Ed Snider & Philly have been perfect together

Ed Snider: impact player
Ed Snider: impact player
Posted: June 29, 2011

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell writes a weekly sports column for the Daily News from a fan's perspective. His column appears Wednesdays.

ED SNIDER might not be the easiest guy to love - he's too rich, too handsome, too self-assured, too stubborn, too Republican (although he has been a significant contributor to my campaigns) and too well-dressed (I usually hate guys like Ed who look so good in clothes, as I usually look like a mess). But virtually all Philadelphia sports fans, especially hockey stalwarts, should love him for what he has done. No one has had as much or as long of an impact on our city's sports scene.

Ed was living in D.C. in 1964 and had just sold his record business when he moved to Philadelphia and partnered with Jerry Wolman and Earl Foreman to buy the Eagles. Ed became vice president of the team, but was fired by the majority owners in a dispute over whether coach Joe Kuharich should have been fired. (Ed and about 4 million of us said yes!)

Bill Putman, of J.P. Morgan, had lent the owners the money that enabled them to buy the Eagles and about that time, he told Ed that the NHL was looking to expand and bring six new cities into the league. Believe it or not, Ed hadn't seen many hockey games in person. He recounted to me that he had seen a Rangers game in Madison Square Garden and that it "blew me away." He came to believe that hockey was the most exciting spectator sport to watch in person. So he set out to accomplish two goals - to buy an NHL franchise and to build a sports arena in South Philadelphia. Previously, he had lobbied the city to buy land in South Philly and the Phillies joined the effort. So the city did so and plans were set to build a multipurpose stadium for football and baseball.

Ed recounted that he then went to Paul D'Ortona, the City Council president, and they persuaded Mayor Jim Tate to have the city buy additional land for the construction of an indoor sports arena. The arena leaseholders paid the city only $15,000 a year in rent and $60,000 in parking - a heck of a deal, but Ed would make it up to the taxpayers later.

Ed then went and got a franchise from the NHL. It was truly a leap of faith. Almost no one but Ed believed that hockey could succeed in Philadelphia. Ed also told me a little-known fact: that Philadelphia had an NHL team in the 1930s that lasted only 1 year. (The Quakers went 4-36-4 in 1930-31.) Even The Hockey News rated Philadelphia as the franchise "most likely to fail" among the six expansion teams. But Ed pressed on. He had to raise the $2 million purchase price. (That's right, $2 million and he could get somewhere between $250 million and $300 million if he sold the team today. But knowing Ed, hell will freeze over before that sale happens.) Ed persuaded Girard Bank to put up $1.5 million, and he cobbled the rest together by selling 5 years of TV rights to Kaiser Broadcasting, working out advanced payments from ARA for concessions rights and by mortgaging his home. So if hockey failed as so many had predicted it would, Ed Snider would have lost his home.

Of course, the rest, as they say, is history.

The Flyers have gone on to great success on the ice winning back-to-back Stanley Cups (1974 and '75) and reaching the Cup finals six times since. Overall, since they entered the NHL, the Flyers have the second-best winning percentage behind only the Montreal Canadiens.

Interestingly, Ed told me that he believes that the Flyers would have won four or five Cups in a row in the '70s had Bernie Parent not gotten hurt. Financially, the team defied all of the dire predictions - the crowds have been great, team merchandise has sold incredibly well and the franchise is a money-making machine.

But money is not what drives Ed. He wants the best for his fans and he wants to win, and win it all. In the early '90s, Ed resolved to give us a bigger, better arena. His dream became a reality with the opening of the CoreStates Center, an arena that, when it opened, was state of the art and beautiful and one, that despite repeated name changes, remains one of the best around. The center cost $200 million to build (the Spectrum only $7 million by comparison) and Ed financed it with about 5 percent of the cost coming from the city and the state. Compare that with the Phillies, Eagles, Steelers and Pirates, where the public share ranged from 55 to nearly 70 percent of the cost, and you will see that the taxpayers owe Ed a big debt of gratitude.

In the end, however, I believe what makes Ed Snider an exceptional owner is that he is never satisfied with anything less than the best, and he has the cojones to take risks to achieve the best.

There's no hint of retirement, and I believe there never will be. He is pumped about the Flyers' future and winning more Stanley Cups, and he is also pumped about Philly Live!, the entertainment area under construction within the stadium complex. The first phase of Philly Live! will include a 50,000-square-foot sports bar (he thinks it might be the biggest in the country) containing four restaurants, bars and specialty food stands. He is hopeful that a permanent home for the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia sports halls of fame can be constructed as a key part of Philly Live! to go along with the other hotel, retail and club areas.

The other part of Snider's empire apparently soon will belong to someone else. Comcast-Spectacor reportedly is in talks to sell the Sixers to billionaire Joshua Harris and his partners. Snider, who is expected to retain a financial stake in the team of about 10 percent, said he could not talk about the impending sale.

I also asked Ed to reflect on his proudest achievement. He told me, of course, that it was the success of the Flyers, the two Cups and the incredible fan base, but he was almost as proud of the fact that the sports complex had become such a success. He bragged that 8 1/2 million people come to the complex each year (not just for sports, but for shows, too). With Philly Live! coming into the picture, that number should only grow.

The future looks bright and exciting through Ed Snider's eyes, and that's good news for us sports fans. He has been a huge part of Philadelphia for more than 47 years and he believes the best is yet to come. Go get 'em, Ed!

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