Joel Manby CEO Sea World Entertainment

SeaWorld CEO steps down amid falling attendance

The troubles continue for SeaWorld Entertainment. In a surprising announcement from SeaWorld Entertainment, Chief Executive Joel Manby is set to down from the role of CEO of the parks, a role he has held since May 2015.

Joel Manby was hired as to replace Jim Atchison as CEO who stepped down amid a firestorm of criticism surrounding the documentary, “Blackfish.” The documentary kicked-off a chain of events that the three SeaWorld parks have been unable to overcome. Attendance and revenue for the parks continue to decline albeit at a slower pace as of late.

It’s not known whether the company applied pressure forcing Manby’s resignation but in a recent earnings call, SeaWorld Chairman Yoshikazu Maruyama praised all of the hard work that had been done over the past years.

“Joel truly is an inspirational leader. He has big vision and big ideas… I think he believes he has trained and mentored a large group of management members here. He feels there is significant bench strength and it is time to give them the opportunity to exert their leadership. He would not do so in an environment in which the business was confronted with adversity.”

Maruyama heads the American operation for Zhonghong Group, the Chinese company that purchased Blackstone Group’s 21% stake in SeaWorld last year.

Changing Focus Towards Education

Over the nearly three years that Joel Manby was CEO, he made great strides in adding new rides, experiences and a renewed sense of education mixed with entertainment. Manby championed many of the recent educational focused shows and programs park-goers love.

Sea World San Diego Oiled Wildlife Care Center

This winter, Sea World San Diego hosted “Inside Look,” a chance for guests to go behind the scenes of the animal rehabilitation centers. It also opened its doors to  numerous learning opportunities centered around the park’s animals and how SeaWorld cares for them. In 2017, SeaWorld unveiled the all new killer whale show, “Orca Encounter.” After over two decades of visiting SeaWorld parks across the country, I believe Orca Encounter is one of the best shows that the park has produced since the mandate of no trainers in the water with the whales.

All of these are great examples of how they are making strong efforts to not only entertain but educate.

Not everyone is pleased with these changes. Hardcore SeaWorld fans have voiced disapproval to the decision to stop the orca breeding program. Many of these fans believed Manby was sacrificing what made SeaWorld great to appease its critics.

Joel Manby’s Impact on SeaWorld’s Bottom Line

Despite changes, SeaWorld attendance fell 3% during the 2017 Q4 with revenues down 1% compared with the same period 2016 Q4.

But it isn’t all bad news. SeaWorld Entertainment saw an overall increases in season pass sales. SeaWorld San Diego, hit hardest by recent scandals, saw a increase in attendance and revenue per visitor by 2%.

New Leadership at SeaWorld

Sea World Entertainment announced that Chief Operations Officer John T. Reilly would become the interim chief executive.

“The board agreed that this transition plan is the right approach to advance the company’s progress and create value for all our important stakeholders.”
– Donald Robinson, SeaWorld lead independent director.

SeaWorld has hired an executive search firm to help it find a successor to Manby.

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