If the Blackfish documentary is hurting SeaWorld's attendance, the theme park operator would be pained to admit it.
SeaWorld Entertainment, the subject of much adverse publicity because of the Blackfish documentary last year, saw a 13% decline in attendance at its theme parks in the first quarter, and this was the primary driver behind an 11% drop in revenue to $212.3 million.
In its earnings announcement, SeaWorld did not cite Blackfish as a factor in the attendance drop, and attributed the fall in attendance to the shift of Easter into the second quarter, and adverse weather in Florida and Texas.
In an earnings call with analysts, the word “Blackfish” wasn’t uttered, but there was a question about the impact of the “noise” in California, a reference to a bill in the California State Assembly that would have banned orca shows. The bill didn’t go anywhere during the legislative session, but caused a stir.
SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Jim Atchison acknowledged during the earnings call May 14 that “negative publicity for your brand is never good,” but he added that he was satisfied with the company’s “truth” campaign, detailing its view that it safely cares for its animals.
Atchison said he was pleased how the legislative effort turned out. “We are looking more forward than back, and are pleased,” he said.
SeaWorld saw its adjusted EBITDA decline to a loss of $15.8 million, down from a $11.1 million gain a year earlier. The company’s net loss increased 22% to $49.4 million during the quarter, which ended March 31.
The theme park operator missed analysts’ estimates on adjusted EBITDA and revenue.
During the same period, Disney reported higher attendance at Disneyland Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, but lower attendance at Disneyland Paris.
SeaWorld has been adamant about portraying Blackfish as having little adverse impact on attendance. In the fourth quarter of 2013, SeaWorld notched record attendance in a seasonally slow quarter.
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Photo credit: Visitors are greeted by an Orca killer whale as they attend a show featuring the whales during a visit to the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California. Mike Blake / Reuters