It looks like change is on the horizon for SeaWorld and whether that’s good or bad for the Orlando based company is yet to be clear. SeaWorld’s current investor firm, Blackstone, has sold its 21% stake in SeaWorld to the Chinese company Zhonghong Group.
SeaWorld announced Friday Zhonghong Group would be purchasing the shares at $23 a share, a 33% premium on Thursday’s closing price, and Zhonghon executives will then join SeaWorld’s board. Once the deal is complete, Blackstone will no longer hold any interest in the SeaWorld company.
The new deal also prevents Zhonghong from selling any shares for the next two years.
This could be good news for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainement. Zhonghong has previous experience in the theme park business themselves and are currently developing a new park called Monkey Kingdom located outside of Beijing. Monkey Kingdom is based on a 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West. It is considered “Disney-quality” and is expected to include roller coasters, boat rides, and more.
Last year, SeaWorld officially announced it would no longer breed orcas in captivity. SeaWorld spokeswoman Aimee Jeansonne Becka said in an email, “For any international expansion opportunities, SeaWorld’s commitments regarding orcas and orca breeding apply, regardless of location,” confirming their policy stands.
While future development of a park in China isn’t currently in the works, if a SeaWorld park does become in development, SeaWorld will “advise on the concept development and design of theme parks, water parks, and family entertainment centers to be developed and operated by Zhonghong Holding, including exclusive rights in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.”
International expansion opportunities are nothing new for SeaWorld. In December the company announced it will partner to build a new theme park in the United Arab Emirates which is currently planned to open by 2022. In recent years, China has grown to be a popular target for major theme parks to build and expand their corporations. Disneyland Shanghai just opened last June and Universal is currently in the works to open a park of their own near Beijing.
SeaWorld was purchased by Blackstone back in 2009, only months before the tragic death of Orca trainer Dawn Brancheau. That accident began a slew of events which soon led to the biased and radical 2013 documentary Blackfish, which SeaWorld has been struggling to recuperate from ever since.
The company is currently is currently working to improve its image with rebranding by changing its shows’ focus from tricks to education, as well as adding more attractions and seasonal events. This new purchase and transition of ownership could be a sign of light at the of the tunnel for a company which has struggled for eight years, but only time will tell.
Source: Orlando Sentinel