Theme Parks Fate

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This week’s Update begins with word that Anheuser-Busch may be selling its chain of theme parks (the Busch Gardens and SeaWorlds, in particular) now that the domestic beer giant has been purchased by, InBev, one of Europe’s largest brewers.
The article from Drinks Business Review cites a report from an industry analyst that the parks division may sell for nearly $3 billion.—with the new owner using much of those proceeds to focus on the core beer business:

InBev is likely to get $4.6 billion from the sale of Anheuser-Busch’s theme-park and beer-can divisions, revealed Bloomberg, citing Sachin Shah, a merger analyst at ICAP Securities.

According to Mr Shah, whereas the theme parks are expected to fetch the company $2.9 billion, the divisions that recycle beer containers and make cans and bottles are likely to be sold for $1.7 billion.

While InBev certainly isn’t positioned as a large-scale theme park operator, the obvious question related to the article is “What company is currently capable of spending the $3 billion needed to buy A-B’s stable of theme park properties?”

None of the domestic operators seems like a logical fit. Which leaves either a foreign company or an unconventional one (such as a hedge fund) as the most likely suitors. Needless to say, if the report holds true, this could be a major shift in the U.S. and international markets (since A-B recently announced plans for a large project in the Dubai). We’re told that the situation remains very, er, fluid…

Meanwhile, though its official quarterly numbers won’t be released until August, early word out of Cedar Fair indicates that, despite the current economy woes, attendance appears to be holding steady for this large operator of amusement parks.

At the same time, Six Flags recently found itself on a stock “roller-coaster” last week amid concerns about travel and the economy:

Six Flags, the amusement-park chain whose stock has resembled one of its roller coasters over the past two days, had a record gain in New York trading after predicting its first-ever year of positive free cash flow.

Six Flags (ticker: SIX), which includes Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, surged 39 cents, or 81.3 percent, to close at 87 cents Thursday, more than making up the stock’s loss from Wednesday, when it dropped 37 cents in its heaviest trading day in two years. Thursday’s gain was the biggest advance since Premier Parks bought the theme-park company in 1998 and took its name.

And, of course, the legal saga of the fired, gun-toting Disney security guard continues. This time with the court denying the employee’s request for a preliminary injunction:

State Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Turner declined this morning to give a temporary injunction that would have allowed Edwin Sotomayor to get his Walt Disney World security guard job back while the Orlando judge tries to decide whether Disney has the right to ban employees from keeping guns locked in their vehicles

Turner advised Sotomayor’s lawyer, Jon Gutmacher, that he would be better off if the Florida Attorney General joined the action.

Turner scheduled a hearing on the request for a permanent injunction for Oct. 16.

Finally, a British amusement park pleads guilty for safety breaches that resulted in a 2004 guest death:

A theme park has admitted breaching health and safety laws over the death of a teenage visitor more than four years ago.

Hayley Williams, 16, from Pontypool, Torfaen, died when she fell 100ft from the £1.7m Hydro Ride at Oakwood in Pembrokeshire in April 2004.

Oakwood Leisure admitted a breach of the Health and Safety Act 1974 before magistrates at Haverfordwest.

By Chad Emerson

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