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Merlin appoints new CEO

Top US sports impresario picked to head up global entertainment group

Merlin Entertainments has announced the appointment of 25-year sports and entertainment industry veteran Scott M. O’Neil as Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately.

Mr O’Neil will be responsible for overseeing the business operations and global growth for Merlin Entertainments across its 147 attractions in 24 countries including Australia and New Zealand. 

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Merlin operates 10 attractions on both sides of the Tasman including SEA LIFE Aquariums, Madame Tussauds Sydney, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo and LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Melbourne.

Mr O’Neil’s appointment comes following outgoing CEO Nick Varney’s decision to retire after 23 years. 

Prior to his appointment, Mr O’Neil was most recently CEO for US-based 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 his 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 also 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.

Commenting on the appointment, Chair of Merlin Entertainments,  Roland Hernandez said Mr O’Neill 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.

“The Board has every confidence in him, and we look forward to working closely together over the coming years,” he said.

 Mr O’Neill said he was thrilled to be joining the Merlin family.

“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,” he said.

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