Former Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment CEO Scott O’Neil has been named the new CEO of U.K.-based Merlin Entertainments, the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator, whose extensive portfolio includes 10 Legoland theme parks.
O’Neil, who will succeed retiring CEO Nick Varney, will assume the role Nov. 15. And what a job it will be.
O’Neil will be responsible for overseeing the business operations and global growth for Merlin Entertainments across its 147 attractions in 24 countries. In addition to the Legoland parks, the company has six resort theme parks, including Alton Towers, Heide Park and Gardaland, as well as a vibrant 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 officials said the company is continuing to expand, with three Legoland Resorts in China under development and further openings planned across the U.S. and Asia.
O’Neil, who stepped down from his role at HBSE at the end of the second quarter in 2021, said he is eager to get going.
“I am thrilled to be joining the Merlin family,” he said. “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.”
Merlin Entertainments Chair Roland Hernandez said O’Neil is a perfect fit.
“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,” he said. “The board has every confidence in him, and we look forward to working closely together over the coming years.
O’Neil has a long history in the sports and entertainment business. At HBSE, he oversaw more than $2 billion in growth in enterprise value as the company expanded from a single team, the Philadelphia 76ers, to an award-winning live sports and entertainment group.
HBSE now spans multiple professional teams, including the New Jersey Devils, real estate holdings, an esports platform, a GRAMMY Museum, a Top 10 internationally booked arena in the Prudential Center, a venture fund, innovation lab and Elevate — a sports marketing company.
Shortly before leaving, O’Neil released a widely proclaimed book, “Be Where Your Feet Are: Seven Principles to Keep You Present, Grounded and Thriving” — a heartfelt and tough-love look at work-life balance while being a top executive.
O’Neil offered a salute to his predecessor at Merlin as he looked to the future.
“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,” he said. “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.”