Merlin Entertainments makes US sport veteran CEO

Scott O’Neil, Merlin Entertainments

Merlin Entertainments has appointed Scott M O’Neil, a veteran businessman of US sport, as its chief executive.

Replacing the retiring Nick Varney – who has been Merlin’s CEO for 23 years – O’Neil is widely associated with American basketball, NBA.

Announcing the move on Monday, Merlin said that he had led some of the “top athletic brands” in the world.

O’Neil has headed NBA teams New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, as well as ice hockey (NHL)’s New York Rangers and Philadelphia Eagles.

He paid tribute to Varney, whom he described as “world class operator”.

Nick Varney, Merlin Entertainments
Varney began his theme park career in marketing

“I succeed the amazing 23-year founder, CEO Nick Varney, a world class operator who has built an incredible business, achieving unprecedented growth in this industry,” O’Neil said.

‘Additional brand partners’

In an apparent swipe at Disney, O’Neil said that Merlin was not “constrained” to a “single studio or pipeline”.

“We are seeking additional brand partners to redefine the attractions business,” he said when discussing potential new intellectual property (IP) collaborations.

“We are actively building and searching for new attractions and sites and will aggressively look to expand offerings in current attractions,” O’Neil added.

Varney said he was proud of Merlin’s achievements during his tenure and signalled his confidence in his successor.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved at Merlin over the past 23 years,” he said.

“We have built an incredible business with amazing attractions and brilliant people. I have every confidence that Merlin will go from strength to strength under Scott’s leadership over the coming years.”