London/ New York – 13 November 2006. Europe’s premier visitor attraction business, Merlin Entertainments, today announced the acquisition of Italy’s top theme park, Gardaland, including the 247 room Gardaland Resort Hotel
for an undisclosed sum.
With over 3 million visitors a year Gardaland boasts a wide range of rides, shows and other attractions, and is not only one of the best known leisure and entertainment brands in Southern Europe, but also one of the Top 3 theme parks in Europe.
This acquisition represents a significant strategic expansion for Merlin Entertainments; which already operates Europe’s No 2 and 3 brands (SEA LIFE and LEGOLAND), in terms of paid for admissions. With more than 16m visitors across its 37 sites, Merlin also takes over the No 1 visitor attraction slot in Europe; and No 6 globally; underlining its position as the most dynamic attraction operator in the marketplace.
The acquisition was driven by a number of important strategic considerations:
- Geographic diversification – Gardaland instantly delivers critical mass for Merlin in southern Europe, representing a good balance against the company’s current predominantly northern European portfolio. The second Italian acquisition in the last 12 months, it will also give the company market leadership in another major European market; echoing the position it already holds in Germany.
- Development Opportunities – the Park possesses significant areas of land zoned for leisure development, and is located in the third biggest market catchment area in Europe (32 million residents and tourists within 2 hours). Merlin plans to introduce a SEA LIFE Centre and LEGOLAND Discovery Centre as second gates, thereby meeting both expansion objectives for these brands, and adding further critical mass to Gardaland’s destination resort positioning
- Brand Potential: Merlin Entertainments’ greatest strength, and central to its growth strategy, is its proven success in building distinctive, high quality visitor attraction brands. Gardaland fits that profile perfectly. Gardaland is the name in family entertainment in Italy, with high public awareness, and brand values synonymous with quality. Merlin believes the brand has potential to be developed outside of the park and as such will be actively pursuing extension opportunities.
Commenting, Merlin Entertainments’ Chief Executive, Nick Varney said: “Gardaland is exactly what we have been looking for - a high quality business and brand - with excellent staff and on Park attractions. It provides a natural extension to our existing customer base, attracting high volumes of young adults and teens as well as our traditional family market. This will offer tremendous opportunities for joint promotion and development activities in future.
This is the next stage in our very aggressive growth programme, and I am confident that we are creating something very different in the visitor attraction market - which can only go from strength to strength.”
Current owners Investindustrial and Aletti Merchant (Banco Popolare di Verona e Novara) will retain a minority holding in Gardaland going forward. A spokesman commented, “We believe that in Merlin Entertainments we have found a company which not only echoes our own values; but is also ideally placed to further develop the Gardaland business and brand in the future.”
Primary shareholders in Merlin Entertainments Blackstone Capital Partners and the LEGO Group, have invested heavily in Varney and his team over the last two years, and today expressed continued confidence in their ability to realise the business’ full potential in the future. Commenting, Joseph Baratta, a Senior Managing Director of The Blackstone Group, said: “With the LEGOLAND acquisition last year we clearly indicated our determination to work with the management team to build Merlin Entertainments into a world class theme park and attractions business, and the market leader in Europe. This acquisition plays a significant role in achieving that objective.”
Notes for Editors:
For personnel and attraction photographs, please check the web links below
About Merlin Entertainments
- 37 visitor attractions in 11 different countries under the following brands: LEGOLAND; SEA LIFE; GARDALAND; the Dungeons; Earth Explorer
- 12.2 million visitors in 2005; projected 16 million in 2006
- Strongly defined brands with distinct personalities which transfer across borders
- 22 SEA LIFE Centres + 3 Marine Sanctuaries; UK – Blackpool, Brighton, Scarborough, Weymouth, Birmingham, Great Yarmouth, Loch Lomond Marine Sanctuaries: Gweek, Cornwall; Oban, West Highlands; Hunstanton, Norfolk; Germany – Timmendorfer
Strand, Berlin, Oberhausen, Dresden, Nurnberg, Speyer, Konstanz, Königswinter, Munich; Finland – Helsinki; France – Disneyland Paris; Spain – Benalmadena; Netherlands – Scheveningen; Ireland – Bray (Dublin); Belgium - Blankenberge
- 5 Dungeon attractions – London, York, Edinburgh, Hamburg, Amsterdam
- 1 Earth Explorer - Ostend, Belgium (second to open 2007)
- 1 Water park in Milan, Italy
- 4 LEGOLAND theme parks in UK; Denmark; Germany and USA (California)
- 1 GARDALAND theme park in Italy
- 2 Resort hotels: GARDALAND and LEGOLAND Billund
- Number of Merlin staff – 6,000 peak season
- Number 1 visitor attraction operator in Europe
- Number 1 in Germany
- Number 1 in Italy
- Number 2 in the UK
- Number 6 in the world
- SEA LIFE/LEGOLAND No 2/3 paid for visitor attraction brands in Europe
- SEA LIFE world’s biggest aquarium brand
- GARDALAND Number 3 theme park in Europe
- Merlin History:
- Created in 1999 as a result of an MBO backed by venture capitalist company APAX; headline price £47 million
- Secondary buyout by Hermes Private Equity for £72.5 million in February 2004;
- Acquired by The Blackstone Group for £102.5 million in May 2005
- Acquired LEGOLAND Parks for €375m in July 2005
- Acquired Gardaland in October 2006
About The Blackstone Group
The Blackstone Group, a global private investment and advisory firm, was founded in 1985. The firm has raised a total of more then $67 billion for alternative asset investing since its formation of which approximately $30 billion has been for private equity investing. The Private Equity Group is currently investing its fifth general private equity fund with commitments of $15.6 billion, and has 78 experienced professionals with broad sector expertise. Other private equity investments in the leisure sector have included Universal Studios in Orlando, and Six Flags Theme Park. Blackstone’s other core businesses include Private Real Estate Investing, Corporate Debt Investing, Hedge Funds, Mutual Fund Management, Private Placement, Marketable Alternative Asset Management, and Investment Banking Advisory Services.
About LEGO Group
The LEGO Group is a privately held, family-owned company, based in Billund, Denmark. It was founded in 1932 and today the group is the world’s fourth largest toy manufacturer with 2005 sales of DKK 7,050m and employing approximately 4,500 people globally. The LEGO Group is committed to the development of children’s creative and imaginative abilities. LEGO products can be purchased in more than 130 countries. At the beginning of the 21st century the LEGO brick was acclaimed as “Toy of the Century” – first by Fortune Magazine and later by the British Association of Toy Retailers.