The Sit-Down: Hugh Weber
Launching Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment is sort of a moment in time that has caused us to look back at the last five years.
Look at what Josh Harris and David Blitzer have done, first with the acquisition of the 76ers, the Prudential Center, the Devils, and as things have sped up, Crystal Palace and Dignitas and then the innovation lab in Philadelphia. It’s almost like the best-kept secret that they’ve been kind of accumulating these brands.
HBSE allows us to have a form to go out and talk to multiple partners, it allows us to think culturally and internally as if we’re one, as opposed to “I’ll talk to a colleague at another team.” We’re all one team now.
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s not like we all get busy at the same time. There are times we can pull people off something and put them on another thing, and with this much alignment across the organization, we can be hyperfocused and prioritize.
Josh and David have been very consistent with their message that the one arbitrage in sports is patience. You’ve seen in Philadelphia, and now we’ve seen it relatively fast in New Jersey with [general manager] Ray [Shero] where he has in two years’ time recast the entire culture on and off the ice.
We think the team will not disappoint this year. Expectations are low, which helps in a sense, but I also think people will be pleasantly surprised.
Our commitment to New Jersey as a community was a philosophical shift from being seen as one of the New York teams, to the only team that represents the 5 million or so people in New Jersey. That’s who we are and that’s what we do in terms of our branding.
You will likely see us spend a lot more time with hockey natives, people who are already conditioned with the sport whether it’s people who played in the past, or kids playing in youth programs. … You’ve got to make sure you are the home team for that family.
There is something new we’re introducing called Gotta Love NJ Hockey. It’s a website where kids will be interviewed, content will be created around their games, and which will cover all age classes.
This is a place we feel like there’s a void in the greater hockey ecosystem in New Jersey. We’re partnering with USA Hockey on it to make sure it’s not just our deal, it’s New Jersey’s deal, and we’re just helping to sponsor it.
Something I noticed right off the bat jumping into NHL culture from the NBA is that the NBA, perhaps due to the leadership of David Stern and now Adam Silver, is that it’s about content, content, content.
You’re going to see us invest heavily in that area. I think it’s something the NHL is also investing heavily in. It’s the future.
The MLBAM relationship has done wonders for us in the last year or so, but we’re still in that phase where we’re gaining traction that maybe the NBA already has.
It’s not that the NHL wasn’t hyperfocused on the game experience, but it’s almost like the game is allowed to stand on its own legs. We really believe that there is an entertainment value that we have to provide.
One of things I always ask myself: What is that team’s relationship with the community?
Both Josh and David have full-time day jobs. But it’s interesting, in their full-time day jobs, they have to be really good at understanding the industry, finding management teams that they know what they’re doing, giving them the resources they need to succeed, and letting them do their thing.
The model of what they do, how they do it, taking best practices, pushing and understanding the best places to be or thinking long term, it’s incredible. One hundred percent it’s pushed me and helped me grow.
We always say if you’re not out there looking around corners, you’re probably looking at the corner behind you afraid of what’s coming. If it were an obvious intuitive answer for what’s next, everyone would do it.
If you look at all the investments Josh and David have made over these five years, a lot of them are around the value of content and the value of media, and where are the eyeballs and how are those eyeballs being engaged, and the business model around that. That’s why esports was so intriguing.
I think the esports business generally is in its infancy in terms of all of the ancillary things that go on around it. Think about an NBA or NHL team. It has all this infrastructure, and in esports, it’s not there yet.
Those organizations that already have teams in leagues and do business that way can quickly get esports to that level. I think we’re just scratching the surface on that.