Sixers announce hiring of new CEO

DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER New Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil is a Villanova alum who previously worked with the Knicks in the Madison Square Garden Sports organization.
DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER New Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil is a Villanova alum who previously worked with the Knicks in the Madison Square Garden Sports organization.
Posted: July 10, 2013

ORLANDO - As he is about to enter his third season as majority owner of the 76ers, Josh Harris has overseen an organization that has had three general managers, missed by a game of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, traded away two players following All-Star seasons, seen the biggest acquisition for the franchise in quite some time not play a single game, lost a coach in Doug Collins who was the face of the franchise, and suffered through a 149-day lockout.

And yesterday, it was announced that Harris' longtime business partner, Adam Aron, was moving to a new venture and that Scott O'Neil would be the team's new chief executive officer.

"When I bought the team, I always wanted to bring in a world-class team that could lead this organization into the next 10 to 20 years," Harris said from the Amway Center, where the Sixers are competing in the Orlando Pro Summer League. "The way I've been successful is to just get the best people around the table, give them resources, hold them accountable, and let them make it happen. This was always in my head, and, when the season happened last year, it gave me the opportunity to do all this. It was in my head and I saw the vision and now we're just executing.

"You don't always know when people like Scott O'Neil and Sam Hinkie are going to become available, so it's hard to put those people in place. I'm very excited about the team we have."

Harris, of course, is talking about his front office team, not the one that will take the court this coming season. That team is still without many parts and a head coach.

In O'Neil, 43, the team has someone who is considered one of the brightest marketing minds in all of sports, and a local guy to boot. O'Neil graduated from Villanova with a marketing degree before getting his MBA from Harvard Business School. He was the vice president of sales for the Eagles at one point in his career, but most recently served as president of Madison Square Garden Sports, where he oversaw the Knicks, the NHL's Rangers and the WNBA's Liberty. Before that, that he was instrumental in landing some of the largest deals in NBA history, which resulted in record-setting revenue in sponsorships, tickets and suites. In fact, he met Harris during his time there.

"I first met Scott when he was trying to sell me suites, and he wouldn't stop," Harris recalled with a laugh. "And I never bought one but I got a feel for how good he is at that."

O'Neil knows full well that marketing a team that wins more than it loses is always a key, and he is sure that time isn't too far away for the Sixers

"I see the picture and the plan and the writing on the wall here," he said in a phone interview. "This is going to be an exhilarating ride. With the new [collective bargaining agreement], we will be in a position to be good for a very long time. We have a good foundation. We have a good base market. It's exciting from the business side, and I love the business aspect of sports. Our two top priorities are the fans and community first and having a true homecourt advantage, second."

O'Neil has no bigger fan than his boss, Harris.

"It was pretty simple, because when the fellow who had some Philly background with the Eagles, ran the Knicks, ran the Rangers, built the arena, you're sort of getting a world-class guy. I can't think of a better guy to work with. When he became available, it was a no-brainer. He's a great team builder."

The feelings are mutual.

"I have a lot of confidence in this ownership group," O'Neil said. "They are young, successful, smart and hardworking. I always felt businesses will be successful when they are good at the top. I think they made a great bet with Sam, and I think great things will happen. I know this organization is going in the right direction. I love what they did on draft night."

In a phone conversation yesterday afternoon, Aron said "I can't stop smiling" as he assured that he wasn't fired. He will now become chairman and CEO of a new investment vehicle, funded by members of the Sixers' ownership group.

"We had talked about this months ago," Aron said. "So reports of me being fired or someone else coming in to replace me weren't true. I could have stayed, but I chose not to. I loved my 2 years with the Sixers and I think we all did a great job of re-engaging the team with the fans. I'm sure that will continue. I will still be at games; I'm still a part owner of the team. At the same time, I'm very happy and excited for my new business opportunity."

And the work will continue for Harris with his basketball team, as finding the next head coach becomes yet another priority.

On Twitter: @BobCooney76


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