UPDATE: SeaWorld Will Likely Face Civil Charges for Allegedly Violating Securities Laws
Update: SeaWorld is facing a shareholder lawsuit and a criminal investigation conducted by the Justice Department, and—as disclosed yesterday—the abusement park will likely face civil charges, too, according to reports.
— Jeffrey Ventre (@jeffrey_ventre) April 13, 2018
A week ago, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., received an enforcement notification called a Wells notice from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) concerning “certain disclosures and public statements made by the company and certain individuals on or before August 2014,” as reported by Bloomberg. Despite lost sponsorships, falling revenue and stock value, and a decrease in attendance, SeaWorld executives allegedly falsely maintained that the hard-hitting documentary Blackfish was not taking a substantial, negative toll on the park’s attendance and bottom line. Now, the flailing company is once again facing legal punishment for its purported deception.
Originally posted on November 10, 2017:
As a group of shareholders pursue a lawsuit against SeaWorld claiming that the company deceived investors about the substantial effect that Blackfish was having on its revenue and the U.S. Department of Justice continues with its criminal fraud investigation, several internal company e-mails are coming to light.
One such e-mail was sent by then–Vice President of Communications Fred Jacobs to another public relations staff member after SeaWorld saw Willie Nelson announce on CNN that he was canceling his scheduled performance at the park. “This whole f***ing thing pisses me off,” Jacobs wrote. “What relentless amateurism we’ve shown in booking these f***ing people and managing the whole f***ing chocolate mess. All of this could have easily been avoided.” He closed the message with “God, we look like idiots.”
Other e-mails show that executives were sharing a confidential spreadsheet titled “Lost Blackfish Revenue” nearly eight months before they finally admitted to investors that the documentary was having an impact.
And further correspondence makes it clear that SeaWorld employees were told to try to rig an online poll about the company. The Orlando Sentinel had created a poll to ask readers if Blackfish was affecting their view of the company. Then–Public Relations Director Nick Gollattscheck sent an e-mail to several employees saying, “The Sentinel poll is still running. … Let’s keep flooding it. … Have also heard if you click ‘no,’ then click on ‘vote’ multiple times, it will count multiple votes. Like a hundred or so.”
With the release of these e-mails, it seems that Jacobs hit the nail on the head with his description of how the world views SeaWorld. And its latest earnings report shows further declines in attendance and revenue, as decent people the world over realize that other animals are not here for our entertainment.