U.S. cable giant Comcast Corp announced Monday that it has agreed to acquire a 51 per cent stake in Osaka-based theme park operator Universal Studios Japan for $1.5 billion as part of an acceleration of its global theme park strategy.
Comcast, which owns Universal Studios through its NBC Universal unit operating Universal Studios Hollywood in California and other theme parks, said the current owners including Goldman Sachs, USJ’s CEO Glenn Gumpel, Asian private-equity firm MBK Partners and U.S. hedge fund Owl Creek Asset Management will remain as minority shareholders.
The purchase will enable Comcast NBC Universal and its Universal Parks & Resorts division to build a stronger and more direct presence in Japan while continuing to grow and evolve the theme park.
According to Comcast, the deal gives Universal Studios Japan an enterprise value of $6.2 billion.
This year, USJ had planned a Tokyo listing; however, it has become uncertain because of concerns about being crowded out by the $11.5 billion initial public offerings of Japan Post group companies in November, according to reports.
Brian Roberts, Comcast Chief Executive told reporters there were no plans for an IPO in the near term, but added a new board would take a decision on that.
The Universal Studios Japan theme park is located in Osaka and features classic Universal attractions as well as attractions and shows mainly designed for the Japanese market. It opened in 2001 as a joint venture between Osaka city and a group of private companies and was listed on the Tokyo bourse's Mothers Market for start-ups in 2007.
USJ had planned to position itself as a competitor to Tokyo Disneyland but failed to gain control. In 2009, it was delisted after grappling with falling visitor numbers and was sold to a consortium led by Goldman Sachs.
But USJ has enjoyed renewed success ever since the opening of its Wizarding World of Harry Potter in July last year as well as other attractions. It also plans to build a new theme park in Okinawa.
USJ recorded 11.8 million visitors in 2014, a 16.8 percent increase from the previous year, and a revenue boost of 44 percent. It received a record 12.7 million visitors in the fiscal year through March 2015, though that trails the 31.4 million visitors to Tokyo's Disney Resort, which includes Disneyland and DisneySea.
The deal is expected to close in the first half of November, Comcast said.