Former Vail Resorts CEO joins Sixers
PHILADELPHIA – In the end, the scene looked straight out of an ultimate Broadway encore. One and two owners on the stage turned into seven, eight, nine, all single file and holding enough personalized 76ers jerseys to fill a few racks at the merchandise store.
All that was missing was a bow.
The Philadelphia 76ers are under new management – lots and lots of management, that even includes a dose of Hollywood star power.
New York-based leveraged buyout specialist Joshua Harris and the rest of his ownership group completed the deal to buy the Sixers from Comcast-Spectacor and wasted little time Tuesday making a splash on their first day in power.
Ed Stefanski is out as general manager and team president Rod Thorn will assume greater day-to-day control in running the franchise.
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Doug Collins will not only remain the coach, but was asked to stand at the Palestra and publicly heaped with praise from his new bosses.
Adam Aron, the former chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, is the Chief Executive Officer and promised cost-saving changes for fans. The announced ticket prices for nearly 9,000 seats, yes, even the good ones, will be slashed. Tickets priced at $101 and $54 plummeted to $54 and $29. The Sixers also launched NewSixersOwner.com to solicit fan feedback in an attempt to energize one of the weakest and passionless fan bases in Philadelphia sports.
Harris and Co., who could have used name tags, did everything but address the roster. The lingering NBA lockout banned specific talk about players and a blueprint to build a championship team off limits.
Among the lengthy list of new owners and investors include co-managing owner David Blitzer, former NBA player agent and Sacramento Kings executive Jason Levien, GSI Commerace CEO Michael Rubin, real estate investors, film producers, and Hollywood power couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
“At the end of the day, Josh is the mana ging partner,” Blitzer said. “He’s actually a great listener. He’ll take in lots of great opinions. But at the end of the day, Josh gets to make the call. It’s not like there’s 15 people that all have rights to vote and say this and do that.”
Harris is one of three founders of Apollo Global Management, a publicly listed alternative investment manager. He co-founded Apollo Global Management in 1990. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and a master’s degree from the Harvard Business School. Harris’ investment is a personal one and Apollo Management, LP is not involved in the transaction.
The 46-year-old Harris was worth $1.45 billion, according to Forbes, as of September.
Apollo invests heavily in distressed properties – which one could argue would include the Sixers. They can’t fill their arena, haven’t won a playoff series since 2003 and have gone years without turning a profit. Comcast-Spectactor chair man Ed Snider, who called the shots the last 15 years, told The Associated Press last month that massive financial losses led the company to strike a tentative deal to sell the team in July.
“I wouldn’t call the 76ers distressed,” Harris said. “That has a negative connotation.”
Comcast-Spectacor bought the Sixers from Harold Katz on April 24, 1996. Comcast-Spectacor also owns the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
“This is one of the hardest business decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Snider said. “The Sixers are family, and it is very difficult to say goodbye to an organization of great people with whom we have worked so closely over the last 15 years.”
Comcast-Spectacor also owns the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers will become a tenant in the building once the NBA lockout is over and Harris said there are no plans for an NBA-only arena. However, a new practice facility is on the drawing board.
Under Snider’s ownership, Allen Iverson and the Sixers lost t o the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA finals. The Sixers have won only one playoff series since 2001 and have been mired in mediocrity for most of the last decade. They haven’t had a winning record since 2004-05 and last won a championship in 1983.
The 76ers were valued this year by Forbes at $330 million, 17th in the NBA, and have a television deal with cable station Comcast SportsNet through 2029. Harris bought the group for a reported $280 million.
The Sixers lag well behind the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers – even Villanova – in interest and attendance. Collins led a rebirth on the court last season, leading them to 41 victories and a competitive, five-game playoff series loss against Eastern Conference champion Miami. Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, and Thaddeus Young form a promising core, with veterans Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala also in the mix.
The new owners understand they have to win back the fan base as much as they have to win games .
Aron sounded like he was straight out of a late-night infomercial with his passionate pitch: Ticket prices are sliced, diced, and julienned! Harris could have been featured in Us Weekly magazine: NBA owners, just like US!
“I’ve been a 76ers fans since college,” Harris said. “Philadelphia is like a second home to me.”
Yes, a second home. Harris intends to run the Sixers (“my night job”) from New York – though he can surely afford the Acela.
He said he wouldn’t hesitate to pay a luxury tax, if it’s included in the new collective bargaining agreement
Before the lockout, the Sixers would have had about $55 million in payroll committed to next season, led by Brand’s $17 million and Iguodala’s $13.5 million. The Sixers spent the summer in trade talks involving Iguodala – plans that have been put on hold because of the lockout.
Harris, Blitzer and his group are buying the team with the NBA in the midst of a lockout. The first two weeks of the re gular season have already been canceled.
“We’re trying to move along as if everything is as it normally is,” Thorn said. “You have to get ready scouting wise.”
Once they return, it’s possible A-list actor and rapper Smith could be in the stands and, ahem, Getting Iggy With It. Smith, who was not available for comment, is a Philadelphia native who attended Overbrook High School.
Turner posted on Twitter, “think it’s dope that the fresh prince is one of our new owners. Maybe willow can perform at halftime.”
Harris said a mutual connection was made once Smith expressed interest.
How about Smith’s 76ers vs. Jay-Z’s New Jersey Nets in the first Rapper’s Delight game?
The start of the season seems well down the road.
On Tuesday, it was all about the optimism and bright-eyed enthusiasm of a new era in Sixers history.
“We will be active, long-term owners,” Harris said.