Merlin Entertainments Ltd is a British-based entertainments company headquartered in Poole, Dorset (England). It was listed on the London Stock Exchange until it was acquired by a consortium of Kirkbi A/S (the investment arm of the Christiansen family, controller of The Lego Group) in November 2019.
|Type||Private company limited by shares|
|Nick Varney (CEO)|
|Revenue||£1,688 million (2018)|
|£327 million (2018)|
|£230 million (2018)|
Number of employees
In December 1998, Nick Varney, Andrew Carter and the senior management team of Vardon Attractions (Vardon plc) completed a management buyout of the company to form Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd. with the backing of the private equity firm Apax Partners. Apax sold the company to another financial investor, Hermes Private Equity, in 2004. In May 2005, the company was acquired from Hermes by a division of The Blackstone Group  which later started a major expansion. Over the years, Merlin acquired Gardaland, an Italian theme park, and The Tussauds Group. The company was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2013.
When the Legoland theme parks came up for sale, Varney wanted to buy it but Hermes did not want to invest more capital. After the sale of Merlin to Blackstone Group, the company negotiated to buy control of Legoland for about £250 million in 2005, then merged it with Merlin. As part of the deal, Kirkbi A/S, the investment arm of LEGO owners, took a share in Merlin Entertainments.
In May 2007 Blackstone purchased The Tussauds Group, owner of the Madame Tussauds celebrity wax attractions, for US$1.9 billion; this company was merged with Merlin and has since been managed by Merlin. After the Tussauds acquisition, Dubai International Capital, the previous owner, received a 20% stake in the combined entity as well as £1.03bn in cash.
On 17 July 2007, as part of the financing for the Tussauds deal, the freeholds of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle and Madame Tussauds were sold to private investor Nick Leslau and his investment firm Prestbury, with a subsequent leaseback agreement. Although the attraction sites are owned by Leslau, they are operated by Merlin based on a renewable 35-year lease.
Reports in early October 2017 indicated that Merlin Entertainments was considering a takeover of Sea World in Orlando but on 11 October, the company said it was no longer involved in such discussions.
Australia and New ZealandEdit
In late 2010, it was announced that Merlin would purchase approximately A$116 million worth of entertainment attractions located in Australia and New Zealand from Village Roadshow Theme Parks and Attractions. The sale would include Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World, Oceanworld Manly, Sydney Tower and the Koala Gallery in Australia, in addition to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World in New Zealand. On 3 March 2011, the deal was finalised. This was followed by the $140 million acquisition of Living and Leisure Australia which owned several attractions in the Asia-Pacific region including UnderWater World, Melbourne Aquarium, Falls Creek Alpine Resort, Hotham Alpine Resort, Otway Fly, Illawarra Fly, Busan Aquarium and Siam Ocean World.
On 28 June 2013, Merlin Australia's Madame Tussauds in Sydney placed a wax figure of the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, into a mock queue of the unemployed at a Centrelink office in central Sydney. Deposed by the Australian Labour Party in the evening of 26 June, and replaced by Kevin Rudd, the publicity stunt drew wide attention, but received some criticism for the "disrespect" shown to the office of the Prime Minister, and the first female political leader of Australia.
Merlin had planned to go public in the early 2000s, but market turbulence postponed those plans. Instead, Blackstone sold 20% of the company to the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, reducing Blackstone's holding to 34%. CVC acquired another 8% from the Dubai investment fund which is no longer involved with the company, giving it 28% in all. Kirkbi, a Danish family trust that owns LEGO, also increased its stake, emerging as the largest shareholder, with 36%. CVC paid a price that valued Merlin at £2.25 billion – more than six times what Merlin and Legoland together were worth when Blackstone acquired them five years earlier. Blackstone's investment was by that point worth more than three and a half times what it had paid.
On 8 November 2013 Merlin floated 30% of the company on the London Stock Exchange valuing the private equity-backed company at almost £3.4bn.
In June 2019 the company's board agreed to recommend a takeover offer of £4.8 billion from Kirkbi, CPP Investment Board and The Blackstone Group. The takeover was approved by the high court in November 2019.
eOne's multi-territory partnership with MerlinEdit
On 5 December 2019 Entertainment One announced a new multi-territory partnership with Merlin that will open an interactive PJ Masks nautical-themed trail throughout the company's Sea Life aquariums worldwide starting February 2020.
Further tying into the collaboration between Merlin and eOne, select episodes of PJ Masks season 4 will feature underwater adventures.
|Name||Location||Year Opened||Year Acquired||Notes|
|Alton Towers Resort||Staffordshire Moorlands, UK||1860||2007||Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.|
|Thorpe Park||Chertsey, Surrey, UK||1979||2007||Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.|
|Chessington World of Adventures Resort||Chessington, Greater London, UK||1987||2007||Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.|
|Gardaland||Castelnuovo del Garda, Italy||1975||2006||Purchased in 2006 under Blackstone.|
|Heide Park Resort||Soltau, Lower Saxony, Germany||1978||2007||Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.|
|Legoland Billund Resort||Billund, Denmark||1968||2005||Acquired in Blackstone deal.|
|Legoland California||California, USA||1999||2005||Acquired in Blackstone deal.|
|Legoland Deutschland Resort||Günzburg, Germany||2002||2005||Acquired in Blackstone deal.|
|Legoland Dubai Resort||Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates||2016||-||Opened as part of the Dubai Parks and Resorts development in Jebel Ali.|
|Legoland Florida Resort||Winter Haven, Florida, USA||2011||2011||Cypress Gardens acquired and rebranded.|
|Legoland Japan Resort||Nagoya, Japan||2017||-||New-build theme park.|
|Legoland Malaysia Resort||Johor Bahru, Malaysia||2012||-||New-build theme park.|
|Legoland Windsor Resort||Windsor, UK||1996||2005||Acquired in Blackstone deal.|
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- King of Capital, p. 313.
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- AAP (17 December 2010). "Village Roadshow sells Sydney Attractions". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 20 December 2010. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
- AAP (3 March 2011). "Plans for a Madame Tussauds in Sydney". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 7 March 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
- Ooi, Teresa (20 December 2011). "Merlin Entertainments Group conjures $140m James Packer bid". The Australian. Archived from the original on 27 December 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- Danckert, Sarah (13 February 2012). "Merlin ready to wrap up Living and Leisure deal". The Australian. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- "A wax figurine of Julia Gillard at Centrelink isn't a publicity stunt, it's just plain stupid - and offensive". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 June 2013. Archived from the original on 30 June 2013.
- CVC Capital Partners press release[dead link], 24 June 2010.
- King of Capital, p. 314.
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- "Legoland owner Merlin Entertainments agrees £4.8bn offer". BBC. 28 June 2019. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
- "Court approves deal for Merlin Entertainments". Insider Media. 1 November 2019. Retrieved 2 November 2019.
- "eOne & Merlin to launch PJ Masks trail in 2020". Entertainment One. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
- Merlin eyes Big Bus Tours takeover following £24.6 million state deal Archived 27 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine The Daily Telegraph 25 February 2016