ORLANDO -- SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. posted record sales and profits during the third quarter, the company said Wednesday, buoyed by higher prices and strong performances at its namesake marine parks.
The Orlando-based theme-park owner said net income ballooned 30 percent from the same period a year ago, jumping from $92 million to $120 million. Total revenue rose 3 percent to $538 million.
"The third quarter is an extremely important period for our company as the summer travel season accounts for a significant portion of our full year revenue and earnings. Given that, I am pleased to announce record results..." SeaWorld President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Atchison said in a prepared statement. "We remain on track to finish our third straight year of record revenues and earnings with significant free cash flow growth."
The company, which owns 11 parks across the U.S., said its SeaWorld-branded marine parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio drove the growth.
Chain-wide attendance fell 3.6 percent, slipping from 9.2 million during last year's third quarter to 8.9 million.
But SeaWorld said much of the drop was the result of a strategic choice to charge higher prices and steer ticket sales through more profitable channels. The higher margins more than made up for smaller crowds, as the company's admission revenue per guest leapt 9.1 percent, from $35.19 per visitor to $38.38 per visitor.
In-park spending on food, souvenirs and experiences rose 3.5 percent, from $21.61 per visitor to $22.36 per visitor, on higher prices and a wider array of product offerings.
The company also said attendance trends have improved in recent months. The sharpest declines occurred in July, when attendance dipped 5.7 percent, hampered by adverse weather. But SeaWorld said attendance was down 1.8 percent combined in August and September as the weather improved and that it was "comparable" with a year ago in October, the first month of the fourth quarter.
SeaWorld executives will hold a conference call to discuss the results beginning at 5 p.m.
The earnings report caps an extremely busy week for SeaWorld.
Company lawyers appeared before a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, on Tuesday in their long-running battle with the workplace-safety regulators over whether animal trainers should be allowed to perform in close contact with the company's killer whales.
Meanwhile, SeaWorld announced details of a new water slide coming to its Aquatica water park in Orlando. And the critical documentary "Blackfish" -- which chronicles the history of the SeaWorld Orlando whale that killed its trainer in Febru
ary 2010, the tragedy that triggered the legal fight with the federal government -- was released on DVD.
Finally, SeaWorld added a top executive from Hasbro Inc. to its board of directors. Deborah Thomas, executive vice president and chief financial officer at the big toy manufacturer, could help SeaWorld as the company attempts to grow its fledgling consumer products business.