| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Jan 17 SeaWorld Parks and
Entertainment, which is exploring a sale, has attracted early
buyout interest from private equity firm Apollo Global
Management LLC and amusement park operator Six Flags
Entertainment Corp, according to three people familiar
with the matter.
Orlando, Florida-based SeaWorld, controlled by private
equity firm Blackstone Group LP, filed for an initial
public offering in December but is also in talks with potential
buyers in what is known as a "dual track" process, Reuters
Apollo, which got into the resort and leisure business with
its $262 million acquisition of Great Wolf Resorts in 2012, and
Six Flags, the largest regional theme park operator in the
world, are among several potentially interested parties,
according to the sources.
The process is largely limited to a small group of industry
players that have experience in the sector, one source said.
A deal could value SeaWorld, known for its killer whale
mascot Shamu, at about $4 billion, based on the financials of
its publicly listed peers, such as Six Flags and Cedar Fair LP
Blackstone acquired SeaWorld from beer giant Anheuser-Busch
InBev SA for $2.3 billion in December 2009, according
to Blackstone's website.
Blackstone and Apollo declined to comment, while Six Flags
was not immediately available. The sources asked not to be named
because the process is not public.
A public offering for SeaWorld remained the more likely
route since it would come at a time when shares for amusement
park operators are trading at healthy levels, one source said.
Established operators in the U.S. theme park industry host
about 315 million visitors per year and have proven resilient in
a weak economy as parents still turn to them for family
SeaWorld owns 11 theme parks, including those with the
SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place brands, and cares for
more than 67,000 animals.
(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Olivia Oran in New York; Editing
by Jeffrey Benkoe)