Comcast NBCUniversal has acquired a 51% ownership stake in Universal Studios Japan (USJ) for $1.5 billion. The move is being described as a recapitalization transaction. Comcast NBCUNi is partnering with the theme park’s current owners, who include Goldman Sachs, USJ’s Chief Executive Officer Glenn Gumpel, Asian private-equity firm MBK Partners, and U.S. hedge fund Owl Creek Asset Management, who retain a minority stake.  The enterprise value of the studios is valued at $6.2 billion.

Universal Studios Japan first opened in 2001. Initially it struggled to attract visitors away from the likes of Tokyo Disneyland but has recently seen a pick up in fortunes, buoyed by new attractions such as its Harry Potter rides, which opened in July last year.
The company reported its best financial year in March with 12.7 million visitors. By way of comparison, the Disney resort received over 30 million visitors. Universal Studios Japan currently operates as an independent company under license from NBCUni with a combination of Universal attractions as well as those specifically designed for the Japanese market.  The deal gives Comcast NBCUni and its theme parks business a more direct presence and influence in Japan.

Additionally, acquiring majority ownership of Universal Studios Japan aligns with Comcast NBCUniversal’s ongoing investment strategy for its U.S. parks in Orlando and Hollywood – which have seen the introduction of many major attractions representing world-class intellectual properties, resulting in significant growth in attendance and revenue.

Universal Studio Japan chief exec Glenn Gumpel today announced his retirement after more than a decade in charge, effective when the transaction closes.  Jean-Louis Bonnier, Universal Parks and Resorts’ chief financial officer since 2005, has been named as the new chief exec. There had initially been plans for a public listing for the Japan site although that has now been taken off the table as Comcast execs seek to consolidate and grow their theme park business.  There are plans to build another theme park in Okinawa.

Comcast announced it expected to complete the purchase in November.