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The Interpreter

BUSCH PARKS: BLACKSTONE, now what?

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Oy. Regardless of current ownership, the current state of theming throughout Cedar Fair's parks makes me think: FUN owning a Busch park brings back memories of the Paramount Parks purchase. BGW is NOT Kings Dominion, though Kings Dominion is, in my opinion, a very nice park in its own way. I cringe to think of BGW cared for the way Adventure Express', Backlot Stunt Coaster's, and Boo Blasters' theming is cared for.

I think the Busch parks would complement Herschend's style of management and existing portfolio nicely. It would be difficult to disassociate the park with alcohol sales, though, seeing as how the park's very name is based on a beer brewery.

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It would be an nice opportunity for Herschend to expand their theme park portfolio. I think they currently only run three theme parks. If they took away the ba beer, Busch Gardens would be losing the basis of its history. So I really don't see this happening, unless Herschend wants to drop "Family" from their company title.

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^^ I'm only joshing. :)

Yes, it's a little trickier with the Busch Gardens parks since they were Busch Gardens from day 1. Then again, there's always the question of whether or not they would need to be rebranded. They're not presently owned by Anheuser-Busch yet they're stilled named Busch Gardens. If they're not paying to license the name, would Cedar Fair feel the need to rename them? SIX would definitely make them Six Flags Tampa (or Florida, or Over Florida) and Six Flags Williamsburg (or Virginia, or Over Virginia)..

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That's a good question, I don't know their current licensing agreement, or if there is one. If it was the Kinzel era and there was a licensing fee, I'd see you'd likely see a new name, requiring no licensing, however I'm not sure how Ouimet would approach it.

I'd still think they would avoid paying any new licensing fees if possible, but then again this is a different animal. If there is a license fee required to keep the name Busch Gardens, it may still be advantageous because of the name recognition. When Kings Island was Paramount's Kings Island, I'd venture to say most people still simply called it Kings Island, so dropping "Paramount's" was not as big a deal.

In terms of ownership of the Busch Parks, as hard as it may be to accept, it may be better for them to be in the hands of Six Flags or Cedar Fair, rather than SEAS in its current state. Moreso, Cedar Fair in my opinion.

It seems that under Mr. Ouimet, the Cedar Fair parks have been given a bit more autonomy, so if they did end up acquiring one of or both Busch Gardens parks, I'd hope to see them allowed to operate in a similar fashion, prior to the current fiasco. Things would not be exactly as they were in the past, but it looks like a change needs to happen.

If by some chance Cedar Fair did acquire the parks, I'd like to see some of the things that Busch does (or used to when they had the resources) well, and see them infused throughout the chain.

But obviously I'm getting way ahead of myself. I'd much rather see Busch Gardens remain out of the hands of FUN or SIX, but with a new owner who can restore them to their former level of service and quality. I prefer more operators to increase competition, rather than just two giant ones.

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I'm just worried that FUN may not necessarily be in the financial position to go on another park-buying spree just yet. Between the '04 purchase of GL and '06 purchase of Paramount Parks (or at least the existing parks themselves..), Kinzel definitely strained the company's resources. Understanding that Ouimet has brought in almost entirely new leadership, would FUN be willing to expand?

As it is, the only park they have in a region that competes directly with the large destination resort parks (the actual theme parks) is Knott's Berry Farm. It does do some competing on theme but it's still not a direct competitor to Disney or Universal, per se. BGT would put them more in a competitive position with those names, something they don't have experience with. Am I saying that I don't think they could do it? No. Am I saying that they would be branching out into something new when they still have expansion potential with at least one property (Carowinds) that should be a priority over expanding the park lineup? Yes.

As for SIX, I don't know if they're going to be buying new parks anytime soon. Particularly since their bankruptcy and mass sell-off of parks, they seem to be a lot more cautious/"frugal" with their ride installations. They even rely on a lot of in-park advertising to raise revenue. After shedding parks, are they going to be looking to expand again? SIX was burned badly last time, so they may well be even more cautious than FUN.

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I'd rather see all entertainment companies expand, improve, and focus upon what they already have, as opposed to worrying about expanding their portfolio of properties. Both Six Flags and Cedar Fair have a national footprint now, so it might benefit them to pay a bit more attention to each park individually. Landscaping, atmosphere, themeing, cleanliness, and limiting in-park advertising are all aspects that I believe to make a guest's experience just a bit more enjoyable. In my opinion, the stand-out company that pays really good attention to these little things is Herschend, but Six Flags and Cedar Fair both have potential. Instead of using money to buy new parks, utilize that money to give a little extra love to each park you already have.

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^^ I definitely agree. I'd be surprised to see either FUN or SIX acquire any new parks anytime soon, and would much rather FUN continue to improve upon their current portfolio. We've seen so many great improvements over the past couple of years as opposed to the earlier days of Cedar Fair ownership, and I'd like them to remain focused upon continuing to improve.

If some former Busch Gardens higher ups were to make their way into positions at FUN, I would be interested to see what they bring to the table. Always nice to bring in some new ideas and Mr. Ouimet seems open to that type of thing.

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I don’t think SEAS will sell off the Busch Gardens parks. A company left with just SeaWorld branded properties would be more susceptible to poor-performance related to public relations issues.

That said, I think SEAS as a whole is a nice target for acquisition. Some have pointed out the potential synergies of a merger with Universal Parks and Resorts and the deep pockets of Comcast.

