The overall success level of the Philadelphia Flyers organization since entering the league in 1967 has been excellent. For years, the Flyers have enjoyed great fan support. They have enjoyed a city that embraced the game of hockey and the style the team became known for in the 70’s. The Flyers are an organization that can never be accused of not trying to win. Financially, they have the backing of ownership every year and go all out making whatever moves they feel are right to win. The Flyers teams of the current era have carried on a bit of that flair that makes the fans love this team so much. The organization has done everything possible to make sure the Flyers never lose their identity and they’ve done a great job at it.
Although the Flyers have never had a problem selling out and selling tickets, this year has a different feel to it. The merchandise is everywhere. The secondary market is through the roof right now. Flyers hockey is it again. I started out wanting to do a piece on the success the Flyers have enjoyed this season in those areas. However, I recently had the chance to chat with Comcast-Spectacor President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Luukko. I decided to touch on a lot of hot topics, rumors, and loose ends with Mr. Luukko that are of interest to the hockey world and Philadelphia fans. Since 1996 when the team’s sole owner Ed Snider’s Spectacor group merged with Comcast, the new entity, Comcast-Spectacor has operated the team. Ed Snider is currently the chairman of Comcast-Spectacor. Peter Luukko is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Comcast-Spectacor, and his duties include many of the day-to-day operations surrounding the organization. He has been affiliated in some way with Spectacor since 1985 and became President of the Spectrum in 1993, and he has been with the organization ever since. Once again thanks to Mr. Luukko for taking the time to answer some questions that are for sure on the minds of Philadelphians and NHL fans. Here’s a transcript of the interview below:
Q: The Flyers have always had very good fan support and no problem selling out the arena. However, this year there is a different feel. The merchandise is everywhere. The secondary market is the highest it’s been in years. The Flyers are the talk of the town. Do you think this has to do with the Cup run? The moves to improve the team in the offseason and during the season? The on ice performance so far? What would you attribute the success to?
Peter Luukko: As you said, we’ve always had a great fan base. We’ve always been at the top of the league in ticket sales and merchandise, but with our Stanley Cup run it certainly has gone to a new level, and we’re hotter than ever. I think a lot of it had to do with the Stanley Cup run and also the expectation this year. Paul Holmgren made a couple great moves to add to our front and back end. Our base has always been so strong, and to see it go to another level is pretty exciting.
Q: The Flyers have had a history of hiring great coaches over the years. Peter Laviolette has been here a short time, but it almost seems like he has been here 5 years. He turned a struggling team around very quickly when he was hired and seems to have a ton of respect from his players and ownership. Did you know he was this good when he was hired here?
Peter Luukko: I didn’t know Peter myself. Paul Holmgren had a relationship with Peter from working with him in USA Hockey, and kept in touch with him over the years. Paul thought very highly of Peter, and obviously that has certainly paid off.
Q: GM Paul Holmgren was recently given an extension and it seems like he’s pulled all the right strings since taking over. The Meszaros move was one that was considered “risky” this past offseason by a lot of analysts, and now he looks like a genius for it. Does it make you even more confident in Paul here going forward with all these moves he’s made that have really panned out well?
Peter Luukko: Paul has a pretty impressive hockey background from being a player, assistant general manager, head coach, and a general manager before. He’s done a lot of scouting. He knows the league. He studies the league. He does an outstanding job of working with all of the general managers. Sometimes I think you’ll see certain GM’s have certain teams they trade with while Paul seems to have a rapport with every GM in the league, and he knows how to put together a team and has patience. He’s a very patient man. The year where we had the worst record in hockey is where he began to lay the foundation by getting rid of some contracts that weren’t going to make sense for us by using some veteran players to trade for assets and [Paul] gave us a position where we had a lot of cap space, draft picks and young players.
Q: The Flyers have always been an organization where the fans can come back and see the alumni. They have been very loyal to their alumni, as well as certain families that have been with the Flyers since the beginning. For example, the Hart family is one. How special is that, first with Gene and now with Lauren to be able to keep that legacy going within the organization?
Peter Luukko: I think it’s outstanding. There’s been one face of the Flyers since their inception and that’s Ed Snider. Ed started forming what we call a Flyer family. Anybody who’s ever played here, even for a short period of time, is a Flyer for life. To first have Gene Hart, our Hall of Fame announcer, and now Lauren singing the national anthem and then singing it in tandem with Kate Smith the way we do it, it’s very important to us that we uphold our tradition and our family atmosphere.
Q: I have to ask you about another rumor that’s been going around lately and luckily it wasn’t started by Kyle Eckel [laughs], but in reading a lot of rumors around the web the last few days, Ed Snider’s name has been thrown out there, and there’s some claiming that Comcast-Spectacor would be against having another TV partner such as ESPN get back in the game and would voice their opinion to the league to keep the package on Versus/NBC. Is there any truth to that rumor at all?
