Fitch Ratings said on Friday that leisure and entertainment companies can see risks to their reputation over animal welfare concerns, and incidents involving animals can lead to a credit profile deterioration as companies change their business models to deal with problems.
“Animal welfare issues can expose companies in the US leisure and entertainment-related sectors to reputational and brand risk that can cause revenue and cash flow volatility not associated with normal seasonality in the business,” the agency said in a note Friday.
Fitch cited SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) as a well-known example of animal welfare issues bringing risks as the company’s attendance declined against industry trends after the 2013 release of ‘Blackfish,’ a documentary about captive killer whales. The film focused on Tilikum, a whale that killed several people in captivity and died in 2017, according to the movie’s website.
“Negative publicity from the documentary contributed to mid-single digit attendance declines from 2013 to 2014, while most other theme-park operators showed healthy demand trends,” Fitch said. “Lingering effects from the negative publicity drove a further 7% cumulative attendance decline over the 2015-2017 timeframe.”
It’s not always that animal welfare concerns affect perceptions of a company. Fitch cited Churchill Downs (CHDN) as saying wagering on the Kentucky Derby went up 10% year-on-year, even though the race was held just a few months after the temporary shutdown of the Santa Anita racetrack in March because of race horse deaths.
Santa Anita, in California, is owned by the Stronach Group, which is headed by former Canadian lawmaker Belinda Stronach, the daughter of Frank Stronach, who founded auto-parts giant Magna International (MGA).
“Adverse events at horse tracks can have indirect effects on other tracks, including a decline in walk-up attendance potentially resulting in losses of concession sales, and to a much smaller extent, wagering revenue,” Fitch said. “However, any such attendance declines, though susceptible to negative media coverage or public perceptions, would likely only affect a racetrack’s casual, noncore racing patrons.”
Still, tracks could be affected if occurrences at a single site lead a state horse-racing governing body to change rules and regulations, and that could affect wagering revenue in the short term, Fitch said.
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