Busch Entertainment Could Sell, But Who’s Buying?

Finally, my take on the one thing bloggers, finance reporters, Missouri politicians and beer drinkers can’t get enough of this summer—Anheuser Busch.

God knows there’s been plenty of speculation.

But hear me out. I want to talk about the theme parks. Even before InBev entered the picture, there’s been rumors about the potential sale of Anheuser Busch’s theme park division (called Busch Entertainment). Its perfectly non-core, and worth a lot, considering a Lehman Brothers analyst valued it at nearly $3 billion. InBev could sell it off to pay down debt quickly, or Anheuser could shed the business itself as a way to generate cash in its defense strategy.

But my question is, who would buy it? The logical strategic suitors aren’t in the greatest financial position to date. Slate’s Daniel Gross summarized the headwinds facing a recession-era theme park like Six Flags or Cedar Fair nicely. He pointed to this stock chart.

Beyond potential strategic suitors, I can’t think of too many LBO shops willing and able to lever up a capital intensive, consumer-spending-reliant company in the leisure industry these days. You may remember Bear Stearns failed auction of Cedar Fair (Ticker: FUN) last summer. Before its own auction, Cedar Fair was one of the more acquisitive companies in the biz. Last July, the highly leveraged company was shopped to a swath of LBO shops to no avail. So the question is, were InBev or even Anheuser itself to sell the parks, who would buy them?

In fact, most of the PE-backed M&A for theme parks seems to be in Europe. Blackstone’s ownership of Merlin Entertainments, a London-based amusement park group, comes to mind. That might be the best option (again, we’re speaking hypothetically here).