Sunday, December 14, 2014

Big Changes on the Way for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

After a rocky year at best, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has announced that current CEO Jim Atchison will step down as of January 15th, 2015.  Board chairman David F. D'Alessandro will serve as the company's interim CEO while the board selects a new leader for the company - expected to take 6 to 9 months.

Mr. Atchison will now serve as both a consultant for the company and Vice Chairman of the Board, along with staying involved in the company's Conservation Fund.  The news also included three hundred plus layoffs around the company, a part of SeaWorld's plan to reduce costs by $50 million by the end of next year.

© SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Since the company went public back in 2012 there has been a heightened level of expectation on the performance of the theme parks under the brand, and the scrutiny has hit all-time highs as Blackfish spread to the public.

This past quarter the company announced results that showed both lower attendance and earnings, with few bright spots in the release.  Really, if you look at their attendance and earnings patterns over the past handful of years, things have been in a decline for a while.  As a public company, it was time for a change and so now we see the CEO being replaced.  Typical big business stuff... so why should we care?

© SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Well, I guess the question would be best answered by asking ourselves if the recent additions to the parks were on point... or not.  There were some hits, and some rather bad misses as well - I won't specifically name either - but operational issues related to cost savings are what have really changed both the SeaWorld and Busch parks.  The parks simply aren't run like they were five or so years ago, and guests are noticing.  Capital spending has been questionable, especially in the face of the fierce Orlando market... not to mention the addition of items like Busch Gardens Williamsburg's meager-capacity 2015 'mystery ride.' 

New leadership can change that around quickly, should they decide that's their path.  Just take a look at the changes we've seen in Cedar Fair since Matt Ouimet took over.  (please do not try to steal him for SeaWorld!)  I think the park's problems ran much deeper than any "documentary" could be held responsible for, so I'll choose to see this as a promising step toward a better future for the parks.