Apax & JP Morgan sell Merlin to secondary buyout

Apax and JP Morgan Partners have sold their stake in Merlin Entertainments in a secondary buyout backed by Hermes Private Equity. The deal was valued at £72.5m.

Merlin Entertainments is an attraction operator, which owns the popular Dungeons and Sea Life.

The attractions business was originally formed in 1998 when Apax and JP Morgan Partners acquired the attractions division of Vardon in a £47m leveraged buyout. The division acquired included 23 sea life centres and the London and York dungeons. Following the disposal of its attractions business Vardon was renamed Cannons and was itself the subject of a leveraged buyout backed by Royal Bank Private Equity in 2001.

Under Apax and JP Morgan Partners’ ownership, Merlin has doubled its cult Dungeon chain to four sites, the latest in Hamburg. The Sea Life brand has been relaunched with eight smaller UK sites sold and new centres opened in Europe including Disneyland Paris, Helsinki, Dortmund and most recently Berlin. Merlin now has 24 major attractions across Europe welcoming 5 million visitors annually. This dynamic growth has also seen EBITDA over the period rise by 34%.

Merlin executive Nick Varney, said: “Hermes Private Equity is a very suitable partner to build on the company’s success and ensure our continued expansion. We are delighted to have been able to complete a deal that secures our growth strategy, and believe this is positive news for everyone involved.”