Thursday, November 15, 2018
Business

As SeaWorld suffers 'Blackfish' impact, Busch Gardens suffers, too

Busch Gardens is many miles away from the first drenched rows of SeaWorld's Shamu shows in Orlando. But Tampa Bay's top theme park is still getting soaked.

Busch Gardens finds itself caught in a financial and public opinion maelstrom not quite of its own making. The park is part of SeaWorld Entertainment, composed mostly of multiple SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks, plus a few smaller brand parks in the United States.

Shares in the publicly traded company lost an astonishing 50 percent of their value in the past year. That's more than $1.4 billion in market value flushed away.

SeaWorld's brand remains under fire from Blackfish. The film debuted last year at the Sundance Film Festival, got distributed by CNN and sparked an uproar over SeaWorld's controversial history with captive killer whales and the deaths of three people, including a SeaWorld whale trainer at the Orlando park.

Blackfish producers call their film a documentary. SeaWorld calls it propaganda. SeaWorld investors call the film's impact a drain on the company, which has seen a 5 percent annual drop in attendance — in a year when Florida enjoyed record tourism.

SeaWorld Entertainment's biggest owner is the private equity firm Blackstone Group, which surely is in a snit over the company's downturn.

What does all this mean for Busch Gardens in Tampa? It finds itself tethered to the corporate SeaWorld brand, which means its market value also has been cut in half in the past year. Part of that decline is its own fault.

According to SeaWorld Entertainment's latest quarterly SEC filing, part of the challenges in Florida relate to "a delay in the scheduled opening of one of our new rides at our Busch Gardens Tampa park," a reference to the Falcon's Fury ride launching too late to catch the park's young summer crowds.

When a public company loses half its value in one year, investors want better accountability. When attendance and revenues dip, fresh capital to purchase the next game-changing ride or to overhaul an aging piece of a theme park gets tougher to obtain. For Busch Gardens it can mean the difference between funding a new SheiKra-level roller coaster or just opening a kiddie ride.

The company's SEC filing also cited "significant new attraction offerings at competitor destination parks." SeaWorld has recently had to face Universal Orlando opening the second part of its popular "Wizarding World of Harry Potter," and Disney's summer pitch built on its super-successful Frozen animated movie.

Now that's intense competition for tourist dollars.

No doubt, Busch Gardens must miss the more paternal days, when it was part of a theme park subsidiary owned by beer giant Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser. Money was more plentiful then and competition less cutthroat than today's constant pursuit of the next cutting-edge attraction. But Anheuser-Busch was itself acquired, triggering a series of theme park owners for Busch Gardens.

What's ahead? Blackfish looks likely to continue tormenting SeaWorld Entertainment, especially in California, where a bill was introduced in April to ban the use of whales in shows. That proposal is on hold to allow for further study.

The New York Post on Sunday reported that a major investor in SeaWorld Entertainment, a hedge fund that the Post declined to name, has second thoughts about investing in the theme park company. And a shareholder lawsuit accuses SeaWorld of misleading investors about the impact Blackfish would have on attendance.

The forecast? Rough seas ahead for SeaWorld, with Busch Gardens caught in the undertow.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] or (727) 893-8405.

Comments
Port Tampa Bay negotiating to move ConAgra flour mill to Port Redwing

Port Tampa Bay negotiating to move ConAgra flour mill to Port Redwing

After 80 years in downtown Tampa, the ConAgra flour mill could be moving to Port Redwing near Apollo Beach, clearing the way for a future expansion of Water Street Tampa.
Updated: 1 hour ago
The 2018 Black Friday guide to shopping: Walmart, Target, Amazon, Best Buy

The 2018 Black Friday guide to shopping: Walmart, Target, Amazon, Best Buy

With Black Friday looming, and most major retailers kicking sales off after dinner on Thanksgiving, here's a guide that breaks down the trends and when your favorite retailers are open.
Updated: 2 hours ago
Out of the circus business, Feld aims to get into theme parks

Out of the circus business, Feld aims to get into theme parks

With the Ringling circus shuttered, the Palmetto-based entertainment company looks to expand into the attractions industry.
Updated: 4 hours ago
Citizens Property Insurance Co. took a smaller hit from Hurricane Michael than expected.

Citizens Property Insurance Co. took a smaller hit from Hurricane Michael than expected.

The state-backed insurer of last resort says it has received just more than 3,100 claims so far.
Updated: 5 hours ago
Gov. Rick Scott names engineer Hung Mai to board of Port Tampa Bay

Gov. Rick Scott names engineer Hung Mai to board of Port Tampa Bay

If confirmed by the Florida Senate, civil engineer Hung Mai of Lutz will replace former Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce chairman Mike Griffin, who resigned from the board of Port Tampa Bay in July.
Updated: 5 hours ago
FDA plan would ban menthol cigarettes, crack down on flavored cigars and vapes

FDA plan would ban menthol cigarettes, crack down on flavored cigars and vapes

A top U.S. health official is pledging to try to ban menthol from regular cigarettes, outlaw flavors in all cigars and tighten rules regarding the sale of most flavored versions of e-cigarettes.
Updated: 6 hours ago
Brooksville's Cemex workers unionize with safety as top priority

Brooksville's Cemex workers unionize with safety as top priority

About 60 percent of workers voted in favor of unionizing the last non-union Cemex cement plant in the United States.
Published: 11/15/18

Madeira Beach referendum tightens development regulations

Among the 10 questions was one approved by voters that requires four of five commissioners to okay certain rezonings.
Published: 11/15/18
Spring Hill entrepreneurs: 'A beard is more of a lifestyle.'

Spring Hill entrepreneurs: 'A beard is more of a lifestyle.'

Local business partners developed a line of beard-care products.
Published: 11/15/18
USF marks construction milestone at medical school building in Water Street Tampa

USF marks construction milestone at medical school building in Water Street Tampa

The University of South Florida and Tampa leaders Wednesday marked the "topping off," or completion of vertical construction, on the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.
Updated: 11 hours ago