Now that InBev has set the deal to take over Anheuser-Busch, we’re starting to see where things might be headed. Like Gordon Gekko’s plans to break up Blue Star Airlines in the film “Wall Street,” there is already talk that InBev may sell A-B’s theme parks division that includes Busch Gardens (Williamsburg, VA and Tampa, FL), SeaWorld (Orlando, FL, San Diego, CA and San Antonio, TX), Sesame Place (just outside of Philadelphia) and various water parks.
Likely suitors might include Merlin Entertainment Group, based in England, or Spain-based Parques Reunidos. . .
In bidding, those companies would have an advantage InBev enjoyed when lining up the cash to buy the whole company. A weakened dollar means American-based assets are discounted against foreign currencies like the euro and the pound.
Now, I can’t say that I know anything about these companies that could be in the mix. I was thinking earlier about which U.S. theme park companies could be possible matches and found it difficult to see one that worked out logistically.
Disney? Well, aside from them never having taken over someone else’s park before, the one stumbling block with them buying the whole package would seem to be Busch Gardens in Tampa. It is within 90 min. of Orlando’s Disney World (provided you don’t get stuck in a traffic jam on I-4.) They’ve already got Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so the Tampa Busch Gardens and its African theme / wildlife preserve would seem to be duplicative. On the up-side, I could imagine Disney wouldn’t mind picking up the SeaWorld brand and its iconic Shamu, so perhaps the parks get split up in any sale.
Six Flags? As the article points out, they’re bucking the trend of theme park profitability in difficult economic times and managed to lose $150M in the first quarter of 2008. Perhaps that has something to do with them being in the news primarily as the site of various and sundry theme park accidents, mutilations and decapitations —
Over the years, several ride-related deaths have been reported at Six Flags parks nationwide.
Last March, a worker dismantling a ride at Six Flags Great America near Chicago fell 40-feet to his death. In 2004 at the same park, a maintenance worker was hit by a roller coaster and killed.
A 55-year-old disabled man was killed in May 2004 when he was thrown from a ride at Six Flags New England near Springfield, Mass. Five years ago, a grandmother strapping her 4-year-old grandson into Six Flags New Orleans’ Joker’s Jukebox ride was hit by a spinning car when the ride began operating before she was out of the way.
In any case, I can’t say that I am a fan of Six Flags. I went to Six Flags America outside of DC once back in ’99 and found it to lack in many ways. Trash strewn about. Not well laid out. And the patrons? Well, my wife and I termed the place “Six Flags Tattoo-Land” after seeing that we were among the few people there without some form of “body-art” and multiple piercings. In fact, before one ride even began, they told people to remove various body piercings. Overall, not exactly what I’ve come to expect at the A-B parks, which consistently receive awards for the cleanest and best maintained amusement parks in the U.S. and world.
Paramount? They were just bought by Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. two years ago for $1.24B. Plus again you have the issue of two parks too close together — Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and King’s Dominion in Doswell, VA.
The only domestic solution that comes to mind for me from all this would be for Cedar Fair to buy Busch Gardens (and its Adventure Island water park) in Tampa as they do not yet have any parks located in Florida and for Disney to buy Sea World, Sesame Place, the remaining water parks and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Don’t forget, it isn’t as if Disney has never looked to Virginia for a theme park before. And with Busch Garden’s European theme, it would fit in quite well with the origin of many of the faerie tales that Disney is so well-known for turning into films. Or, if they so chose, with some renovations they could always resurrect their original plans in Williamsburg.
Whoever purchases these parks, if they indeed go up for sale, should take note of their excellent overall quality that has made them successful and profitable.