In 1989, Anheuser-Busch purchased the four SeaWorld parks for $1.1 billion. It was the latest move in what had been a successful decade for the American brewing company. Anheuser-Busch had started the 1980s with annual revenues of $2.8 billion. By 1990 their yearly revenues had more than tripled to $9.5 billion. The company had climbed from 119 on the Fortune 500 to the 49th spot. Anheuser-Busch was riding high on years of successful ad campaigns that had burnished its brand.
For most of its history, SeaWorld focused on its educational image. There was some question as to whether an entertainment focused company like Busch Entertainment Corporation would change SeaWorld. It’s difficult now in the time of instant access to the internet to remember how (just a few years ago) people were dependent on books and magazines for new information. To see images of wildlife or ocean animals, schools would actually show videocassettes or filmstrips to students. On TV there were a few animal themed shows and on public television there was Jacques Cousteau and Shark Week. SeaWorld allowed its guests to see animals up close. SeaWorld thrived in this environment.
Anheuser-Busch already owned and operated two parks, including its animal themed park in Tampa Bay Florida. This combination of SeaWorld with an operator like Anheuser-Busch seemed to make sense to shareholders. Also, Disney and Universal were building new theme parks in the middle of the state and there was risk that less people would be making the trip to Tampa Bay. Acquiring Orlando’s SeaWorld dealt Anheuser-Busch back in the game.
This was the time that I worked at SeaWorld in Ohio, so I know this period best. When I started at the park, there was still a glut of Harcourt Brace Jovanvich educational ocean books on the shelves in the stores. Soon, Anheuser-Busch announced that they would be making a $40 million investment in SeaWorld overall. What this meant for SeaWorld of Ohio was the construction of a new Shark Encounter attraction.
The high point came in either 1991 or 1992 (there’s no public record), when August Busch IV make a trip to SeaWorld of Ohio. It was like readying for a presidential visit. Every part of the park was put in top form. Busch flew in and spent a few hours at the park with his young son, taking in a show, and leaving later in the day.
Things looked promising for SeaWorld of Ohio.