Merlin Entertainments has approached SeaWorld Entertainment about a potential deal as the UK theme-park operator and owner of Madame Tussauds seeks to expand overseas to offset a slide in tourists visiting London.
Merlin, which also runs the Thorpe Park Resort in England and Legoland parks across the world, has made a bid for part of the company, which could be a hurdle as SeaWorld prefers an outright sale, the sources said.
SeaWorld, which has been working with advisers to explore options including a sale, also received interest from other possible suitors.
The offer comes as SeaWorld chief executive Joel Manby struggles to stem declines in sales and the stock price of the Orlando-based park owner once famous for its killer whales.
SeaWorld, which is valued at about $1.3bn (€1.1bn) counts Chinese leisure firm Zhonghong Group as the biggest shareholder, with a 21% stake acquired in March from Blackstone.
Merlin has a policy of not keeping cetaceans such as whales and dolphins in captivity, which would signal that its interest lies in SeaWorld’s Busch Gardens theme-park assets.
Chief financial officer Anne-Francoise Nesmes said on Merlin’s earnings call in early August that the Busch Gardens parks are “good-quality assets and that we would be interested”.
The company said in August it expects to meet profit estimates, with two-thirds of revenue coming from outside the UK and new attractions opening in China and India. SeaWorld could raise $1bn from selling regional parks like Busch, getting funding to invest in its core aquatic-themed locations, Suntrust analyst Michael Swartz said.
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