Blackstone Group LP is leaning toward an initial public offering of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. after receiving bids from Apollo Global Management LLC and Onex Corp. for the theme-park operator, said people familiar with the matter.
SeaWorld also attracted interest from a team that included Carlyle Group and Advent International Corp., which didn’t make an offer, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the process is private. Blackstone expects an IPO to yield better returns over time than a possible sale, said one person.
SeaWorld generated more than $1.4 billion of revenue in the 12 months through Sept. 30 operating almost a dozen amusement parks in states such as Florida, California and Texas. Blackstone, the world’s biggest buyout firm, took control of the company after agreeing in 2009 to buy Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s amusement-park business in a deal then valued at as much as $2.7 billion.
Representatives at Blackstone, Apollo, Carlyle and Advent declined to comment on the process. Officials at SeaWorld and Onex didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.
SeaWorld competes with parks operated by Walt Disney Co. as well as Six Flags Entertainment Corp., according to regulatory filings. Today, Grand Prairie, Texas-based Six Flags reported that 2012 revenue climbed about 6 percent to $1.07 billion, bolstered by increasing admissions revenue. Six Flags’s stock had climbed 35 percent in the year through yesterday.
Blackstone has already recouped some of its initial investment through a so-called dividend recapitalization. The company took a $500 million loan last year to fund a payout to its owners, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
SeaWorld filed for a U.S. IPO in December. The company may go public in early 2013 and raise at least $500 million, two people familiar with the matter said in December. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are leading the offering, according to regulatory filings.
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