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“Brand Challenges” Are Impacting SeaWorld’s Bottom Line

The company released its second-quarter earnings Thursday as it continues efforts to repair its image.

“Brand Challenges” Are Impacting SeaWorld’s Bottom Line
[Photo: Flickr user Kelley Minars]

SeaWorld released its second-quarter earnings to the public Thursday morning, and the numbers show a company still trying to overcome significant PR backlash in the wake of the 2013 documentary Blackfish.

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SeaWorld’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) decreased by $14.7 million over the past year, which the company partially attributed to increased marketing costs associated with its ongoing “reputation campaign.” A decline of 1.6% in overall attendance was also explained by “continued brand challenges in California”–as well as record rainfall in San Antonio, Texas and the awkward timing of the Easter holiday. The company reported revenue of $391.6 million for Q2 2015, a decrease of 3% ($13.5 million) from the same quarter in 2014.

SeaWorld president and CEO Joel Manby expressed optimism that the company’s fortunes would change in the second half of the year, citing new attractions as well as concentrated efforts to “improve animal habitats,” including the expansion of its orca tanks in San Diego.

To say that SeaWorld has been experiencing “brand challenges” is putting it lightly. Since the 2013 release of Blackfish,, which strongly critiqued SeaWorld’s treatment of its orcas, the theme park company has struggled with declining attendance and revenue, negative headlines, celebrity condemnations and nearly constant trolling on social media.

To try and turn things around, the company launched a $10 million marketing and reputation campaign earlier this year. Those efforts include ads in print and on television, as well as a concerted online effort to shed some light on the ethical questions surrounding what SeaWorld does. The company has also tried to discredit some of its critics, such as former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove, sometimes through ethically questionable smear tactics.

So far, Manby–who just joined the company four months ago–has refused to consider releasing its orcas, claiming that doing so would expose the animals to new danger. Animal rights activists, meanwhile, have only increased their calls for SeaWorld to release them.

SeaWorld’s year isn’t necessarily a lost cause yet. Althought its net income dropped 85% from the same period last year, the true test will come during the third quarter, which is typically SeaWorld’s peak season of the year.

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