Saturday, March 3, 2018

Major Changes Abound for SeaWorld Park & Entertainment

The past week or so has been filled with various announcements of changes at SeaWorld Entertainment, which also recently released their quarterly earnings.

First up, the park's CEO, Joel Manby, has left the company.  Mr. Manby was the President and CEO of SeaWorld for about three years, brought on to attempt to turn the tides for the company.  His time at the company was aimed at bringing the SeaWorld branded parks into focus as animal rescuers, rehabilitators, and general stewards of the planet.  Under his watch the chain met very, very rough seas with a focus on a larger picture of the future, and it would have been interesting to see how the rest of his tenure would have played out.  It was mentioned on the earnings call that both SeaWorld Entertainment and Mr. Manby agreed that it was the right time for him to go though, even so far as mentioning that Mr. Manby was looking forward to spending more time with his family. 

John T. Reilly has been named interim President and CEO, although also per the earnings call he is formally in the running for the position permanently as well.

Mr. Reilly has been with SeaWorld Entertainment for 32 years, recently being Chief Parks Operations Officer, and formerly the President of both Busch Gardens Williamsburg and SeaWorld San Diego - among other roles.  That said, he certainly knows the company well and mentioned during the conference call that as of right now there will be no major changes to the overall plan that Mr. Manby put in place while he was with the company.

© SeaWorld Entertainment
At the end of the week it was also revealed that SeaWorld Entertainment's Chief Creative Officer, Anthony Esparza and Brian Morrow, Vice President of Theme Park Experience Design, also both have departed the company.

It is maybe no surprise that Mr. Esparza left, as I believe he was brought to SeaWorld by Mr. Manby from Herschend Entertainment.  Brian Morrow appears to have already started his own company, so it looks like he will be going out on his own instead of joining any other theme park creative company.

It will be interesting to see how the design of future additions to the parks changes under new creative leadership, no doubt.

As for the 4th quarter earnings, they showed continued losses at the company, but it appears as though things may be bottoming out.  Revenues were down to $265.5 million from $267.6 million the year before, with attendance at 4.26 million, down from 4.38 million the year before.  They actually increased the per capita spending by 2%, up to $62.32 per person.

The conference call does not really necessitate a whole Heard On... post, as much of the talk was deeply financial.  There was no mention at all of the second Sesame Place under development, nor of any hotels or other expansions.  They focused mostly on the 15 new attractions opening at all the parks this year, which is their largest collection ever.  They also are pushing their new From Park to Planet advertising campaign, embedded above, which they are seeing positive feedback for.  Finally, they are seeing continued improvement at SeaWorld San Diego, which was by far hit the worst by Blackfish consumer pattern changes, and hope that the opening of Electric Eel, a major new coaster, will push that recovery even further.