Sunday 22 September 2019

Merlin Entertainments targets SeaWorld deal, sources say

The London Eye to Thorpe Park firm is understood to have approached SeaWorld about buying part of the business.

Aerial views of London
Aerial views of London

By Ben Woods, Press Association Chief City Correspondent

Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments is eyeing a potential deal with SeaWorld to help accelerate its global expansion, sources have said.

The London Eye to Thorpe Park firm is understood to have approached SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment about buying part of the business, but is not pressing for a full-blown takeover.

Merlin’s corporate policy prevents it from keeping whales and dolphins, suggesting it could be making a tilt for Busch Gardens – SeaWorld’s rollercoaster theme park based in Tampa, Florida.

It comes after Merlin’s chief financial officer Anne-Francoise Nesmes suggested in an August results call that Merlin might be interested in snapping up Busch Gardens.

Shares in Merlin were up close to 3% in afternoon trading on the London Stock Exchange after Bloomberg first reported the approach on Wednesday.

SeaWorld’s stock value fell more than 2% in New York.

The speculation comes amid a choppy period for SeaWorld, which has been hit by flagging visitor numbers and has hired chairman Yoshikazu Maruyama to lead a revival.

The US firm, which also owns Aquatica and Discovery Cove, has also seen a shift in ownership, with private equity firm Blackstone selling its 21% stake to a subsidiary of China’s Zhonghong Zhuoye Group Co Ltd.

Merlin has moved to bolster its international presence in recent years, launching the likes of Madame Tussauds in Nashville and Legoland in California.

However, the Dorset-based firm has seen visitor numbers at its UK attractions come under pressure following a spate of terror attacks.

In August, Merlin’s pre-tax profits came in flat at £50 million for the six months to July 1, as its financial performance was squeezed by the attacks on London Bridge, Borough Market and Manchester Arena.

Merlin Entertainments and SeaWorld declined to comment.

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