SeaWorld Loses Another One

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Shamu at Seaworld, Texas
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SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) has big plans to get its turnstiles clicking in the right direction, but first it needs to stop its guests and partners from defecting. Baylor University became the latest big name to distance itself from the struggling theme park operator.

The Baylor Alumni Network has decided to forgo its annual summer outing to SeaWorld San Antonio, opting instead for Six Flags (SIX) Fiesta Texas. Corporate and group outings get bounced around, but the alum-networking organization is vocal about the venue shift.

Smith Getterman, the Texas university's assistant director of sustainability and special projects, has been trying to get the venue changed since last year, concerned that SeaWorld's practice of keeping killer whales in captivity and having them perform runs afoul of the Baptist university's preachings.

"We firmly believe all that we talk and preach here, in the Office of Sustainability about caring for creation," he told Baylor's student newspaper. "That means the beasts of the land, the birds of the air and the fish in the sea or in this case mammals."

Getterman approached the university's director of future alumni, young grad and social/global outreach with the idea to move the event from SeaWorld, sending along copies of the "Blackfish" and "The Cove" documentaries that depict the dark side of orcas and dolphins at marine life parks.

It did the trick, and the park operator that is already suffering from back-to-back years of attendance declines finds itself once again having to defend its marine life environment and entertainment practices.

Splash Zone

This isn't the first time that SeaWorld has seen a seemingly lucrative partnership disintegrate in light of backlash following 2013's "Blackfish" release. Activists persuaded several musical acts to bow out of a SeaWorld music festival last year, and everyone from the Miami Dolphins to Southwest have decided not to renew partnerships with the now controversial theme park operator.

The timing is ironic. SeaWorld just hired a new CEO known for his Christian roots. Joel Manby even wrote a book -- "Love Works." -- that implores company executives to use Christian values to devise leadership schemes to improve working relationships. Manby starred in "Undercover Boss" five years ago when he was CEO of the parent company of Dollywood and Silver Dollar City. However, it doesn't seem as if Manby and Getterman are on the same page here as to what SeaWorld can do to better align itself with activists calling for an end to the whale shows that have become the chain's staple offering for decades.

SeaWorld has done the right thing in bringing in an outsider CEO, and now it's rolling out ads attacking what it believes are inaccuracies in activist arguments. Unfortunately it doesn't appear to be enough.

SeaWorld has been battling left-leaning activists that have grown louder as "Blackfish" reaches a widening audience. Now it has attracted the ire of a right-leaning religiously affiliated university group. It's getting pretty tight in the middle at SeaWorld, but activists will argue that it's just the way that the orcas feel in their restrictive tanks.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.
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