ST. PAUL, Minn. - Last week, hours before Thanksgiving, Peter Luukko sat comfortably in the lower bowl of the Tampa Bay Times Forum and watched the Flyers practice before their game against the Lightning.
Luukko, multitasking master of a mound of email, was replying to emails on his phone as the Flyers skated. He chatted about the Flyers' next road trip, said he would join the team sometime this week.
Luukko was particularly excited about the Flyers' early-January trip to Phoenix, where Comcast-Spectacor manages the Coyotes' arena and Cardinals' stadium.
Less than a week later, Luukko abruptly said goodbye. Luukko shockingly resigned as Comcast-Spectacor president and chief operating officer yesterday, departing even though Ed Snider himself viewed Luukko as the heir apparent to his throne.
The change was effective immediately. Luukko, 54, cashed out his equity to pursue other interests, according to a statement released by the Flyers' parent company.
"I want to thank Ed for the opportunities that he has given me to help build Comcast-Spectacor over the past 25 years," Luukko said in the statement. "We have had a wonderful partnership, building a great company with a terrific management team.
"Now, I have decided that it is time for me to take advantage of the equity I have built up at Comcast-Spectacor and pursue other entrepreneurial interests."
Dave Scott will take over as acting president of Comcast-Spectacor. He is a recently retired executive vice president of Comcast's cable division. Scott will not hold the office of Flyers president, an ex-officio title usually extended to the Comcast-Spectacor COO and president.
Snider said Luukko delivered the news early yesterday morning. It broke up a weekly Comcast-Spectacor department-head meeting just after noon, with the heads of the company being whisked into another meeting.
Luukko's decision not only caught Snider off-guard, but sent shock waves around the sports world.
"I was very surprised," Bob Williams, president of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena, told the Daily News. Williams and Luukko broke into the arena-management business together. "I have not heard anything about why he might have left. One thing about Peter is that he's always had great instincts. He has a very entrepreneurial mind. Any time I had the chance to be around him, I learned something.
"The Flyers are one of the preeminent organizations in sports. A lot of that is due to Ed and Peter."
Snider said Luukko's departure will have a limited impact on the Flyers - even though he was very involved with player transactions and day-to-day operations. General manager Paul Holmgren and senior vice president of business operations Shawn Tilger will remain in charge, with Snider filling any void.
"I don't think it affects the Flyers as much as our other businesses that he was responsible for growing," Snider said. "He's been very instrumental in the growth of that company and the growth of Global Spectrum, which is our management company of stadiums, arenas and convention centers."
Forbes recently valued the Flyers at $500 million, a 49 percent uptick over the previous year, and ranked them the seventh most-valuable franchise in the NHL. Forbes estimated the Flyers' operating revenue (profit) at $6 million, which would rank 16th in the league.
Under Luukko, Global Spectrum grew from just a handful of facilities to more than 115 across the United States and Canada. He also had a reported ownership stake in Ovations Food Services, a food and beverage provider, and helped launch ticketing companies New Era Tickets and Paciolan.
In Philadelphia, Luukko made the ground shake. He started under Snider in 1985, eventually moving to Los Angeles as the general manager of the Los Angeles Coliseum, before moving to Philadelphia in 1993 as the president of the Spectrum.
Once the facility now called the Wells Fargo Center opened in 1996, Luukko helped lure the 2000 Republican National Convention, 2002 NBA All-Star Game, multiple NCAA basketball regionals, and the 2014 NCAA Frozen Four.
He also forged a strong relationship with the NHL. The Flyers hosted the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park, skated in one at his childhood shrine, Fenway Park, and will host the 2014 NHL draft in June. Comcast also won the NHL's television rights package in the United States for a period of 10 years.
"This was a total surprise to us, so I can't speak at all to the circumstances of [the] announcement," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Daily News. "But Peter was one of the best at what he does. He always represented the Flyers and the club's ownership well, and he was enormously helpful to us on league initiatives. He's a real class act and we will certainly miss him."
The search is underway for Luukko's replacement. Snider said his son, Jay Snider, who at 25 was the youngest executive ever to run a major sports franchise when he was Flyers president from 1983-94, is not a candidate. Jay Snider runs a business with his oldest son, Jamie, in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
One solid in-house candidate is John Page, a former Southern California football player who is currently the Global Spectrum chief operating officer.
"It's a business position," Snider said of the opening. "We're pretty well set on the sports end of it."
Snider, 80, made it clear cable conglomerate Comcast would need to approve any heir to his throne. Yesterday, Comcast Cable also replaced Comcast-Spectacor CFO Russ Chandler with Gary Rostick, a former CFO of Comcast Business Services.
From the sounds of it, Snider will not have total control of the direction of the hiring. Comcast Cable, after all, is the parent company of Comcast-Spectacor.
"Yes, I did," Snider said when asked if he viewed Luukko as his successor. "But obviously, if I step down, it would be up to Comcast to make the decision. If it were up to me, [Luukko] would certainly be first in line in my mind. Trust me, this all came so quick, it wouldn't even be fair for me to speculate [on what happens]. We'll see where it goes."
Luukko was part of a group of avid hockey players to skate almost daily at 7:15 a.m. at the Wells Fargo Center. His son, Nick, is a Flyers draft pick and defenseman at the University of Vermont. Luukko also has a son, Max, who plays hockey at The Gunnery prep school in Connecticut, and a daughter, Dana. The Luukko family resides in West Chester.
Where Luukko lands next remains anyone's guess. Comcast-Spectacor would not disclose whether Luukko's contract featured a noncompete clause. Luukko did not respond to a request for comment.
"I can tell you that wherever Peter goes, that company will have been very fortunate to have acquired him," Williams said. "He is a smart guy. You never know, maybe he will do something on his own in this industry."