SBD/August 16, 2013/Franchises

Devils Suddenly On Solid Financial Footing Under Ownership Of Harris, Blitzer

Harris (l) and Blitzer made it clear that they want Lamoriello to stay on
New Devils Owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, who have "deeper coffers than previous" Owner Jeff Vanderbeek, pledged on Thursday to "make the financial commitment necessary" to help team President, CEO & GM Lou Lamoriello put together and maintain a winning team, according to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen RECORD. The Devils "spent close to the salary cap for much of Vanderbeek’s tenure," but "worked under a tighter budget the past two seasons" while burdened by a growing debt that reached approximately $200M. Harris and Blitzer, who also own a majority stake in the 76ers, should "alleviate the financial strain after buying the team and operating interest in Prudential Center and its related assets" for a little more than $320M. Harris said that they will give Lamoriello the "freedom to follow" his current plan as they get adjusted to the team, and added that they also will "try to utilize their vast financial resources to assist the hockey team in other ways." The "bigger changes in the organization and at Prudential Center will come on the business side." Those "already have begun," with 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil adding duties "as CEO for business operations of the team and Prudential Center." O’Neil "replaces Rich Krezwick as the head of Devils Arena Entertainment." The Devils also hired former Hornets President Hugh Weber to "serve as the president on the business side and help oversee things when he’s in Philadelphia." O’Neil and Weber "plan to be aggressive in trying to recruit new corporate sponsors for the team and Prudential Center, sell tickets and attract top non-hockey events to the arena" (Bergen RECORD, 8/16).

HIGH FINANCE: In N.Y., Michael de la Merced noted of Harris and Blitzer's purchase, "Private equity has struck another deal for yet another professional sports team." Both men are "part of the latest generation of financiers" (NYTIMES.com, 8/15). Also in N.Y., Klein & Belson report Lamoriello had been "conferring with Harris and Blitzer for the past 10 days." Lamoriello said, "There’s no change in what I’m going to do. Every time I spoke with them, I came back more and more impressed with who they are, what they’ve accomplished and what their vision is." Harris and Blitzer "seem intent on making changes on the business side, while letting Lamoriello be Lamoriello." Devils fans will be "relieved that Lamoriello remains in charge of the team" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/16). In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan notes Harris and Blitzer on Thursday made it "clear very quickly they wanted Lamoriello to stay on." The owners with that "made an immediate step toward proving their wisdom." As first personnel moves go, "score this one a winner." Lamoriello "might be approaching his 71st birthday in a few months, but he is more invested in his career than ever." If it "hadn’t clicked with these guys, he would have moved on." Lamoriello: "I wanted to spend some time with them, see what their philosophy was, what direction they wanted to go, what they knew about the Devils, what they liked, what they didn’t like" (Bergen RECORD, 8/16).

THE 76ERS MOLD: In Newark, Steve Politi writes of Harris and Blitzer, "These guys mean business." They are "serious businessmen who plan to treat their newest asset as such." For those who have followed the Devils, "that has to be refreshing." Politi: "You always had the sense that the Devils’ marketing operations consisted of four guys fighting over a stapler. Underfunded. Overwhelmed." It is "hard to find a downside" to the new owners. O'Neil said, "I’m really bullish on the North Jersey market. You have 20 corporate headquarters here, the disposable income numbers are off the charts, and if you carved out North Jersey, it would be, what, the ninth largest market?" Blitzer added, "Our overall conclusions are that there’s a lot more that can be done on the business side of the equation" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 8/16). The Newark STAR-LEDGER wrote of Harris and Blitzer's stewardship of the 76ers, "In two years, under their watch, the 76ers have reversed their fortunes, at least on the bottom line." Harris "firmly turned back any idea that he might [be] considering relocating the NBA team to his Newark arena." Harris: "The Sixers are staying in Philly." He added that there "were no plans to bring an NBA team to Newark" (NJ.com, 8/15). O'Neil said, "The great thing about these guys is they say, ‘What resources do you need to make a world-class organization?' Then, we’ve got to get them and then we’ll test it. We’ll see very quickly what kind of difference we can make here. But we believe in the town, we believe in management and we believe in resources and with that the business gets better. So, that’s the exciting part" (NORTHJERSEY.com, 8/15).

VANDERBEEK'S LEGACY: In Newark, Michael Fensom writes, "As Vanderbeek’s nine-year tenure ends, he departs the owner’s box with a complicated legacy." His "persistence and vision helped the Devils escape the decaying Izod Center," and Prudential Center now is "among the most profitable" facilities in the world. However, the arena became a "constant point of contention between Vanderbeek and Newark, whose housing authority leases the venue to the Devils." Vanderbeek "squabbled publicly" with Newark Mayor Cory Booker and the city "accused Vanderbeek of skirting conditions in their lease agreement." Vanderbeek "secured two loans over the past several months" to keep the team afloat. Vanderbeek on Thursday "did not say whether his financial situation forced a sale" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 8/16). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes it has "been quite a couple of weeks" for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He oversaw the Coyotes' sale and "managed to accomplish the same for the NHL’s other big financial headache" in the Devils. Bettman is to be "congratulated for pulling Harris and Blitzer out of his hat" just weeks after a deal with Philadelphia attorney Anthony Barroway fell through. The "only major financial headache remaining for Bettman" at this point is the Panthers (GLOBE & MAIL, 8/16).
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