November 14, 2022 — Merlin Entertainments today announced the appointment of Scott M. O’Neil, a 25-year veteran of the sports and entertainment industry, as Chief Executive Officer, effective November 15, 2022. O’Neil will be responsible for overseeing the business operations and global growth for Merlin Entertainments across its 147 attractions in 24 countries. O’Neil’s appointment comes following outgoing CEO Nick Varney’s decision to retire after 23 years.
Merlin’s attractions include 10 LEGOLAND Resort Theme Parks and hotels, six Resort Theme Parks including Alton Towers, Heide Park and Gardaland, as well as a portfolio of renowned global brands in city destinations, such as SEA LIFE aquariums, Madame Tussauds, Peppa Pig World of Play, the Lastminute.com London Eye and Sydney Tower Eye. Merlin is continuing to expand, with three LEGOLAND Resorts in China under development and further openings planned across the US and Asia.
O’Neil was most recently CEO for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE), a portfolio of sports, entertainment, and investment properties, where he oversaw more than $2bn growth in enterprise value, from $415m to $2.5bn, through his focus on talent, culture, and guest experience.
Under O’Neil’s leadership, HBSE evolved from managing a single team, the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association, to an award-winning live sports and entertainment group. It now spans multiple professional teams, real estate holdings, an esports platform, a GRAMMY Museum, a top 10 internationally booked arena, a venture fund, innovation lab and Elevate, a growing sports marketing company.
O’Neil has led some of the top athletic brands in the world, including New York Knicks – NBA, New York Rangers – NHL, Philadelphia Eagles – NFL and the Philadelphia 76ers – NBA, where success is predicated on building the brand, driving attendance, leveraging data, engaging fans through the guest experience and partnering with big brands to drive growth.
“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,” says Roland Henandez, Chair of Merlin Entertainments. “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.”
“I am thrilled to be joining the Merlin family,” says O’Neil. “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. I have been impressed by the talent, energy and dedication of the people at Merlin that I’ve met so far and am looking forward to working with the wider team to deliver on the exciting growth strategy.”
“I am very proud of what we have achieved at Merlin over the past 23 years,” says Nick Varney, retiring Chief Executive Officer. “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.”