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SeaWorld parks report 10 million fewer guests, $312 million loss in 2020

The company’s parks, including Tampa’s Busch Gardens and Adventure Island, saw revenue drop 69 percent across the board.
Caribbean flamingos flock together in the Bird Gardens at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on June 11, 2020, in Tampa.
Caribbean flamingos flock together in the Bird Gardens at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on June 11, 2020, in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 25
Updated Feb. 25

The numbers are in, and they’re not surprising: SeaWorld Entertainment, the parent company of a dozen theme parks, including Tampa’s Busch Gardens and Adventure Island, lost $312.3 million in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

That number, revealed on an earnings call with investors on Thursday, represents a precipitous drop from 2019, when the Orlando company reported net income of $89.5 million.

For the year, the company saw 6.4 million guests last year, a nearly 10 million drop from 16.3 million in 2019. That led to a 69 percent drop in total revenues, from nearly $1.4 billion in 2019 to $431.8 million last year.

While the company did not disclose attendance at each of its parks, interim CEO Marc Swanson said the company was comfortable adhering to current capacity restrictions that remain in place at Florida parks, including SeaWorld in Orlando.

“We have a lot of capacity in the park, and we very rarely hit that full capacity during normal times,” Swanson said. “Right now, we feel good about where we are. The capacity limitations are really driven by social-distancing requirements, so as those change, or when those change over time, that’ll be the driver of our ability to drive more capacity.”

The company pointed to improved performance in the fourth quarter of 2020, which encompassed Halloween and Christmas events. While the company still had a net loss of $45.5 million from October through December, and attendance was at 2.2 million — down from 4.7 million the same period in 2019 — per capita spending among those guests was up about 9.5 percent.

Much of that performance was driven by local residents and passholders within driving distance, Swanson said, rather than international and fly-in guests.

“International (guests) tend to spend generally more than others, because they’re coming here less often, so it’s a bigger deal for them,” he said. “We’ve had more local attendance, and we’ve also been able to virtually hold fairly steady in our same-day, driving-overnight domestic markets.”

Some of the company’s key parks, including SeaWorld in San Diego and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., suffered from strict state-mandated operating and capacity restrictions in 2020. This year, the company plans to have all 12 of its parks open on their regular annual schedule, including Adventure Island starting March 6.

Swanson said the company has seen solid attendance for Mardi Gras-themed events in January and February, and anticipates crowds will grow further as it brings back live music. Busch Gardens’ ongoing Food and Wine Festival will bring at least nine national acts to the park in March and April, including Sugar Ray, 38 Special, Phillip Phillips, Tito Nieves and more.

Related: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay concert series to open with Phillip Phillips, Parmalee

“These special events are valued by our loyal passholders and guests, and we are confident we are able to deliver compelling, exciting and — most importantly — safe events with relevant and appropriate operational changes,” Swanson said.

Swanson said that based on financial adjustments and cost reductions within the company, whenever attendance rises back to 2019 levels, SeaWorld should see savings of about $100 million, including $50 million in labor alone.

Related: Furloughed Busch Gardens, SeaWorld workers: Sudden layoffs were 'just a shock'

“We are looking forward to spring break and the summer season, when we are planning to have even more events in even more of our parks,” he said.

SeaWorld stock rose sharply after markets opened Wednesday, rising from $41.35 to nearly $50 per share before settling to around $46 per share by noon.