Merlin Entertainments’ new chief executive is former boss of NBA team

THE Dorset business behind many of the world’s biggest leisure attractions has named the former boss of a National Basketball Association team as its next chief executive.

Poole-based Merlin Entertainments – which owns Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds, Legoland and Thorpe Park – said Scott M O’Neil would take over in the job on Tuesday, November 15.

Mr O’Neil resigned last year as chief executive of the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment (HBSE).

He takes over from Merlin chief executive Nick Varney, who announced in April that he would step down after 23 years with the company.

Merlin, headquartered at Poole’s Link House, runs more than 140 attractions, 23 hotels and six holiday villages across 24 countries, including Chessington World of Adventures, Peppa Pig World, the London Eye, Blackpool Tower, Warwick Castle, and the London Dungeon.

Mr O’Neil saw HBSE’s portfolio of sports, entertainment and investment properties grow by more than £2billion in enterprise value, to £2.5bn. The company went from managing a single team to becoming a live sports and entertainment group.

Merlin Entertainments chair Roland Hernandez said: “Scott has significant experience in the entertainment industry, a proven track-record of delivering business transformation, and the vision and ambition to lead Merlin through the next exciting stages of its global development.

“The board has every confidence in him, and we look forward to working closely together over the coming years.

“I would like to reiterate the Group’s thanks to Nick for his outstanding leadership of Merlin Entertainments over the last 23 years. Merlin is one of the best leisure businesses in the world thanks to his leadership, passion, and talent and we wish him all the best in his retirement.”

Mr O’Neil said: “I am thrilled to be joining the Merlin family. There is an extraordinarily talented management team, a driven, ambitious, hardworking, team centric, can-do culture, and a board led by KIRKBI, Blackstone and CPPIB which is committed and focused on growth and driving value.

“Merlin partners with some of the top global brands including Lego, Sony Pictures Entertainment and HASBRO and is a business with phenomenal tailwinds, whose purpose is to bring joy and make lasting memories for families and friends around the world.

“Nick has built an incredible business and achieved unprecedented growth in this industry and yet there are still tremendous upside opportunities ahead to continue the momentum. We are actively building and searching for new attractions and sites. We are fortunate in that we are not constrained to a single studio or content pipeline and are seeking additional brand partners to redefine the attractions business. Merlin will also aggressively look to expand our offerings and experiences in our current attractions.”

Nick Varney said: “I am very proud of what we have achieved at Merlin over the past 23 years. We have built an incredible business with amazing attractions and brilliant people. I have every confidence that Merlin will go from strength to strength under Scott’s leadership over the coming years.”

Bournemouth Echo | News