LONDON: Britain’s Merlin Entertainments, owner of Madame Tussauds waxworks and the London Eye Ferris wheel, was snapped up Friday by Lego’s Danish parent Kirkbi for £5.9 billion (US$7.5 billion) including debt.
Kirkbi, the investment vehicle of Lego’s Danish founding family, said in a statement that it will purchase the entertainment and theme park company in a consortium alongside US private equity group Blackstone and Canadian pension fund CPPIB. The equity value of the deal is £5.0 billion.
Kirkbi already owns almost 30% of Merlin following the sale of Legoland Parks to the London-listed group in 2005.
“Merlin is a global leader in location based, family entertainment, with a unique portfolio of brands and attractions spanning 25 countries and four continents, and with a proven strategy that has delivered over many years,” said Merlin chairman John Sunderland.
He added: “The Merlin independent directors believe this offer represents an opportunity for Merlin shareholders to realise value for their investment in cash at an attractive valuation.
“We are therefore unanimously recommending it to our shareholders.”
The consortium offered 455 pence per share in cash for Merlin, which also owns popular theme parks Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventure in Britain, Gardaland in Italy and Heide Park in Germany.
That marked a significant premium to the stock’s closing level on Thursday of 395 pence.
The news, confirming overnight media reports, sent Merlin’s share price soaring 14% to just below the offer price at 450.30 pence, in Friday morning deals on London’s rising second-tier FTSE 250 index.
Kirkbi chief executive Soren Thorup Sorensen said the acquisition would enable the combined group to enter a new growth phase.
“With a shared understanding of the business and its culture, we believe that this group of investors has the unique collective resources necessary to equip Merlin … for their next phase of growth.
“We are committed to ensuring Legoland and the other activities in Merlin reach their full potential, which we believe is best pursued under private ownership, in order to deliver fantastic experiences to visitors of all ages around the world,” he said.
Merlin was founded in 1999 and floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2013.
The British group booked sales of £1.65 billion in 2018, when it welcomed a total of 67 million visitors to its popular tourist attractions around the world.
Kirkbi, which is backed by Denmark’s billionaire Kiristiansen family, owns a controlling 75% stake in iconic toy giant Lego.
“As the long-term owner of the Lego brand and as a strategic shareholder in Merlin since 2005, we have great pride and passion for this amazing company, its management team and its employees,” added Sorensen on Friday.