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Interest renewed in a purchase of SeaWorld

Lori Weisberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

SAN DIEGO -- For the second time in as many months, there is talk of a possible purchase of SeaWorld Entertainment parks by Legoland California owner Merlin Entertainments.

News of the revived interest, reported Wednesday by Bloomberg, comes amid continued struggles by SeaWorld to reverse slumping attendance and revenues, most notably at its Orlando and San Diego marine parks.

According to Bloomberg, Merlin's interest appears to be focused on the Orlando-based company's Florida and Virginia Busch Gardens parks, where thrill rides, live entertainment and animal encounters -- minus the dolphins and killer whales -- are the featured attractions. Citing individuals familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports that the U.K. theme park operator has approached SeaWorld about a potential deal.

Merlin owns dozens of attractions around the world, including multiple Legoland parks and the Madame Tussauds celebrity wax museums.

Merlin's interest in a purchase also seems to align with reports a couple of months ago that SeaWorld had apparently hired Evercore, an investment banking advisory firm known to work with companies to sell property

SeaWorld Entertainment has so far not commented on those rumors.

"We do not comment on rumors or speculation," SeaWorld spokeswoman Aimee Jeansonne Becka said Thursday.

SeaWorld's most recent earnings report in August revealed that the company is still struggling financially and has been unable to rebuild attendance since the 2013 release of the anti-captivity documentary "Blackfish." The company has acknowledged that fallout from the film, which was critical of SeaWorld's treatment of killer whales, has affected its financial performance.

It has since stopped breeding its orcas and is phasing out its longtime Shamu shows in favor of orca encounters that showcase the cetaceans' natural behaviors.

During the first six months of 2017, SeaWorld reported in August that 353,000 fewer people visited its parks.

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