Share prices rise as reports of Merlin's SeaWorld takeover mount

Merlin Entertainments is considering a bid for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, according to an increasing number of reports.

The eyes of the industry are sharply focused on the possible deal, as shares in the Orlando-based SeaWorld rose 4.6 per cent this week and shares in Merlin also rising 1.8 per cent.

Bloomberg quoted “people familiar with the matter”, who suggested that the UK operator had made a bid to buy part of the US company – though which part remains unknown. The report said SeaWorld has been working with advisers to explore options including a sale, with the company also receiving interest from other possible suitors.

However, Merlin’s corporate policy objects to some of SeaWorld’s main features, with the company opposing the keeping of large marine mammals, dolphins and whales in captivity.

This is not the first time Merlin has had reported interest in SeaWorld properties, with rumours of a Busch Gardens purchase appearing during the summer.

Speaking in August during an earnings call, Merlin’s chief financial officer Anne-Francoise Nesmes was asked if the operator would be interested in a possible takeover of the SeaWorld-owned properties.

“It takes two parties to do a deal," she said. "So we do not know what SeaWorld’s intentions are. But we do believe that those assets are interesting and we could certainly do a lot with them particularly around accommodation.”

Merlin, which has a market value estimated in US$6.1bn (US$5.2bn, £4.7bn), owns more than 100 attractions worldwide, which includes the world’s largest aquarium chain – Sea Life.

In addition to its SeaWorld parks, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment also owns its two Busch Gardens theme parks in Williamsburg and Tampa, the Sesame Place attraction near Philadelphia, five waterparks across the US and Discovery Cove in Orlando. It is developing an orca-free theme park in Abu Dhabi and a second Sesame Place theme park at a location yet to be confirmed.

Earlier this year the Zhonghong Zhuoye Group became SeaWorld’s largest shareholder, with the Chinese investor purchasing a 21 per cent stake in the company. As a result, several Zhonghong executives have since been added to SeaWorld’s management structure – most recently seeing Yoshikazu Maruyama named its new chair – with plans to develop future themed entertainment destinations, including theme parks, waterparks and FECs, in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

SeaWorld has seen its share value drop 25 per cent in 2017 as CEO Joel Manby tries to turn around the company’s public image in the wake of the ongoing backlash from the 2013 documentary Blackfish, where it was alleged to be mistreating its orcas.

Attractions Management has contacted both Merlin and SeaWorld for comment.

Merlin Entertainments  Merlin  SeaWorld  Busch Gardens  Nick Varney  Joel Manby  takeover  Zhonghong Zhuoye Group  visitor attractions 
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Merlin Entertainments is considering a bid for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, according to an increasing number of reports. The eyes of the industry are sharply focused on the possible deal, as shares in the Orlando-based SeaWorld rose 4.6 per cent this week and shares in Merlin also rising 1.8 per cent. Bloomberg quoted “people familiar with the matter”, who suggested that the UK operator had made a bid to buy
Merlin reportedly has interest in part of SeaWorld but its main parks are in conflict with company policy over large captive sea creatures
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