Peter Luukko: No, the league negotiates the contracts. We’re 1/30th member in the league. We have total trust in the league’s ability to negotiate a contract. The league is great about informing all the teams as to where they are, but it’s really their charge. We’d like to think that we’re a great partner in the league, and we want to do what’s best for the league. However, it doesn’t mean that we’re not proud of the job that Versus has done, and now with this NBC merger, we’re proud to be part of that part of the business. However, when it comes to NHL matters, we’re a good partner in the league. We support the league wholeheartedly.
Q: I believe the league’s done a great job especially in the last couple of years at cracking down on headshots and intent to injure players to make sure that this kind of play isn’t tolerated. I know that you’re a fan of the game as well, your son plays, and there’s been some frustration around the league recently such as Mario Lemieux making comments which I’m sure you’ve heard on the way the league has handled this type of behavior. From what you’ve seen do you think they’ve done a good job at addressing this?
Peter Luukko: I think the league has done an outstanding job. First of all, the league works closely with the general managers. The general managers have their meetings and they discuss the various hockey matters. The general managers themselves decided that with the speed of the game, the equipment, and the size of the players now, that it was time to look hard at headshots, and the league helps put the program together and they enforce it. I think the league has done an outstanding job and I think they’ve reacted quickly to matters. The league has called the game in such a way so that the skilled players can play, while at the same time keep the physical play which is so important to the game and the fans certainly like. There’s a balance and I think the game will constantly evolve. As long as the guys who are running these teams in terms of the GM’s are working closely with the league, I think it will continue to evolve over time as issues come up and the type of players change in terms of size, ability, and skill, and the league will react to it.
Also, I think it’s a huge mistake to overreact to one game. Obviously, Mario was frustrated and we certainly understand that, but I think you have to look at the whole body of work and I think the league’s doing a great job. The game has never been better and been more exciting.
Q: Final question for you. There has been a lot going on with the Spectrum, recently knocking down the columns [in the demolition], and it’s been an emotional time for some people. You started over at the Spectrum too so I know it has to be emotional for you, but I just wanted to ask you a bit about the Philly Live! project that is going to be built near the sports complex. There were reports that they had broken it into “phases” and scaled back the operation a bit. Do you still think that eventually the original plan will come through with the hotel being built and everything planned in the original design?
Peter Luukko: I think the misnomer is that we had this plan where we were going to build everything at once. It was really a master plan of “Here’s what this could be.” There’s no pressure on us internally or externally for that matter, to just develop for the sake of developing. We’re starting out with 50,000 square feet of bars and restaurants. We have the potential for a hotel at some point. Certainly the economy has to be right and the timing has to be right, but I see this developing over time. I don’t necessarily have a timeframe. I think the first phase of Philly Live! is going to be exciting and fun and great for the fans. It’s an amenity which is sorely needed down here. The time is right.
This whole complex has evolved. You’ve got three world class facilities in Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wells Fargo Center, and also the development in the Navy Yard and our neighborhood here locally. It really shows us that it’s time now to have these bars, restaurants and some retail. In terms of a hotel or some other type of development, when we see that need here, and the opportunity, then we’ll follow through at that time. For us we’ve never had any pressure. We had certain rights to develop 400,000 square feet, but we didn’t have to do it all in one day. When we want to do it, we want it to be right. That’s the most important thing. You want to do what’s good for your business and great for the fans. We’re excited with where we’re going now and we’ll see what the future brings.
Q: Just a quick follow up question to that. You mentioned the possibility of a hotel. I saw in the original sketch that the hotel was going to possibly go on the site of the Spectrum. If not 100% sure on the hotel yet, then why demolish the Spectrum now? Were you looking toward the future and that goal?
Peter Luukko: Yeah, absolutely. Part of Philly Live! will be on the site of the Spectrum. In order to do this development, we had to tear the Spectrum down. Also, from an economic standpoint, the Spectrum was no longer profitable. It was time to move on. It was a combination of two factors. One was the opportunity of Philly Live! and secondly was the Spectrum really serviceable? For years we found every single excuse to keep it alive because it was Ed Snider’s baby and we all grew up there.
Final Thoughts from Justin: While talking to Peter Luukko it was easy to confirm what is known about him and Comcast-Spectacor executives involved with the Flyers organization. He’s a real person. He cares deeply about the fans and this team. When I first brought up the subject of the Spectrum he told me how he was watching the demolition from his office window at that very moment. He’s a fan of the game and the organization as well, and really cares what the community thinks. The reason the Philadelphia Flyers are so successful is because of the people that run the organization. From Ed Snider to Peter Luukko to Paul Holmgren, this organization cares and pours every ounce of effort into trying to win and trying to make the experience the best for the fans. That’s why you never see local newspapers, television or radio personalities ripping the Flyers ownership. That’s why whenever a negative article comes out about the Flyers organization I sometimes put out a defensive article in response. It’s not because of any one incident on the ice or in the office. It’s because of the people upstairs that we talked about in this article, because they do the right thing for the team and the fans as much as any organization in hockey.