|Public limited company|
|Traded as||LSE: MERL|
|Headquarters||Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom|
|Sir John Sunderland (Chairman)
Nick Varney (CEO)
|Services||Family visitor attractions and resort theme parks|
|Revenue||£1,249 million (2014)|
|£311 million (2014)|
|£162 million (2014)|
|Slogan||Serious about fun|
Merlin Entertainments PLC is an British company headquartered in Poole, Dorset which operates 105 attractions, 11 hotels and 3 holiday villages in 23 countries. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.
In December 1998, Nick Varney, Andrew Carr and the senior management team of Vardon Attractions 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.
When the Legoland theme parks came up for sale, Varney wanted to buy it but Hermes did not want to invest more capital and sold Merlin to Blackstone Group for about £110 million in 2005. Blackstone negotiated to buy control of Legoland for about £250 million, then merged it with Merlin. As part of the deal, KIRKBI AS, the investment arm of LEGO owners, took a share in Merlin Entertainments.
Under Blackstone in 2006, Merlin went on to buy Gardaland, an Italian theme park. Early in 2007 they also purchased The Tussauds Group, owner of the Madame Tussauds celebrity wax attractions, for £1 billion. After the Tussauds acquisition, Dubai International Capital held 20% of Merlin Entertainment.
The buyout of Tussauds was completed on 22 May 2007. The Tussauds Group as a separate entity ceased to exist, and control of its attractions, including Madame Tussauds, The London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle and Heide Park passed to Merlin. Since the purchase, Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park and Heide Park have all been marketed as short break destinations each with some form of hotel accommodation. Chessingtin World of Adventures has two hotels, as does Alton Towers which also has woodland lodges and treehouses to stay in. Lodges for Chessington are also being developed.
On 17 July 2007, as part of the financing for the Tussauds deal, Merlin sold the freeholds of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle and Madame Tussauds to private investor Nick Leslau and his investment firm Prestbury under a sale and leaseback agreement. Although the attraction sites are owned by Leslau, the attractions themselves to be operated by Merlin, leasing each back on a renewable 35-year lease. Chessington World of Adventures was not included in the deal due to being the most profitable. By arranging the sale-leaseback of the properties and giving Dubai International Capital a stake in the combined entity, Merlin was able to acquire Tussauds without the need for any further capital investments from Blackstone or its other shareholders.
In late 2010, it was announced that Merlin would purchase approximately A$115 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 a Centrelink office in central Sydney. Deposed by the Australian Labor Party in the evening of 26 June, and replaced by Kevin Rudd, the publicity stunt drew wide attention, but was widely condemned for the disrespect shown to the office of the Prime Minister, and the first female leader of Australia.
Merlin had planned to go public in early 2010, 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 October 2013 Merlin's Thorpe Park attraction was involved in controversy when mental health campaigners accused it of putting profit before the welfare of those with mental illness. Its Halloween attractions included mazes which 'draw on classic horror film content'.The attraction was contrasted unfavourably in some media, Twitter and by mental health campaigners who believed The Asylum perpetrated stigmatising and damaging images of mental illness  Thorpe Park said "No offence was ever intended, it is not nor was it ever intended to be a realistic interpretation of a mental health or any other institution. We have taken this debate extremely seriously, and will take all of the points raised into account when planning any future events for 2014."
- "Final Results for 2014". Merlin Entertainments. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
- "Blackstone Acquires Merlin Entertainment". blackstone.com. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
- "Why you shouldn't buy shares in Legoland owner Merlin Entertainment". Telegraph.co.uk. 30 October 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
- "Tussauds firm bought in £1bn deal". BBC News. 5 March 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- "Cypress Gardens Sold to Legoland". 15 January 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
- Merlin Entertainments, leading name in location based, family entertainment – A New Force in Global Leisure[dead link]
- "Alton Towers sold in £622m deal". BBC News. 17 July 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- King of Capital, p. 313.
- AAP (17 December 2010). "Village Roadshow sells Sydney Attractions". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
- AAP (3 March 2011). "Plans for a Madame Tussauds in Sydney". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
- Ooi, Teresa (20 December 2011). "Merlin Entertainments Group conjures $140m James Packer bid". The Australian. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- Danckert, Sarah (13 February 2012). "Merlin ready to wrap up Living and Leisure deal". The Australian. 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.
- CVC Capital Partners press release[dead link], 24 June 2010.
- King of Capital, p. 314.
- Why you shouldn't buy shares in Legoland owner Merlin Entertainment The Telegraph, 30 October 2013
- Thorpe Park defends Halloween asylum attraction BBC
- Thorpe Park ‘considering changing Asylum maze over name row’ Metro