• SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby departs as company's losses widen

    By: Jeff Deal , Kelly Healey

    Updated:

    ORLANDO, Fla. - SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. is posting a fourth-quarter loss of $20.4 million and said Tuesday that CEO Joel Manby is stepping down.

     

    John Reilly, the chief parks operations officer, will take over on an interim basis.

     

    The SeaWorld parks have struggled with their image since the controversial documentary "Blackfish" put a spotlight on their killer whale shows.

     

    The controversy has hurt ticket sales.

     

    It's a trend SeaWorld has been dealing with ever since activists started attacking the theme park for the treatment of killer whales.

     

    Watch: Manatee stuck in storm drain in Jacksonville

     

    At one time, the killer whale shows were a hit, and Shamu was the face of SeaWorld.

     

    But times have changed.

               

    Theme park stock analyst Rick Munarriz said he has seen the theme park battle a four-year slump.

     

    "SeaWorld is clearly struggling. By SeaWorld, I mean the SeaWorld chain; the SeaWorld brand," Munarriz said.

                           

    Scrutiny on the killer whales has forced SeaWorld to end the performances.

     

    SeaWorld has animal rehab programs that are featured weekly on television, but that hasn't been enough.

     

    Read: SeaWorld releases manatee into the wild after rescue

     

    "It's very hard to be saying, 'We're the good guys,’ when so many people think we're the bad guys," Munarriz said.

     

    On a per-share basis, the Orlando company had a loss of 24 cents, which is worse than the per-share loss of 18 cents that Wall Street had expected, according to Zacks Investment Research.

     

    Quarterly revenue of $265.5 million beat out analyst projections for $260.1 million.

     

    Annual losses widened to $202.4 million, or $2.36 per share. Revenue was $1.26 billion.

     

    Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment rose about 2 percent before the opening bell Tuesday, and Munarriz said that is because investors think the company might sell.

     

    But it isn't all bad news.

     

    Even though attendance is down nearly 3 percent, profits are only down 1 percent, which means guests are spending more money.

     

    Also, SeaWorld officials said trends are showing an increase in ticket sales the first part of 2018.

     

    "SeaWorld is doing some things right, but clearly not enough," Munarriz said.

     

    Munarriz said other parks, such as Busch Gardens, are doing well. He said he expects the parks will continue to move toward more rides and experiences and away from animal acts.

     

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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