Merlin Entertainments is the second largest operator of visitor attractions and theme parks globally and the largest in Europe with 67m annual visitors across 130 attractions around the world. Merlin has a unique portfolio of family entertainment brands and iconic assets, diversified by geography, customer demographic and attraction types. The company operates across three operating groups: LEGOLAND Parks (8 LEGOLAND theme parks in 7 countries), Resort Theme Parks (6 theme parks in 3 countries, e.g. Alton Towers, Gardaland) and Midway Attractions (116 attractions in 22 countries, mainly indoor attractions in city centres, e.g. London Eye, Sea Life, Madame Tussauds).
What did the business need?
n 2005, Blackstone partnered with a strong management team and the family founders and owners of the iconic LEGO brand, KIRKBI, to combine Merlin Entertainments with LEGOLAND. At the time, Merlin was effectively a UK-only business consisting of aquariums and dungeon attractions. Merlin’s core values and family orientation fit well with the LEGO brand, and Blackstone had the vision, capital, and expertise to support management in building a much larger company.
What lasting value did PE/VC investment bring?
Merlin underwent a massive transformation during Blackstone’s initial eight-year ownership via organic and inorganic growth, including the acquisitions of The Tussauds Group (Madame Tussauds, London Eye, 5 theme parks incl. Alton Towers) and Gardaland. The company grew revenue and EBITDA by over 20x to become the second largest operator of visitor attractions and theme parks globally after Disney, and the partner of choice for the world’s leading brands to deliver immersive experiences to guests. On 8 November 2013, Merlin successfully completed an IPO on the London Stock Exchange.
Future growth plans
In November 2019, Blackstone re-acquired Merlin, taking it private using its long-term Core Private Equity strategy, together with pension fund CPP Investments and longterm shareholder and family office KIRKBI. It has committed to further significant, longterm investment to ensure the longevity of the existing assets and to drive continued growth for Merlin and its stakeholders. The future growth plans include, amongst others, opening of new LEGOLAND Resorts, evolution of day trip theme parks into destination resorts and opportunistic acquisitions.