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Blackstone Group takes over Tussauds
Auteur: Vincent De Vriendt @ 6 Maa 07

Merlin Entertainments Group ("Merlin"), controlled by the Blackstone Group ("Blackstone"), and The Tussauds Group ("TTG"), controlled by Dubai International Capital LLC ("DIC"), are today announcing a partnership of two rapidly growing businesses. This brings together some of the biggest brand names in the global theme park and attractions market and positions the combined Merlin Entertainments Group as the world’s second biggest visitor attractions operator after Disney.

DIC will receive £1,028 million cash and retain a 20% stake in the combined company, investing alongside majority owner Blackstone and LEGO Holding/KIRKBI Groups. Transaction highlights: 

• Merlin Entertainments Group and The Tussauds Group combined welcomed over 30 million visitors to their 50 attractions and four hotels in 2006. Globally they operate in 12 countries and across three continents (Europe, North America, Asia); employing over 13,000 staff

• Combines some of the world’s best-known attractions brands, including Madame Tussauds, LEGOLAND, SEA LIFE, British Airways London Eye, Gardaland

• Enlarged portfolio of market-leading, resort-led theme parks, including Alton Towers in the UK; Gardaland in Italy; and the four LEGOLAND parks in USA and Europe

• Expanded management team will see Merlin’s Chief Executive, Nick Varney, as CEO of the enlarged group, with Tussauds’ Chief Executive Peter Phillipson becoming non-executive Chairman of the enlarged group; Merlin’s Andrew Carr as Chief Financial Officer of the enlarged group; and Tussauds’ CFO Rob Roger leading the integration project. Other senior appointments will be announced in due course

Commenting on the transaction, Merlin’s Chief Executive Nick Varney said, "The combination of the Merlin and Tussauds brands, people, and operating expertise will create an exciting and world-beating global entertainment company. With such iconic brands, the expanded Merlin will not only have strong development potential, but also an amazingly robust and high value portfolio. Our ambition is to build on this to become the world leader in location based, branded, family entertainment.

The deal is a major strategic move for Merlin which has already seen the most successful and dynamic growth in the sector over the last five years. It not only expands our business both geographically and demographically, but also underlines our objective to build a balanced portfolio. The combined Group also has the resources and expertise to focus on accelerating current expansion plans for all the brands, particularly in North America."

Commenting, Peter Phillipson, Tussauds’ Chief Executive said "Under DIC’s ownership, we have continued to make significant progress against our strategic objectives. We have acquired the British Airways London Eye, continued the international roll out of Madame Tussauds, and the construction of hotels at Chessington and Heide Park is progressing well.
"Joining forces with Merlin represents a very exciting opportunity to develop these brands as part of the world's second largest visitor attractions business. The combined group will be in an excellent position to continue the development of
The London Eye and our theme parks, as well as accelerate the rollout of Madame Tussauds around the world. I am very much looking forward to working closely with Nick Varney to build a great business for our staff, customers and shareholders."

Merlin is majority owned by Blackstone who purchased the company for £102 million in May 2005. Since then it has worked with management to complete the acquisitions of the LEGOLAND chain of theme parks (August 2005) and Italy’s biggest theme park, Gardaland (October 2006).
Commenting, Joseph Baratta, a Blackstone Senior Managing Director, said "We are proud and pleased to have been able to support Merlin management in building this extraordinary business. This situation is a perfect example of the benefits of private equity ownership. Both Merlin and The Tussauds Group have grown significantly as a result of the support of their private equity owners. Blackstone and DIC have made substantial capital investments in these companies over the last few years and have enabled them to become market leaders. We believe the combination of Merlin and The Tussauds Group creates a European champion in the global leisure industry. Blackstone and the LEGO Holding/KIRKBI Groups welcome our partnership with DIC."

Sameer Al Ansari, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dubai International Capital, said: "We are pleased with today's announcement. It is in line with DIC’s strategy that involves backing incumbent management and investing in the businesses we acquire. As responsible long-term investors, we believe that this is an excellent deal for Tussauds. Under DIC’s ownership and within two years, Tussauds business has grown significantly, making the Tussauds brand a truly global one.

This deal is a natural evolution for the Tussauds Group as the combined firm will become the world's second largest leisure operator. We are looking forward to partnering with Blackstone and LEGO Holding/KIRKBI Groups to help the business take the next step in its development. Tussauds and Merlin are very complementary businesses and there is an obvious commercial logic in bringing them together. As a reflection of our confidence in this deal, DIC will retain 20% of the larger business and we hope to share in the benefits of its future profitable growth."

(Press Blackstone, photo: Thorpe Park)

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