At least three analysts think the worst is over for SeaWorld.
Attendance at the animal theme park has plummeted since CNN aired the “Blackfish” documentary in 2013 that showed controversial treatment of Orcas.
In a note on Wednesday, Credit Suisse analysts wrote that consumers’ feelings about the company are near a turning point:
“After lengthy negative publicity around SeaWorld driven by Blackfish (and slow response from former management), we believe brand sentiment is bottoming. Our survey work suggests that while negative, online consumer sentiment appears to be stabilizing. If SEAS can start generating a positive consumer buzz and convey to customers that it’s “ok” to visit SeaWorld, this should translate into pricing, attendance, and margin growth.”
The analysts maintained their “Overweight” rating on the stock, with a 12-month price target of $US27.
On Wednesday morning, shares were trading down less than 1% at around $US20.12.
Credit Suisse’s survey analysed the sentiment in online comments about SeaWorld. The big caveat with this type of research, they noted, is that not everyone who attends SeaWorld reviews their experience on the internet, and people who do are more likely to have not had a great time.
However, it is still an “uphill climb” for the brand, the analysts wrote. Apart from the publicity from “Blackfish,” the company has been plagued by poor weather, sudden ticket price hikes, and growing competition from Disney and Universal Studios, according to the analysts.
They noted that SeaWorld has embarked on an aggressive PR campaign to clean up its image.
But one that didn’t go so well was the #AskSeaWorld campaign on Twitter in April; most of the negative feedback in the analysts’ survey came from there. The company had hoped for a regular Q&A about its animal care efforts, but people used it as a sounding board for their views.
Besides that, the analysts think the worst is over for SeaWorld.
Here’s a chart showing their research, with the amount of negative commentary falling.
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