SeaWorld attendance and revenue leap

Orcas jump during rehearsals for the Orca Encounter attraction at SeaWorld San Diego.
(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

SeaWorld attendance and revenue jumped last quarter, a sharp reversal of the prolonged slide that has dogged the company in recent years.

More than 3.2 million people visited SeaWorld parks during the first three months of the year, up nearly 15% from the same quarter last year, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. reported Tuesday.

Quarterly revenue jumped even more — 16.5% — to more than $217 million, up from $186.4 million in the year-earlier quarter.


SeaWorld stock climbed 7.2% on Tuesday to $16.99 a share.

The first quarter of the year is a relatively slow time for the Orlando, Fla.-based company, but its latest earnings represent a marked improvement over the same quarter last year, when it reported 15% drops in attendance and revenue.

The improved results come a little more than two months since SeaWorld announced the sudden departure of former Chief Executive Joel Manby after he was unable to deliver a rebound in slumping attendance and revenue that have persisted for years after the release of the anti-animal-captivity film “Blackfish.”

Interim CEO John Reilly said Tuesday that the more robust revenues and visitation were driven by several factors, including renewed marketing initiatives, anticipation of new attractions and an earlier Easter holiday, which influences the timing of spring break.

Reilly also acknowledged that the company faces the challenge of sustaining the new momentum. “Despite this strong start to the year, we know we have significant opportunity for further improvement,” he said

Although revenue was strong last quarter, SeaWorld reported a net loss of $62.8 million, or 73 cents a share, a bit bigger than the year-earlier loss of $61.1 million, or 72 cents. The company said that $21.5 million of last quarter’s loss included costs associated with departing employees and a legal settlement.

Reilly said Tuesday that the company saw a 10% increase in season pass revenue.

The first quarter provides a somewhat limited view of park performance, given that just five of SeaWorld’s 12 parks are open for the full three months.


The company is hoping for improved financial results after the opening this year of major attractions, including San Diego’s Electric Eel roller coaster, which debuts Thursday. And the Orlando, Fla., park is planning to soak visitors with a new river rafting ride called Infinity Falls.

The company recently announced that a new Sesame Street land would arrive at SeaWorld Orlando next spring.

One factor that may have contributed to the uptick in attendance, at least for the San Diego park, is that a year ago, the longstanding Shamu shows had just ended, and SeaWorld had yet to debut its replacement: the Orca Encounter. A similar phaseout of the theatrical killer whale shows is also planned for SeaWorld parks in Orlando and San Antonio, Texas.

SeaWorld does not break out attendance for individual parks, but last year was an especially slow one for San Diego. Visitation fell 14% in 2017, dropping by more than half a million people. As part of its lease agreement with the city of San Diego for its Mission Bay site, the company is required to annually report visitation.

Weisberg writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.



2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with SeaWorld stock’s closing price.

This article was originally published at 7:30 a.m.