I believe Merlin Entertainments has the most to gain by purchasing SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. Merlin has struggled to develop a strong and effective corporate management system for its North American properties. This is especially true for the company’s “midway attractions” like Madame Tussaud's and LEGOLAND Discovery Center. The time difference between the American attractions and their management in the United Kingdom is a challenge. Merlin’s British management systems often clash with American legal requirements (think HR or disability accommodation) and marketing trends. If Merlin buys SEAS, it can place the existing Orlando corporate office in charge of all North American attractions.

Additionally, a combined Merlin-SeaWorld would create some needed cross-marketing opportunities. SeaWorld and Aquatica San Diego could be packaged with LEGOLAND California. Busch Gardens Tampa could be packaged with LEGOLAND Florida. Merlin’s Orlando Eye attractions could be packaged with SeaWorld. Rumor has it that Merlin is looking to build a full-size LEGOLAND park in Virginia. Building the park in Williamsburg would help make Busch Gardens and Water Country a multi-day destination.

If Merlin would were to buy the company I would expect them to connect the SeaWorld and Sea Life brands. In addition to using similar logos, the local aquariums would serve as a promotional outlet for planning your next trip to a SeaWorld park. Visitors to SeaWorld parks could purchase a pass to see marine life at an aquarium near home.

All of this depends on SeaWorld hiring a strong and talented CEO who can get the turnstyles clicking again.

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I gotten word that all 3 mimes at SWF, as well as the Pearl divers been laid off. Sounds like the A'lure show being done away with. :/

I am saddened by the cuts among the Ent department. For me personally, the SeaWorld/Busch parks have always been my favorite chain and recently the park experiences I get out of them is the closest thing to Disney without the insanely huge price tag. Their shows (not just animal related), their food, family friendly atmosphere etc..I don't even remember the last time I'd ever been 100% impressed with a CF decision. Believe me I would love to visit Disneyland each time I am in Cali but those prices scare me. I have to admit, the friendliest park staff, which also happened to be the cleanest park, that I been to was actually at SeaWorld San Antonio for 2014. (followed closely by Disenyland and Knott's)

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Herschend is a Christian based company. They will sell alcohol about the same time Chick-Fil-A opens Sundays. Maybe.

(speaks under his breath)... so are many aspects of SEAS.

There are a number of Christian organizations that serve beer. There's no spiritual/Christian taboo against drinking (drunkeness... something completely different). I don't personally; the last time I had an alcoholic beverage was at a wedding reception in 1996. Its just not a drink I like. I save money at Reds games that way too; much rather have a $5 Coke than a $10 Bud.

Another- financially they cannot let the Busch Gardens parks go- they are the only "bright" spots in the portfolio... there's no way that stockholders would approve that sale. SEAS without the Busch brand is a penny-stock. The SeaWorld brand needs repaired; that's the easy part. The hard part is redeveloping the visiting habits

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I agree with all that has been said above. The parks are great, the shows there are great; it's just the company's reputation that's been defaced by Blackfish. Fix the reputation and get people to start coming back is what the company needs to do, but I do recognize that that is indeed very hard.

If SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment plans on getting out of this financial slump and succeeding, they must keep the Busch brand, which has strong park attendance and a good reputation.

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http://www.dailypress.com/business/tidewater/va-vg-jcc-busch-gardens-carl-lum-interview-20150116-story.html

Poor Carl. Even what should be a fun off season article comes off as a sad story. I really like Carl, and even talked to him over the holidays when I ran into him in Tomorrowland. I could tell this season really took it out of him.

What really blows my mind is they are not announcing the new coaster. At all. He says they will have an announcement in March. The park opens in March!

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Word is BGW will be closing an hour earlier most nights.

Also that the Entertainment Department has sustained major, dramatic budget cuts, along with landscaping, marketing, general maintenance and even human resources.

It certainly looks like intensive belt tightening, perhaps in preparation for an off-loading, is underway.

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I'm actually trying to decide whether to buy some SEAS stock right now (it's not at the 52 week low, but pretty darn close). There's still a long way to go down, but I'm figuring some sort of buy out (either acquisition by other player or private equity) is likely. Of course, I'm only looking to drop a few hundred dollars into it, so the risk is pretty minimal regardless :-)

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The thought of another company buying the Busch Gardens parks, frankly, scares me.

Disney or Universal COULD do a lot of good with it. Supposing they don't try to do what Cedar Fair did to Geauga Lake. Close competition? Buy it and shut it down after a few years. (That's not the only reason Geauga Lake failed but it's a pretty huge reason.) This sounds like a very real possibility when it comes to Busch Gardens Tampa.

I'm not certain Cedar Fair would preserve or add to the theming if they bought Busch Gardens. Would they be able to deal with the animal aspect that Busch Gardens Tampa is so famous for? From what I've gathered, Cedar Fair doesn't really do animals, except for the small petting zoo at Cedar Point.

Six Flags, as some people said, probably aren't going to be able to buy another group of parks right now. It seems as though they are trying to downsize.

I really hope SEAS can bring themselves back to profitability. I like the idea of more than just a few big names running parks. The more competition, the more companies will try to add new experiences to their parks. I'd love to see what SIX, FUN, and SEAS would do if the economy recovered, attendance rates soared, and they had more money to work with. I hope the Busch Gardens parks live long enough to see that day.

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