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Why do US park operators never seem to fully own their international parks?

Matt N

Well-Known Member
Hi guys. Many US theme park operators have diversified their park offerings by building theme parks abroad, with the likes of Disney & Universal in particular building many international resorts as well as their US resorts, and even the likes of Six Flags are attempting to get in on the international action. However, one thing I’ve noticed with these companies’ international projects is that the park operator in charge never seems to have full ownership, with a company local to the country either having partial or full control. Why is this?

If you’re wondering what I mean, have a few examples. I know I said US companies, but there are 1 or 2 examples from other countries too:
Disney
  • Tokyo Disney Resort: Owned and operated by The Oriental Land Company under license from Disney.
  • Disneyland Paris: Now fully owned by The Walt Disney Company, but this acquisition was not undertaken until 2017. When the park first opened, it was owned operated by Euro Disney SCA, which Disney themselves only had a 49% stake in, later reducing to 39% when a Saudi prince bought a 10% stake in 1994. I think the remaining 51% was owned by various European investors, correct me if I’m wrong; it may even have been the French government.
  • Hong Kong Disneyland: Disney only holds a 47% stake, with the remaining 53% being owned by the Hong Kong government.
  • Shanghai Disney Resort: Disney only holds a 43% stake, with the other 57% being held by Shanghai Shendi Group.
Universal
  • Universal Studios Japan: Owned and operated by USJ LLC; I’m not sure on past ownership history, but apparently Universal didn’t fully own it until 2017.
  • Universal Studios Singapore: Owned and operated by Genting Group under license from Universal.
  • Universal Studios Beijing: The exact ownership divide here is unknown, but it’s jointly owned by Universal & Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism Investment.
Six Flags
  • All Chinese properties: Owned and operated by a Chinese investor under license from Six Flags. Until recently, this was the Riverside Group, but I’m unsure who it is now.
  • Six Flags Qiddiya: Judging by the ownership information of the Qiddiya complex, I’m going to guess that it will be owned and operated by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia under license from Six Flags.
Other
  • Various proposed Paramount parks: Paramount may have owned and operated its US theme parks, however their many proposed projects overseas have never been fully owned by the company, instead being licensed to local firms.
  • PortAventura: I know I said US park operators, but even when Tussauds, a British park operator, owned PortAventura, they only ever had a 37% stake, with Anheuser-Busch taking another stake and most of it being owned by La Caixa, a Spanish investment firm. La Caixa still owned a substantial stake when Universal operated the park until they eventually took full control in 2004.
  • SeaWorld Abu Dhabi: Owned and operated by Miral under license from SeaWorld.
If any of you know why this tends to happen, I would be very intrigued to know!
 

CanobieFan

Active Member
Probably because it's cheaper to let someone else build a park and fill it with your intellectual property and pay you a licensing fee ...than you having to go out and do any work whatsoever
 

Hixee

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The way you phrased that response, @CanobieFan, has made me think about this question from a different perspective.

Are there any non-USA park operators that DON'T operate like this?
 

spicy

Active Member
Another is Warner Brothers, I believe they own 5% of Parque Warner Madrid but Australia and Abu Dhabi are completely licensed.

I guess there are two different ways this mainly happens. One way is with Euro Disney it was Disney themselves that propositioned the idea of a European park and then only financed half of it knowing they were going to get royalties on the Disney IP.

The other is the investment company approach the IP holder to build a park under their name. Once an agreement has been made the IP holder then over see the project. Sometimes taking a shareholding in the park too. Tokyo Disney was conceived this way and originally should have been Nara Dreamland.

It seems the second way is more common and is how most of those parks Matt listed were originally conceived.

And thinking about it I can’t quite believe no investment companies in Europe have approached Universal to build a European park.

I know they dabbled with Port Aventura for a couple of years but other than that, there has been nothing.

You could literally cut and paste even the Universal Singapore park and drop it in most countries in Europe and it would be a huge success. Just add more Potter and it will be a gold mine.
 

Pokemaniac

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And thinking about it I can’t quite believe no investment companies in Europe have approached Universal to build a European park.

I know they dabbled with Port Aventura for a couple of years but other than that, there has been nothing.

You could literally cut and paste even the Universal Singapore park and drop it in most countries in Europe and it would be a huge success. Just add more Potter and it will be a gold mine.
I guess the memory of EuroDisney's performance in its initial years (decades?) still lingers in fresh memory. Building a park like that is hugely expensive, and if it doesn't deliver its expected return, a ton of money will be lost.
 

Hyde

I Lied About My Age!
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TL;DR it's often cheaper/more expedient to have an outside, third-party own and operate the park, because regulations on how to operate as an American business internationally.

TL;DR of the TL;DR American companies don't want to pay taxes, and loopholes allow a separate company to operate the park more cheaply.

Also TL;DR of the TL;DR nations are way happier to give a bunch of free land and tax breaks to American companies if they work with a local company to operate the park.
 

Dar

Member
The way you phrased that response, @CanobieFan, has made me think about this question from a different perspective.

Are there any non-USA park operators that DON'T operate like this?
Merlin own and run both Legolands in the US, along with the European parks and midways, don't they? Or have I got the question back-to-front? :p
 

Hixee

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Merlin own and run both Legolands in the US, along with the European parks and midways, don't they? Or have I got the question back-to-front? :p
I think you've got the right end of the stick of what I was asking.

If Merlin do indeed own and run both USA Legolands that goes some way to implying that this isn't just the-way-it's-done globally.
 
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