Ed Snider, the visionary founding father of the Flyers who built a financial empire at Comcast Spectacor, has died at the age of 83 at his home in Montecito, Calif.
The renowned entrepreneur, who grew up in Washington, D.C., had been undergoing treatment for a recurrence of bladder cancer.
Snider’s legacy spanned five decades covering sports and entertainment, business and humanitarian enterprises.
“He was always like, ‘If you don’t take a risk you won’t make mistakes and you’ll never learn,’ and he was really, again, he was a forward-thinking guy,” said Dave Scott, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Comcast Spectacor.
“Always looking ahead, always learning new things. I think that's what I've really learned from him. He believes in hiring great people and really let the people do their jobs. And I really appreciated that.”
An emotional man driven to win, whether it be in business, his hockey team, or on the tennis court, Snider routinely embraced risk and envisioned long term gain.
“He was a true entrepreneur who could look at any business situation with a different take than anyone else,” said Peter Luukko, his former partner and COO of Comcast Spectacor. “Ed saw where a business could be successful where others didn’t.
“He could take a business situation and play to its strengths instead of worry about potential downsides … He always surrounded himself with advisors who had a certain business specialty. One of his favorite sayings was, ‘hire good people and let them do their jobs.’”
Snider did his job with the kind of efficiency others only dreamed about as he established nearly a dozen companies under the corporate umbrella of Spectacor that spanned into every avenue of arena and stadium management, entertainment, and food services. He also assisted in the formation of Comcast SportsNet and Spectra.
His passion in later years was the formation of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.
Snider’s business acumen was carved out as young man growing up as the son of a grocer watching his father turn a small store into a chain of supermarkets.
“You might knock him down but he gets right back up,” Scott said. “He's a scraper, he's a fighter. Takes a lot of initiative. Again, we talked about his entrepreneurial spirit. That's a big part of his personality. Again, a risk-taker, a business guy, a forward-thinker, and just fun to be around.”
Snider’s initial enterprise was buying a record company, then flipping it, using its profits to gain entry into the sports world with Jerry Wolman and the Eagles in 1963.
Within three years, after an acrimonious parting with Wolman, Snider landed an NHL franchise in Philadelphia as part of the league’s expansion from six to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season.
Within seven years, his Philadelphia Flyers became the first expansion club to win a Stanley Cup (1974). Then they won it again the following year.
Hockey fans of subsequent generations who weren’t around at the beginning often think of the Flyers as an Original Six franchise, given their remarkable financial and marketing success. Snider’s teams won two Cups in eight Final appearances.
Snider, who never put a cap on expenses until the NHL did so, was proud that his franchise stood among the NHL’s elite in all-time winning percentage. Heading into this season, Montreal had a league-leading all-time winning percentage of .591 as of Oct. 15. The Flyers were second at .577.
Despite acquiring the best free agents in hockey and trading for older, established players — albeit often at the expense of mortgaging the franchise’s minor league and development system by trading away prospects and draft picks — the Flyers have yet to win a third Cup.
Snider routinely outspent others in search of another Cup as the Flyers were among the top revenue producers for the league along with Toronto and the New York Rangers for generations.
Snider later conceded that philosophy hurt the club and embraced the vision of current general manager Ron Hextall on drafting, developing and exercising patience with youth.
“Mr. Snider never told us we couldn’t spend money to win,” Bob Clarke once said. “He only wanted to know how we were spending it.”
That was something that long-time hockey executive Paul Holmgren found out first hand when he made the transition a few years ago from the hockey side to the business side as club president.
“He lets the hockey guys do their thing,” Holmgren said. “He'll question you. He might disagree with you. He might ask you some real tough questions, ‘What do you mean by that?’
“ ‘What do you mean so-and-so is not doing this, or we can't do that. Why not?’ Then you get in a big debate with him about this. He's very good, and he listens well. He asks great questions.”
Snider was always referred to as “Mister” by former players and employees, including Clarke. He commanded that much respect.
“Ed hated to be called Mr. Snider,” said Phil Weinberg, executive vice president and general counsel for Comcast Spectacor. Ed was always one of us. He always wanted to be one of the group, one of the team. He was Ed.
“Every time somebody would call him Mr. Snider he would say, ‘Call me Ed,’ or, ‘I hate that. He might not say that to them, but when the conversation was over he would turn to the person he was with and say, ‘I hate that.’”
As a young man, Snider never attended a hockey game in person.
Actually, he saw a lot more of coach Red Auerbach, the future general manager of the Boston Celtics.
“It was very sporadic in Washington, D.C.,” Snider recalled. “There was a small arena — Uline Arena — there and hockey wasn’t very popular. It was at a low level. I used to watch Red Auerbach coach the Washington Capitols basketball team at that same Uline Arena.”
One day, a friend took Snider to see the Canadiens at the original Madison Square Garden.
“It blew me away,” Snider said. “I thought it was the greatest spectator sport I had ever seen. To me, I have never lost my enthusiasm for the game. And I think the sport is better now than it has ever been.”
Snider built the Flyers and the building they would play in — the Spectrum.
It became known as “America’s Showplace,” and was quickly copied. That led to Snider’s creation of Spectacor Management Group in 1980. Five years later, Snider hired Luukko, who was overseeing arena properties in New England.
The two would create six new companies in the decades ahead, in addition to developing and acquiring other companies that would define the Spectacor brand and later facilitate the Comcast Spectacor merger of 1996.
“What was most unique about his leadership style was his ability to bring his team in and listen to what people said, take advice and process all the information that was given to him while still being the lightening rod and the driving force behind what it was that he was trying to do,” Weinberg said.
“Ed was a visionary no question, but that was not only a gift, it was a very studied accomplishment as well. Ed knew exactly who he was and gave a great of thought to how he would get from point A to B. He was very blessed to be able to combine that study and thought with a gift that was unquestionable.”
It remains to be seen how the Flyers and Comcast Spectacor move forward without Snider.
“As I look at the company Ed Snider built, it's always been forward-looking, leaning in,” Scott said. “Always focused on growth.
“I don't see that changing. I think it's embedded in our culture now. It's part of our DNA and will continue on the mission that Ed started.”
Snider, who was married four times, is survived by his wife, Lin and five children — Jay, Lindy, Craig, Tina, Sarena and Samuel — and 15 grandchildren.
Snider and Comcast had a strong 20-year partnership. Comcast is the parent company of NBC10.
The funeral will be private but plans are being worked out for a public memorial, said Comcast Spectacor spokesman Ike Richman.
You can share your memories of Snider and his legacy in the comment section below.