SeaWorld eyeing $100M IPO splash

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., whose 11 theme parks include

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., whose 11 theme parks include killer whale performances, said Thursday that it has filed for an initial public offering of stock aimed at raising about $100 million. (March 7, 2011) (Credit: AP)

Looks like Shamu may soon be making a splash in the stock market.

The company famous for water shows featuring killer whales, dolphins and other animals at its SeaWorld parks said Thursday that it is planning to go public. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. has filed for an initial public offering of stock aimed at raising $100 million. That number is likely to change as the company's bankers gauge interest from investors.

From its origins as a Busch Gardens animal park at Anheuser-Busch's Tampa Budweiser brewery in 1959, the company has grown to span 11 theme parks with 67,000 animals. Besides the three SeaWorld parks, the company owns two Busch Gardens parks and Sesame Place, an amusement park based on the children's TV show "Sesame Street."

The company warns that its business is dependent on customers' willingness to spend on leisure and entertainment -- which may be a tough proposition in a still-weak U.S. economy. Still, SeaWorld's revenue has risen in the three years that it's been owned by private equity firm Blackstone Group Lp. The company has looked for ways to stay competitive in the current market, branching out this year with a Saturday morning television show, "Sea Rescue," on the ABC network to attract young viewers.

Blackstone is expected to sell some of its stock in the IPO but keep a majority stake, SeaWorld said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. SeaWorld plans to use money raised in the IPO to pay down debt and make a payment to the New York-based firm.

Blackstone bought Orlando-based SeaWorld, formerly Busch Entertainment Corp., from beer brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2009 for $2.3 billion.

SeaWorld said about 24 million people attended its 11 parks during the 12 months ended Sept. 30. In the first nine months of 2012, SeaWorld's profit jumped 73 percent to $86.2 million from $50 million a year earlier, as revenue rose nearly 8 percent to $1.16 billion.

SeaWorld, which plans to trade under the ticker SEAS on the Nasdaq, did not name a date for its IPO or detail how many shares will be sold, and at what price, in its filing with regulators.

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