Rumors swirl about impending SeaWorld buyout


Here we go again. More rumors are swirling about what seems like an impending buyout of the SeaWorld company. The rumors come as Merlin is reportedly in talks to buy up the company, or at least parts of it.

We reported earlier this year that Merlin was very interested in buying the Busch Gardens portion of the company. It seems that Merlin is pursuing the acquisition more than ever, though reports indicate that SeaWorld doesn’t want a split, but would rather be bought out, fully and intact. While Merlin buying out SeaWorld is a possibility, it’s not likely, given the company’s policy on keeping cetaceans. Flatly, the company has pledged to not keep marine mammals in captivity.

Another company that could buyout SeaWorld is flying under the radar, and that’s Zhonghong who earlier this year bought out Blackstone’s remaining shares of SeaWorld. On September 6th, Zhonghong Holding Co Ltd announced a halt on all trade shares, pending an announcement on asset acquisition. The company could very well be the one to buyout SeaWorld as it has the most to gain, especially as the company is looking to use the SeaWorld brand to expand into China.

Another note if interest is that SeaWorld has reportedly offered “Retention Awards”. The RA’s are given to key members of management to be retained in the event of an acquisition of another company. The awards are generally given before a buyout. If it’s true, then the company is not gearing up to sell of a piece, but be completely bought out.

What does this mean? It could mean a great many things, but the biggest would be the total revamping of the company. In most cases of a buyout, the current CEO is replaced. Not all cases, but given the struggling performance of the company in the past few quarters, it’s a likely conclusion that current CEO Joel Manby could be replaced. It also means that the company will betotally controlled by one entity, and you could see changes in the way that it’s presented to the public, such as with stocks.

Is it possible that Merlin could still buy Busch Gardens? Yes, because so far Zhonghong has only shown interest in the SeaWorld brand. Merlin already has a huge footprint in the U.S. with attractions like Legoland, and the Orlando Eye as well as the Madame Tussauds and Sea Life attractions. While it would be sad for the overall brand, it could mean good things for the Busch Garden chain as Merlin parks worldwide are generally well themed and maintained.

For now we’ll have to play “wait and see” if anything will come out of the latest round of rumors. At this point, it feels almost inevitable that the company will be bought out in one way or another.


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