SeaWorld Makes Splash with IPO, Blackstone May See 2.6x Return

(Reuters) – Blackstone Group LP‘s (BX.N) SeaWorld Entertainment Inc (SEAS.N), best known for its performing killer whale Shamu, raised $702 million in an initial public offering on Thursday, according to an underwriting source.

Florida-based SeaWorld priced its IPO of 26 million shares at $27 per share, the top end of its planned price range, according to the underwriter, giving it a valuation of $2.5 billion.

The company sold 10 million shares in the offering, with Blackstone selling the remaining 16 million. The IPO was increased earlier on Thursday after SeaWorld filed to boost Blackstone’s portion of the share sale.

The shares were expected to be sold at between $24 and $27 each. At a valuation of $27 per share, Blackstone is set to make 2.6 times its investors’ money, according to a source familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the matter is not public. Blackstone declined to comment.

Blackstone acquired SeaWorld from brewer Anheuser Busch InBev SA (ABI.BR) in December 2009 for $2.3 billion, according to the private equity firm’s website.

Shares of SeaWorld are expected to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “SEAS” on Friday.

SeaWorld owns 11 amusement parks including those with the SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place brands, employing more than 67,000 animals.

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 whales since.

The parks have had to contend 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.

Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan were the lead underwriters for the offering.

Reporting by Aman Shah in Bangalore and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; editing by Dan Grebler and Daniel Magnowski

Photo of orcas at Seaworld courtesy of ShutterStock