Chinese company acquires US-based SeaWorld

Updated: 2017-03-24 22:26

China-based Zhonghong Zhuoye Group Co Ltd will buy Blackstone Group LP's 21 percent stake in SeaWorld Entertainment Inc in a deal that will see the US-based marine theme park in China for the first time.

SeaWorld said on Friday that Zhonghong Group would buy the stake for $23 per share, a premium of nearly 33 percent to the stock's close on Thursday.

Zhonghong Group – a diversified holding company for investments in real estate, leisure and tourism – will pay about $429 million for the stake, according to Reuters calculations.

Blackstone will no longer have any interests or board seats at SeaWorld after the deal closes in the second quarter of 2017. SeaWorld will also increase the size of its board to 11, including two executives from Zhonghong Group.

Private equity firm Blackstone, which bought SeaWorld in 2009 for $2.3 billion, has been reducing its stake in the company since taking it public in 2013.

SeaWorld has 12 theme parks across the US.

SeaWorld has suffered for several years now from declining attendance and revenue, and much of that has stemmed from controversy over its orca whales.

Blackstone bought the company just a few months before an orca killed a trainer at the company's Orlando theme park in 2010. SeaWorld then faced criticism after the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which depicted the captivity and public exhibition of killer whales as inherently cruel. The company said last year it would stop breeding killer whales in captivity.

As part of the deal, SeaWorld will provide advisory services and support for developing theme parks, water parks and family entertainment centers in Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, which would be operated by Zhonghong Holding, an affiliate of Zhonghong Group.

The company, which has reported falling revenue for the last three years and a loss last year, suspended dividend payments last year.

The agreement also contains restrictions on Zhonghong Group's ability to sell its interest in SeaWorld for a period of two years or acquire more than 24.9 percent of its outstanding shares.

Yoshikazu Maruyama, president of Zhonghong Group's American operations, said that the company was "delighted to engage with SeaWorld to bring this iconic, world-class family entertainment brand to China."

Reuters - AP

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