SeaWorld Orlando's reopening met with new push by fans to remove board chairman Scott Ross

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PHOTO VIA SEAWORLD

After their longest closure in history, SeaWorld’s parks around the nation are beginning to reopen, including their crucial Florida parks this coming Friday. Leading up to the reopening, many have been worried about the future of the company and their jobs. Employees who are still reeling from their recent furlough are now facing uncertainty at a company in recovery mode.

This unease felt by the employees was exacerbated last week when the popular Facebook page, Stand With SeaWorld, reported that they’ve been hearing that individual employees may not be offered positions to return to the reopening parks.

The contents of the Facebook post by Stand With SeaWorld - IMAGE VIA STAND WITH SEAWORLD | FACEBOOK
  • Image via Stand With SeaWorld | Facebook
  • The contents of the Facebook post by Stand With SeaWorld

According to the post, SeaWorld's chairman of the board, Scott Ross, has been actively creating a list of employees who have spoken out against his management style with the intent of not rehiring them. The allegations paint a picture of a vindictive Ross. "Stand With SeaWorld" and the connected "I Love SeaWorld" website, are associated with Eric Davis. He helped launch a SeaWorld-backed fan site during the early days of SeaWorld’s battle with the influential documentary film Blackfish.

An image attached to the Stand With SeaWorld post that encourages an employee-driven grassroots initiative to remove Chairman of the Board, Scott Ross. - STAND WITH SEAWORLD | FACEBOOK
  • Stand With SeaWorld | Facebook
  • An image attached to the Stand With SeaWorld post that encourages an employee-driven grassroots initiative to remove Chairman of the Board, Scott Ross.

Like that site, Awesome Ocean, both Stand With SeaWorld and I Love SeaWorld are heavily focused on the animals that SeaWorld assists and homes. It was these animals that caused many of the more than 26,000 fans of Stand With SeaWorld to become fans of the parks.

Many of these fans have questioned how much of a role Scott Ross has in the company – as part of SeaWorld’s largest shareholder, Hill Path Capital – and what it will take to remove him. It’s no secret that as he looks to continue driving up profits, Ross has maintained control at SeaWorld. Many speculated that the comments by three former CEOs regarding the Board’s power should be more finely pointed at Ross.

Since Ross has stepped into the board chairman role, the company has continued its march away from live animals and toward thrill-based attractions. This shift away from animals is part of the primary response to criticism many older fans have lodged against Ross and the post-Blackfish SeaWorld.
SeaWorld Orlando's Ice Breaker concept ride vehicle - IMAGE VIA FREDDY GRUNER
  • Image via Freddy Gruner
  • SeaWorld Orlando's Ice Breaker concept ride vehicle
According to a person familiar with their thinking, the allegations by Stand With SeaWorld took the company’s leadership by surprise. Once alerted to the post, SeaWorld seemed to be taking the charges seriously.

The allegations do come just another round of layoffs reportedly hit some of the company’s higher positions. At a company where layoffs have been one of the few constants over the past few years, another round shouldn’t come as a surprise.

After declining an official statement regarding the allegations, a spokesperson for SeaWorld pointed Orlando Weekly to comments that interim CEO Marc Swanson made at the release of the company’s Q1 results. Swanson's comments reflect confidence that the SeaWorld will be able to bounce back from the COVID-19 closures and economic slowdown. Swanson praises the “collaborative teamwork dedication” of the full company, “including our Ambassadors, the management team and our board.”

It’s still uncertain how much the pandemic will impact SeaWorld’s bottom line. The now-required reservation system is reportedly working well, and early indications point to a strong first few weeks for admission at the Florida parks.

Stand With SeaWorld is encouraging employees who may have shared opinions against Scott Ross or SeaWorld over the past few months to now review their comments and be aware of similar comments in the future. The page went on to encourage awareness campaign-style tactics of recruiting family or friends to post on social media regarding the alleged Ross grievance list.

With Ross in control of more than 34 percent of the company, SeaWorld seems determined to continue the march away from live animal attractions.

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