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Volume 21 No. 1
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The Sit-Down: David Blitzer, 76ers and Devils

The Blackstone Group senior executive is a sports fan who became a sports owner. He talks about that transition, the tribulations and revival of the Sixers and his entry into the world of esports.

If you got into details, we had no idea what to expect when we first got into sports business from an ownership standpoint.

You sit there as a fan your entire life — I’m a huge sports fan — and you see X, Y, Z owner and think, “Wouldn’t it be really cool to own a sports team.” But until you actually get into the middle of it, you have no idea what it’s going to be like.

It was a very good investment, although we don’t really think of it as that. I expect my children and grandchildren to own the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils.

We were completely clueless that first year. We invested in the team in the fall of 2011 lockout. Our first game was December 25th of 2011.

We made the playoffs, beat the 1 seed, and the next thing you knew is we’re playing Game 7 in the Boston Garden for the right to play the Miami Heat.

We went from that to making an aggressive move that summer in a trade for Andrew Bynum — we went for it, in a sense — and it didn’t work out.


Given the future draft picks and players we gave up in that trade — fast forward to the summer of 2012 — the team from a basketball standpoint was in a terrible place. We started thinking about taking a long-term view.

The one real arbitrage in sports is patience, and the second is that there are no shortcuts to the top.

You need a plan, you need to follow that plan, and you need luck. The luck you can’t control, but you can certainly control a plan.

It was brutal — let’s not mince words. The pressure from a fan base and media perspective. We were the butt of jokes on Jimmy Fallon.

I think our basketball organization was all aligned in terms of where we were going in terms of youth, development and getting players who can be superstars over time. It’s hard to lose. … The staff’s ability to handle winning 19 games a year is incredible. I give them kudos for how they handled everything.

The rate of change is dramatically different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. … That’s why you need to have an incredible management team. It’s not just one person. It’s a number of people in that management team who are questioning why are we doing something this way.

I like to think that we can ultimately get to a level of consensus, but I want people arguing in the room about why we should do something differently.

I read in the newspaper how Madison Square Garden sold out their first “League of Legends” event. I remember calling Scott [O’Neil] and someone at Madison Square Garden and asking, “What is this?”

It’s a little unclear as to what we bought. It’s absolutely the Wild West. We bought a seat at the table, a brand, management and coaches that understand the industry and key relationships. We have slots in a lot of the right areas.

We’re looking at merchandising businesses. We just looked at an esports camp business, training the next generation.

We just completed our facility in Camden [N.J.]. It’s 125,000 square feet, a state-of-the-art facility for our team and our offices.

I think it’s incredibly helpful for the morale, brand and teamwork, and performance side of the equation. We’re also helping to transform a tough city. Camden is doing really well right now and part of it — I’d like to believe — is the 76ers moving over there.

I think the NBA has more growth largely because of its international [presence]. Just take China and India. The NHL still has a lot of growth, but not like the potential the NBA does in China.

I lived in London for 10 years, literally walking distance from the Chelsea stadium. I became passionate about both the sport and the opportunity. I do believe soccer, right now, has the most global footprint.

We actually thought about buying a championship team, investing heavily in the team and getting it promoted to the Premier League. We ultimately decided to invest in Crystal Palace and take a Premier team to keep it there.

Relegation keeps me up at night. I try not to get too emotional about each individual game, but in soccer, I have had some moments where I’ve been throwing things at the TV this year.

The Premiership’s revenue is much more weighted towards its media rights. The biggest reason for that is the international football.

For the given team, its television revenue as a proportion of its entire revenue is massively different that in the NBA or NHL.