* Buyers would be other private equity firms-sources
* IPO remains more likely option-sources
By Soyoung Kim and Olivia Oran
Jan 3 SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment has held
early talks with interested parties to explore whether a private
sale could fetch more than an initial public offering, two
people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
The Orlando, Florida-based company, controlled by Blackstone
Group LP, filed for an IPO in December but is now also in
preliminary talks with other private equity firms about a
potential sales process, the people said.
SeaWorld and Blackstone could not be immediately reached for
SeaWorld, which based on the financials of its publicly
listed peers may be valued at over $4 billion, including debt,
had net income of about $19.1 million in 2011 on revenues of
The people cautioned that an IPO remained the more likely
route for SeaWorld given the company's large size, which limits
the number of potential candidates that would see an opportunity
in keeping the company private and then selling it on.
What is more, SeaWorld has filed for an IPO a time when
shares for amusement park operators have been trading well.
Shares of Six Flags Entertainment Corp have risen over
50 percent in the last year, while shares of Cedar Fair LP
have increased 62 percent during the same period. The
S&P 500 index rose just 16 percent.
Established operators in the U.S. theme park industry, which
hosts about 315 million visitors per year, have proved resilient
in a weak economy as parents still turn to them for a
much-needed break with their children.
SeaWorld owns 11 theme parks including those with the
SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place brands, caring for more
than 67,000 animals.
Blackstone acquired SeaWorld from beer giant Anheuser-Busch
InBev SA in December 2009 for $2.3 billion, according
to Blackstone's website.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co
are the lead underwriters on the IPO.