It can’t be easy to work at SeaWorld. The brand has taken a beating over the past three years for alleged abuses to its trained orcas that was highlighted in a CNN documentary, Blackfish, and continually brought up by PETA. A lawsuit was filed this year claiming that SeaWorld’s marketing is misleading, and there is the allegation that SeaWorld planted a spy at animal-rights protests. Stories like that can make it harder for employees to put on the uniform and show up each day.
One piece of good news SeaWorld has gotten recently is from Credit Suisse, which predicts the brand may be ready for a comeback, Business Insider reports. “We believe two events were the main contributors to the 400% spike in mentions and 13% increase in negative commentary month-over-month,” said Credit Suisse. “Namely, 1) allegations that a SeaWorld employee acted as an undercover member of activist group PETA and 2) One Direction lead singer, Harry Styles, urged all of his fans to boycott SeaWorld during a concert in San Diego.” Of course, the same analysts had said the same thing in June: Things are looking up! And then everything went south for the brand.
Negative commentary online about SeaWorld has started to fall. The ratio of positive to negative online comments was at -68 percent in July, down 28 percent since the prior month. SeaWorld has got to hope that Styles doesn’t bring the subject up again anytime soon.
All this negativity is killing the brand’s financial standing. In 2012, it had a $74.2 million profit. Last year, it was down to $49.9 million. Its stock has fallen from a high of $38.88 in 2013 to below $18. On the attendance front, SeaWorld in California turnstiles saw 12 percent less movement while SeaWorld Orlando dropped 8 percent, according to TheDodo.com.
SeaWorld claims, of course, that it is doing all it can to fix up its brand profile. “We recognized that fully resolving our brand challenges in California will require sustained focus and commitment,” SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said at the company’s last quarterly earnings call. “Let me assure you that we remain steadfast in our efforts to overcome these challenges and to improve the performance of the company.”
SeaWorld has been in fix-it mode, hiring a new management team and launching a “brand-rehabilitation campaign” this spring. A “new strategic vision” is expected in November. It has also put $10 million toward research and conservation for orcas. Credit Suisse compared the rehab to Carnival’s efforts after its Concordia crashed and Tylenol after some of its bottles were laced with cyanide.
SeaWorld is apparently also hoping the government can help it out of its mess. It has spent 68 percent more on lobbying this year than it did last year, according to the Associated Press. So far this year, the brand has put down $140,000 for lobbying in California, where there is a movement to ban orca shows and breeding.
So far SeaWorld hasn’t seen any real change in public response so animal-rights activists will keep up the drumbeat. Just this week, “Jackass” star Steve-O got himself into big obbegal trouble for climbing up a crane in Los Angeles and setting off fireworks, the LA Times reports.
A slew of police and fire personnel showed up and he could face a year and a half in jail plus a barrel full of fines. Glover (Steve-O’s actual last name) did the whole thing while wearing a “Blackfish” T-shirt and toting an inflatable orca he calls Shammy to make his continuing anti-SeaWorld stunts known. The 41-year-old got into trouble last year for climbing up onto a freeway sign in San Diego and attaching the word “sucks” after the words “SeaWorld.”