After months of negotiations, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) announced Wednesday October 7th that it will sell Busch Entertainment Corp. (BEC) to The Blackstone Group for as up to $2.7 billion. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the NY-based private-equity giant, Blackstone, “will pay $2.3 billion in cash plus give AB InBev the right to participate in up to $400 million of its initial returns”, with Blackstone owning 100% of BEC.
The deal will surely have sweeping implications for the global tourism industry as a whole, as well as for Orlando tourists and the Orlando theme parks. Based in Orlando, Florida, BEC is the second-busiest theme-park operator in the U.S.. BEC is the parent entertainment company for the ten Worlds of Discovery theme parks, including SeaWorld Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio, Busch Gardens Tampa and Williamsburg, Discovery Cove and Aquatica in Orlando, Adventure Island in Tampa, Water Country in Williamsburg, and Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
Blackstone already holds a 50% stake in Orlando’s No. 2 theme-park resort, and a direct competitor to SeaWorld – Universal Studios Resort Orlando. The firm also owns Merlin Entertainment Group, the British amusement park operator with properties such as Legoland and Madame Tussauds Wax Museums. Blackstone plans to retain BEC’s senior management and operate the company as a standalone investment.The firm also intends to give BEC execs relatively free reign in day-to-day management.
The Blackstone Group issued a press release with the following statements:
Carlos Brio, Chief Executive Officer of AB InBev, said: “BEC is a high performing asset with a world-class management team, but not a core business for AB InBev. We are pleased to have reached an agreement with a buyer who understands the industry and has a strategic vision for the business.”
Joseph Baratta, Senior Managing Director of The Blackstone Group, said: “We have long admired the BEC parks. They are the premier collection of entertainment parks in the United States and offer a unique family experience. We are pleased to have the opportunity to acquire this business. We have deep sector experience and look forward to working with the excellent BEC management team to continue to invest and grow the company.”
Jim Atchison, President of BEC, said: “Blackstone is uniquely experienced to help us take the company to new heights, and I look forward to working together to grow this great business.”
Representatives from both parties offer the assurance that visitors are likely to see few changes at the parks – BEC will continue to use the “Busch” name, promotional campaigns such “Here’s to the Heroes” will continue, and AB beers will still be sold. The most noticeable difference will be the removal of the iconic Clydesdale horses from the SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa in-park stables, which will remain a part of the AB beer marketing division.
Both parties are also insisting that there will be no merger or packages between the Busch, Universal, or Merlin entertainment groups – the firm noted it bought the three out of separate investment funds with separate investors and interests. It will be interesting to see if this holds true in the future.
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