George Mason Law School

Busch Gardens Williamsburg sold to private equity firm

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October 23, 2009

4:02 AM

Anheuser-Busch InBev has made the decision to sell its 10 theme parks across the country, including Busch Gardens Williamsburg, to private equity firm The Blackstone Group for $2.3 billion.

The world’s largest brewer announced the sale of the Busch Entertainment Corporation Oct. 7.

Before the sale, Busch’s family entertainment division was considered the second largest entertainment park operator in the U.S. With 26,000 employees and an estimated 23 million people visiting Busch Entertainment properties each year, Busch was the sixth largest theme park operator in the world.

Properties of Busch Entertainment included Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Tampa, the Sea World parks Sesame Place and Discovery Cove parks as well as Adventure Island, Aquatica and Water Country USA water parks.

A potential sale of Busch Entertainment Corp. was rumored since the Belgian brewer InBev bought Anheuser-Busch in 2008. The company began discussions of a sale with Blackstone in Sept. 2009. The Busch Entertainment is one of the nonessential assets being sold in order to finance the $52 billion takeover.

The Blackstone Group plans on maintaining Busch Entertainment’s current management and no jobs will be lost.

“We’re very committed to growth, to maintaining the quality of the parks, the investments of the park,” Busch Entertainment CEO Jim Atchison told The Associated Press.

A sponsorship agreement has been reached that will allow for the parks to keep their current names and promotions. Anheuser-Busch InBev will have the right to up to $400 million of the Blackstone Group’s initial returns from the parks.

The most significant change to Busch Gardens Williamsburg will be the removal of the Clydesdale stables, an iconic symbol for the beer brand.

David Miller, an analyst with Caris & Co., told The Washington Post that Blackstone will probably try to get visitors to spend more at the parks by charging money for extras like taking pictures with characters.

The Blackstone Group declined to detail its plans for the newly acquired properties.

Michael Chae, senior managing director at Blackstone, commented on the recent addition to the firm’s portfolio in a statement to the Associated Press.

“We are delighted to be investing in a company with such iconic brands, irreplaceable assets and strong growth prospects,” he said.

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