Anthony Esparza has stepped down as Chief Creative Officer, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, a position he had held since September 2015. The announcement came March 1, 2018, less than a week after the departure of CEO Joel Manby, with John Reilly being named interim CEO. Esparza had joined SeaWorld shortly after Manby took the helm and had previously been part of Manby’s team at Herschend Entertainment, as SVP, Guest Experiences, Design + Development.
Interview by InPark editor Judith Rubin
How do things stand now between you and SeaWorld?
I’m leaving on great terms and continue to be a super fan. There was inspiration and purpose behind what we were doing and what we were setting up. I feel positive about my time at SeaWorld; I helped stabilize a very tough situation (post “Blackfish”) and initiate cool initiatives to help take SeaWorld into the future.
Photo at top: Anthony Esparza spoke at the 2016 TEA Summit in his former role as CCO, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Photo by Chris Chien for TEA; provided courtesy TEA.
What are some of those cool initiatives?
They included the establishment of great master plans to help map out where new attractions would be, and a new heart for design and guest experience development in the company. We took attraction development into new technologies as represented by Kraken VR coaster, Orca 360 and Battle for Eire. I helped to expand some horizons.
What are some other things you’re proud of from your time at SeaWorld?
Helping the company refine its voice to better tell its story – particularly the story of SeaWorld’s rescue efforts. Our group partnered with the marketing team; I helped craft the new Park to Planet initiative that was driven by the CMO, Denise Godreau. We also launched a very robust event initiative to build in more reasons for guests to come back, and extend their stay, with big events like Electric Ocean, at all SeaWorld parks.
At the foundation of all this is one of the accomplishments I am most proud of: the establishment of SeaWorld’s creative arm, Deep Blue Creative. That brought together attractions, entertainment, media and new business development together under one umbrella and in one place. They had been all different departments, but as Deep Blue Creative, they became a team. Setting up Deep Blue Creative involved restructuring in regard to who was in charge, how the business was run, and project workflow. This brought a new creative spirit to the way SeaWorld functions – all the creative people doing these things brought together in one location, aligned around the company goals, communicating and collaborating. The founding of Deep Blue Creative set a strong foundation for new ventures such as the new park in Abu Dhabi, and it revitalized programs such as Sesame Workshop.
Can you comment on Joel Manby’s departure in connection with your own?
When there is a change in leadership – as with Joel – there are often other changes in the team. I wish the company all the best. SeaWorld has a great team. Joel is a great leader, and he did a really tough job for the company for several years. It was time to pass it on to somebody else. It was a very intense time; he did a lot of heavy lifting, and he did a good job of it.
You’ve been a part of this industry since the 1980s. What are some of the things you brought to the table at SeaWorld from your decades of experience?
I brought a creative spirit that connected people, and an eye for recognizing talented people and bringing them onto our team or into the company, and both those things will serve SeaWorld well into the future. I brought energy and excitement and a fresh viewpoint that helped the company see that it could become something different, fresh, and entrepreneurial. We helped SeaWorld explore some pretty big boundaries. I’m a builder: I was brought in to bring a vision for what could be, and we did that. They have some excellent plans in their hands now.
I see my past roles in three chapters. First, an intense time of learning and doing on a range of great projects for various parks and attractions, including some at Universal Studios and in Las Vegas. Second, my time with Paramount [eight years with Paramount Parks/VIACOM as SVP, Design and Entertainment] provided a great grounding in working with story-driven IPs such as Nickelodeon, helping double the value of the company before it was sold. Third, my time with Herschend [12 years]. There, I learned the voice of middle America, what a strong culture can do in a company, and how to apply being kind-hearted to what you do in design to touch people’s hearts. All of that was my school for SeaWorld, and I used every part of it: working on projects that had clear stories, driving innovation on rides and expressing the culture of rescue and taking care of our Earth and animals.
What’s next for Anthony Esparza?
I’m going to continue to be a cheerleader for our industry. I love it, I love the people and companies and organizations we work with, and will continue to be involved.
Right now, I’m going to recharge my creative mind and connect with family for a bit, and then kick back into gear later in the year. I can be found on LinkedIn…