Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Blackstone buys Busch Entertainment

As strongly predicted, Belgium’s Anheuser-Busch InBev has agreed to sell Busch Entertainment to Blackstone Capital Partners.

The purchase price of $2.7 billion (€1.8bn) will be comprised of a cash payment on closing of $2.3 billion and a right to participate in Blackstone’s return on its initial investment capped at $400 million.

Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, the Busch Entertainment Corporation (BEC) is America’s second busiest park operator attracting approximately 25 million annual visitors to its 10 US outlets. The parks were acquired by Belgian-based InBev, the world’s largest brewer, last year as part of its purchase of Anheuser-Busch.

The New York-based Blackstone Group is one of the world’s leading investment firms and private equity vehicles, as well as the owner of Merlin Entertainments, already the world’s second largest attractions operator. It also has a stake in Universal Orlando.

The BEC “Worlds of Discovery” park portfolio includes Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida and Williamsburg, Virginia, SeaWorld in Orlando (pictured above), Florida, San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego, California, Aquatica and Discovery Cove in Orlando, Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, plus additional waterparks in Tampa and Williamsburg.

“Busch Entertainment is a high performing asset with a world-class management team, but not a core business for Anheuser-Busch InBev,” highlights Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with a buyer who understands the industry and has a strategic vision for the business. The sale of BEC represents another important milestone in our commitment to de-leverage the company and will also allow us to continue to focus on our core brewing business.”

Brito adds that, “We have great respect for BEC’s management and employees and know they will continue to prosper under Blackstone’s ownership.”

Indeed, much of the BEC management team is believed to remain intact and there are no immediate plans to merge the business with Merlin Entertainments. Clearly, however, Blackstone may now wish to exploit the BEC brands outside the US. Both Merlin and BEC are strong brand-driven businesses.

“We are delighted to be investing in a company with such iconic brands, irreplaceable assets and strong growth prospects,” says Blackstone’s senior managing director, Michael Chae. “We look forward to working with BEC management in continuing a legacy of delivering world-class family entertainment to our customers.”

“Blackstone understands our parks are built on an unwavering commitment to quality and a focus on the guest experience and is uniquely experienced to help us take the company to new heights,” adds BEC president Jim Atchison. “I look forward to working together to grow this great business.”

The deal represents the largest private equity buyout this year.

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