Blackfish Exposing Company’s Underbelly

By Sandra Pedicini, Orlando Sentinel

Southwest Airlines, which has been under fire from animal rights activists over its marketing partnership with SeaWorld, is parting ways with the company after 26 years. The companies said in a joint statement. Thursday they both decided not to renew their contract “based on shifting priorities.” The contract expires at the end of this year.

“Southwest is spreading its wings with new international service and increased focus on local market efforts. With an increasing international visitor base, SeaWorld is looking to focus on new and growing markets in Latin America and Asia, among others.”

Southwest Airlines is one of the biggest corporate sponsors of Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. The sponsorship began in 1988.

SeaWorld losing support in the market

Activists have dragged Southwest Airlines into their public-relations battle over SeaWorld’s treatment of captive killer whales, a controversy fanned by the documentary Blackfish.

“We want our customers to know that we’ve heard your concerns and we do not take them lightly,” Southwest said in a statement at the time.

More than 32,000 people had signed a petition at urging Southwest to end the partnership.

“Any time you lose a sponsor like that, it’s problematic,” said Duncan Dickson, a professor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management. “You don’t want to lose those kinds of things. … There’s a loss of prestige, certainly.”

The theme parks received a marketing boost through three SeaWorld-themed planes, which will return to Southwest’s traditional design. Southwest, meanwhile, has its name on areas where visitors rest and charge cell phones in SeaWorld’s parks, which include Busch Gardens. Southwest’s vacation packaging group will continue selling SeaWorld tickets.

SeaWorld orca

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals applauded Southwest on Thursday.

“Champagne corks were popping at PETA today when we heard that Southwest will no longer support SeaWorld and will repaint its planes,” president Ingrid E. Newkirk said in a statement.

In late 2013 and early this year, musical acts including the Barenaked Ladies and Willie Nelson backed out of concerts scheduled at SeaWorld Orlando, citing concerns raised by “Blackfish.”


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