Exclusive: SeaWorld close to filing for an IPO - sources

Fri Dec 14, 2012 7:21pm EST
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By Olivia Oran and Greg Roumeliotis

(Reuters) - SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, controlled by Blackstone Group LP (BX.N: Quote) and best known perhaps for its performing killer whale Shamu, is close to filing for an initial public offering, according to three sources familiar with the situation.

Orlando, Florida-based SeaWorld may try to raise $500 million to $600 million in the IPO, the sources said on Friday.

SeaWorld has selected Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N: Quote) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N: Quote) to lead the offering, which could come in early 2013, the sources said.

Goldman Sachs did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Blackstone and JPMorgan declined to comment.

Blackstone acquired SeaWorld from beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev SA (ABI.BR: Quote) in December 2009 for $2.3 billion, according to Blackstone's website. Joe Baratta, who was appointed Blackstone's global head of private equity this year, led the deal.

SeaWorld owns 10 amusement parks including those with the SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place brands, caring for more than 67,000 animals. More than 25 million guests visit the parks each year, according to the SeaWorld website.

While Shamu, the original orca featured in SeaWorld shows, died in 1971, the name was trademarked by the company and has been given to different orcas since.

The parks have had to deal with legal fallout over the 2010 death of Florida trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by an orca named Tilikum in front of horrified spectators at a SeaWorld show in Orlando, Florida.   Continued...