One Less Competitor For Disney In Quest For Busch Gardens

It appears that there is one less potential competitor to Disney in the running to purchase the Busch Entertainment Group which owns Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.  As we previously noted, U.S. companies Disney, Universal  and Six Flags as well as British companies Merlin Entertainments (owned by Blackstone) and Candover (which owns Parques Reunidos) were the five prospective bidders once InBev puts the Busch theme parks up for sale.  Now one of those companies, despite having asked for a prospectus, seems to be in no position to leverage the cash to come up with the expected $4 billion price tag.

Six Flags Inc. said Wednesday its common stock will begin trading on the OTC Bulletin Board after being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

The New York-based amusement park company says its stock is now trading under the ticker symbol “SIXF.”

Six Flags, which operates Six Flags Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Waterpark in Queensbury, previously traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “SIX.”

The NYSE delisted the company due to a high debt load on its overall balance sheet.

While not unexpected, this appears to narrow the field to four bidders (three if you count the arrangement between Universal and the owners of Merlin that requires Merlin to receive approval from Universal to make such a bid or could result in a joint bid by the two companies.)  At this point due to the global economic situation and the current exhange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Euro as compared to where the two were last summer when this first began to develop, I’d put my money on this coming down to a battle between Disney and Universal.

General Electric, the parent company of Universal, has lost its long-standing Triple A credit rating and saw its net income fall 36 percent in the first quarter of 2009.  It is even worse for its subsidiary Universal —

Media arm NBC Universal saw its first-quarter profits fall 45 percent, as it was hurt by weak advertising, DVD sales and theme park attendance.

Meanwhile, Disney seems to be weathering the economic storm better than most and is seeing an uptick.

The odds are getting better for Disney on this, which in turn could very well result in the realization of their long-planned Disney’s America — here in Virginia where it was originally intended (albeit in a different location.)  This would be an incredible feather in the cap for our Commonwealth, bringing more jobs, dollars and visitors into the Williamsburg / Jamestown / Yorktown Historic Triangle and beyond.

On a side note having just returned from Orlando earlier this month, Disney taking over SeaWorld would be a natural fit — they’d be able to bring in “Finding Nemo,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Pirates of the Carribean” themes for existing rides and attractions.  SeaWorld already has Nemo lookalikes in its stores as well as mermaid dolls and pirate stuff, so they’re halfway there already.  (Maybe they could even revive the old “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” ride which they’ve decommissioned at the Magic Kingdom.)  Plus, SeaWorld San Antonio would also give Disney a long-sought after foothold in Texas.  SeaWorld San Diego could anchor a location where the Disney Cruise Lines dock in Southern California and would be a straight shot on I-5 from Disneyland in Anaheim.


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