Brewer unloading amusement parks

Anheuser-Busch InBev said Wednesday it will sell its theme parks, including the three SeaWorlds and two Busch Gardens across the country, to private equity firm Blackstone Group for at least US$2.3 billion.

Anheuser-Busch InBev said Wednesday it will sell its theme parks, including the three SeaWorlds and two Busch Gardens across the country, to private equity firm Blackstone Group for at least US$2.3 billion.

The world’s largest brewer, based in Belgium, has been shedding assets to help pay for the $52 billion takeover of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch that formed the company last year.

The two sides confirmed the deal Wednesday, saying Blackstone will pay $2.3 billion in cash and give Anheuser-Busch InBev the right to up to $400 million of Blackstone’s initial returns.

New York-based Blackstone’s other investments include Universal Studios Orlando and Madame Tussauds wax museums so the theme parks fit into its portfolio.

Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Busch Entertainment Corp. consists of 10 amusement parks, including SeaWorld parks in Florida, Texas and California; Busch Gardens in Florida and Virginia and other parks including Sesame Place and Adventure Island.

It is considered the second-largest entertainment park operator in the U.S. after Walt Disney Co. and has about 25 million visitors a year and 25,000 employees.

The global brewer also owns the Labatt brewing company in Canada, which a predecessor company, Belgium-based Interbrew, acquired several years ago.

Carlos Brito, the brewer’s CEO, said in a statement that the business performs well but is not a core focus for Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Blackstone sees opportunity investing in media and entertainment businesses, said Michael Chae, senior managing director at Blackstone.

“We are delighted to be investing in a company with such iconic brands, irreplaceable assets and strong growth prospects,” he said.

It’s not clear how much the business is worth. According to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s annual report from 2008, the entertainment unit had pro-forma revenue of 932 million euros, or about $1.37 billion.