The world's biggest beermaker is readying a $46-billion bid for Anheuser-Busch Cos., touching off speculation the Busch theme parks will be spun off or sold.
That would include 10 theme and water parks, including Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa and SeaWorld Adventure Park in Orlando. Busch recently moved the headquarters of Busch Entertainment Corp. unit to Orlando after agreeing to build two parks for the government of Dubai.
A Belgian brewing conglomerate that owns 200 beer brands in 32 countries, InBev plans to offer at least a 20 percent premium for the owner of Bud Light, Budweiser and brands that control half the U.S. beer market, according to the Financial Times. InBev, maker of Becks, Stella Artois and Bass, controls 11 percent.
It's doubtful the Belgians are a welcome suitor. Autocratic August Busch III, who ran the family brewery for 30 years, retired 18 months ago. That left his son, August Busch IV, in charge. The Busch family owns 4 percent of the stock, so the company has to deal with a reasonable bid.
Neither company is talking. But the added debt will be enough that the Financial Times says InBev hopes to raise $6-billion selling A-B's parks and aluminum recycling business.
A likely defense: Busch makes itself too expensive by buying the other half of the Mexican maker of Corona. Another sign investors think no deal is forthcoming: shares of SABMiller, the brewer of Miller beer and the company InBev supposedly goes after if it doesn't win A-B, perked up in the past week on the speculation.
The Busch theme parks wouldn't disappear under new ownership.
"The Busch parks are strong enough to stand on their own," said Dennis Spiegel, a Cincinnati theme park consultant. "I can see overseas buyers or even Walt Disney Co. interested in the Sea World parks. Parks like these rarely get on the market."
Others think InBev would keep the parks.
"Big players who bought into parks like Universal were supposed to sell, but kept them," said John Robinette, senior vice president of Economic Research Associates, the firm that did the feasibility studies for Walt Disney World and for Busch to buy SeaWorld in 1990. "Parks need a lot of capital, but it's a high-margin business."
Busch Entertainment brings in 8 percent of its parent's revenues. The parks earned $162-million in 2007 on revenues of $1.2-billion. That's twice the profit of a decade ago, before Busch went on a capital spending spree. Since 2005 Busch has spent $332-million on new attractions.
Busch sees marketing value from parks that associate a beer company with fun, family and environmental stewardship. That's less important to InBev, which zeroes in on fat marketing budgets to hammer national brews into parts of the global conglomerate.
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.