The Flyers, a year after Luukko's exit
Peter Luukko's resignation led to changes on and off the ice for the team and Comcast-Spectacor.
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Fifty-five weeks ago, the Flyers arrived in the Twin Cities to prep for the Minnesota Wild and a game that ultimately took a back seat to news on the trip.
On the morning of that Dec. 2 game, the Flyers issued a press release announcing the abrupt resignation of team president and Comcast-Spectacor chief operating officer Peter Luukko.
Luukko's sudden cash-out sent shockwaves through the organization, a seismic event that reshaped the foundation of the front office. The first tremor was not felt until Ron Hextall was promoted to general manager on May 7, partly made possible by Luukko vacating the team presidency, to which Paul Holmgren was elevated from GM on the same day.
Even a year later, the next tremors from the fallout will only begin to be felt in the new year, when new Comcast-Spectacor COO/president David A. Scott implements his vision for the business side of the team and Wells Fargo Center after months of contemplation.
On Jan. 6, the Wells Fargo Center is expected to unveil a speedy, arena-wide WiFi system to enhance communication and in-game interaction for fans. It is expected to be ready to roll for the Flyers' first home game after this eight-game road trip.
That is the first of many technological investments, part of Scott's ultimate goal to make the South Philadelphia venue a leader on the cutting edge of fan interaction and game presentation.
On a broader scale, Scott and his team have been working on a multimillion-dollar modernization of the Wells Fargo Center. Opened at a cost of $210 million in 1996, the Center has been operating for more than 18 years and already has served half the useful life of most indoor sports venues.
For perspective, the Spectrum served the Flyers and Sixers for 29 years (1967-1996) before the then-named CoreStates Center opened across the parking lot.
Renovations have come from time to time over the years. In 2006, to mark the building's 10-year anniversary, a new center-hung scoreboard was installed with corresponding LED ribbons that wrap the arena's bowl. High-definition televisions replaced older sets throughout.
There have been fewer upgrades to the overall amenities in the building.
One of the first plans in the overhaul, according to sources, is a total refresh of the suite and club levels. A significant update to both the upper and lower concourses would follow.
The timing of it all seems to be in flux, but the big physical changes are not expected to begin until 2016 or later. That's when the 20-year note on the Wells Fargo Center, built with private financing, is scheduled to be paid off.
Further complicating the rollout is that some of these plans were first put into place by Luukko's team. While most of the key players, like Global Spectrum president John Page and Flyers COO Shawn Tilger, remain in their roles, Scott's team of executives from the Comcast Cable division have taken a long look at just about every facet of the business.
That is not to say Scott's group, including new chief financial officer Gary Rostick, found fault in Luukko's modus operandi. Rather, Scott and Rostick have taken the time to learn the business, challenge theories and ask questions before attempting to implement their own ideas.
For instance, Scott noted in a Philadelphia Business Journal interview that they have developed only 15 percent of their available space in the sports complex. For now, though, any plans to expand around Xfinity Live! - which was planned to be much bigger - seem to be tabled.
For the most part, the day-to-day business of the Flyers has not changed. A small number of team employees from varying departments were laid off over the summer.
When Scott was hired - first on an interim basis before accepting a long-term contract last spring - many believed he would focus on the bottom line. He said in the interview with the Business Journal that he wanted to be careful to not "Comcastize" the sports and entertainment arm of the cable giant.
Scott was not available for comment on this story.
It is no secret, though, that Scott and Rostick believe the Flyers could be more profitable. According to Forbes Magazine, the Flyers were seventh in the NHL with a $136 million operating revenue last season but just 14th in operating income (profit) with $11 million.
Part of that is due to the Flyers' hockey operations payroll. The hard salary cap is designed to help maximize profit through fixed spending. Under Holmgren, the Flyers exceeded the salary cap every season in real dollars and are committed to long-term payments for buyouts to remove disastrous deals.
Former goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov will receive $1.64 million per year through 2027. Deals like that hurt the company's bottom line, without question.
As long as Ed Snider is chairman, Hextall and the Flyers will not be asked to cut back on spending on the hockey club.
Still, Hextall's long-term plan and more patient approach with development seems to also have a more fiscally conservative component. Since taking over in May, Hextall traded Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger with the benefit of shorter term on his expensive contract. The rest remains to be seen; Hextall signed Nick Schultz, Ray Emery and Michael Del Zotto to 1-year deals totaling just $3.55 million.
"It's been great, I really enjoy running a team," Hextall said Saturday in Toronto in an interview with his cousin, Leah Hextall, of Rogers Media's Sportsnet. "I think there's ups and downs. Every win or loss is either great or terrible."
His ascension, which has renewed hope for Flyers fans with his long-term plan, likely would not have happened as quickly without Luukko's sudden change of heart last December. Luukko, now 55, is on the board for Pointstreak 5050 - the company that owns software now popular in all four major sports - and says he has a big business announcement coming soon.
"Working in sports and leaving is like being in the military and going to civilian life," Luukko said yesterday. "You work nights and weekends and you have a certain routine on game nights. I had a great time. I had to think about my future. What would be fun for me to do? I watch both my boys play a lot of hockey. You only have so many years with your kids."