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Kenversations: Is That a Hidden Mickey on Shamu?
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by Ken Pellman (archives)
March 17, 2009
Ken looks at the possible buyers - including Disney - of the Anheuser-Busch theme parks including Busch Gardens and Sea World.

And you thought selling your real estate was tough.

Shamu and the tank that hold him are for sale.

On my most recent trip to Sea World San Diego, I remember at one of the shows they mentioned Anheuser-Busch (AB) being the last major American brewer. When I got home, I looked up what had happened to Miller and Coors, since I couldn’t remember. I’m not much of a beer drinker, you see. Sure enough, they had become part of international companies that were based outside of the U.S.

Now European company InBev has acquired Anheuser-Busch and wants to shed Busch Entertainment Corporation – meaning their theme parks. So now the speil can eliminate references to brewers entirely, not just “American” brewers.

I’m no MBA, so maybe that’s why I wasn’t sure, when I first heard the news, why InBev would want to shed this “non-core asset”. I mean, I’ve never wanted to be a landlord, and being a landlord is not my core business, but I currently find myself renting out a condo I used to live in. As long as the tenents pay me rent, and that rent is enough to cover costs and then some, I’m okay. Likewise, as long as Busch Entertainment Corporation sends InBev HQ checks, what’s the problem? Plus, InBev gets to promote their products in the parks if they want.

Okay, I understand that major, world-class theme parks are not easy to operate well. They involve labor relations with thousands of service workers, require constant upkeep, and require significant capital investments on a regular basis to keep them fresh enough to lure millions of visitors a year. And, in Busch’s case, there are many live animals needing care, and constant pressure from animal rights groups.

Still, as long as the parks provide a net profit, why not just let the management team that is in place do their thing?

But InBev needs to pay for their purchase of AB, and what are the chances that they’ll make enough profit on selling their products to pay off tens of billions of dollars quickly enough? Not high.

Will future generations be deprived of the full humor of the Duff Gardens episode of The Simpsons? Well, there are more important things to consider.

I hope I’m not surprising you, but… the worldwide economy is going through a bit of a tough time right now. Major financing is harder to get.

So, now that InBev wants out of the theme park business, the two questions are:

Who wants the Busch theme parks?

And out of those, who is able to buy them?

Yeah, there are plenty of Disney fans that would love for Disney to get them. Then again, there are Disney fans who’d like to see Disney install the Hall of President in the White House. I’ll get back to Disney in a minute – after all, this is a Disney-focused service here.

What are the other possibilities?

Keep in mind that any anyone getting financing for a $2-4 billion purchase is going to be difficult – I mean, we’re not talking about one bank wanting to buy another and being able to ask the federal government to pay for it. But considering that Busch Entertainment includes…

  • Busch Gardens (and one water slide park each) in Tampa, Florida and Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Sea World San Diego
  • Sea World San Antonio
  • Sea World Orlando
  • Aquatica water slide park in Orlando
  • Discovery Cove in Orlando
  • Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania
  • … I’d say $2 billion is a deal. It would definitely take a company like Disney much more than that to build all of those parks today.

    So who wants to – and can – make a deal?

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