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Disney World's Biggest Rival Is Making a Big $130 Million Bet

By Rick Munarriz – Feb 6, 2016 at 4:00AM

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Comcast confirms a major land acquisition near Universal Orlando.

Image source: Universal Orlando.

The battle for theme-park supremacy in Central Florida is getting more intense. Universal Orlando parent Comcast (CMCSA 2.05%) (NASDAQ: CMCSK) confirmed a major land purchase on Wednesday during its quarterly earnings call.

Comcast didn't elaborate on the asset transaction beyond the $130 million price tag and the size of the land -- a whopping 475 acres. It does seem to confirm the report two months ago when a Universal Orlando lobbyist told country commissioners that Comcast had negotiated an option to purchase parcels of land totaling 474 acres a couple of miles south of its existing resort. 

Comcast said on Wednesday that it's not in a hurry to put the land to use. This is a "strategic acquisition," just as Universal Orlando's former parent company also once held tracts of land that it eventually let go.

Don't bet on Universal Orlando flipping the land this time around. After all, this is the same Comcast that, in 2004, made an unsolicited $54 billion buyout offer for Disney (DIS 2.07%) -- that the House of Mouse obviously shot down. 

Development on the newly purchased acreage will be slow and calculated, but it will happen. Comcast doesn't have a choice. It's been feverishly developing its original site.

It won't have much of an easel left to paint on by the time that its fifth on-site hotel opens this summer, and the arrival of the Volcano Bay water park next year. If Comcast wants to build more theme parks, hotels, and stand-alone attractions, it's going to need more land. It has that now.

Comcast may be talking down the purchase now, but it's probably going to be developed a lot sooner than the media giant is letting on. Comcast has momentum.

Its theme parks are growing faster than Disney's. It just checked in with a 15% year-over-year surge in adjusted theme park revenue in its latest quarter. Comcast isn't breaking down that growth by resort, but you can be sure that Disney will be posting a single-digit percentage advance when it reports quarterly results on Tuesday.

A dozen years after being rebuffed by Disney with its unsolicited takeover proposal, Comcast has become its own Disney. It has interests in movie studios, broadcast networks, and theme parks.

Comcast's brand isn't as resilient as Disney. Just ask an Xfinity cable subscriber how they feel about Comcast. However, on the theme park front, Comcast is taking advantage of a methodically slow Disney to gain ground on the theme park darling. 

It's doing a good job with Universal Orlando now, and something tells me that we'll have something in the works in Comcast's new land before Disney's Star Wars Land sees the light of day.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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