN's broadcast of the documentary Blackfish, which criticized the company's handling of killer whale exhibits, SeaWorld's profits went into a steep decline and its share values plummeted. SeaWorld said in August 2014 that the film had hurt revenues at its park in San Diego, California. On December 11, 2014, SeaWorld announced that chief executive Jim Atchison would resign, with an interim successor replacing him on January 15, 2015. The company's share price had fallen 44% in 2014.
In August 2015, SeaWorld announced an 84% drop in second quarter 2015 net income compared to the year before. Total income was down 3% from 2014-2015. Visitors fell by 100,000, from 6.58 million to 6.48 million.
On March 24, 2017, Blackstone Group announced that it will sell its stake to Zhonghong Group.
Beginning November 9, 2007, the parks collectively became known as Worlds of Discovery. Prior to the introduction of the Worlds of Discovery brand, the parks were marketed as "Anheuser-Busch Adventure Parks," emphasizing their animal exhibits and thrill rides. Since the company's sale to Blackstone in 2009, the "Worlds of Discovery" branding is no longer in use.
Busch Gardens parks
Other theme parks
Other water parks
On December 13, 2016, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment announced a new partnership with Miral to bring SeaWorld Abu Dhabi to Yas Island. The park, which will be situated to the northeast of Ferrari World, is set to open in 2022 and will be the first SeaWorld without orcas. SeaWorld is licensing the brand to Miral, who will fully fund the project.
On May 18, 2017, SeaWorld Entertainment announced that they would build another Sesame Place theme park in the United States by 2021 in addition to the one currently operating in Pennsylvania, with the option to build more Sesame Place parks after that. A New Sesame Street land will build in Seaworld Orlando by fall 2022.
First announced in February 2008, Dubai developer Nakheel planned to license SeaWorld's properties for its own "Worlds of Discovery," with the first parks set to open in 2012. However, the global financial crisis of 2008-09 has prompted both Nakheel and Busch Entertainment to suspend development indefinitely, although both sides expect to move forward when the financial climate improves.
First phase (originally planned for December 2012):
Second phase (originally planned for 2015):
Busch Gardens parks