He got wind of the NHL’s intention to grow and made the first call to the head of its expansion committee. He worked through the city bureaucracy at seemingly impossible speed to get the shovels into the ground for the Spectrum, and risked everything he had - and in 1966 that wasn’t very much – to get the team on the ice.
In a city that had been hugely apathetic to multiple minor league operations, Snider believed major league hockey couldn’t fail. Five months into a first season that had begun with crowds consistently under 10,000 -- and a few even below 5,000 -- a wind-damaged Spectrum roof orphaned the Flyers to complete their home schedule in Toronto, New York and Quebec City. Turned out, his worst nightmare only made stronger the bond between the team and its fans, typical of Snider’s gift for the turnaround.
From such scrambling beginnings emerged an iconic franchise, mostly through Snider’s unrelenting ambition and uncannily sound judgment. Once he felt confident enough in his knowledge of the game to become unhappy with the Flyers direction under original GM Bud Poile, Snider promoted Assistant GM Keith Allen midway through Season Three on the way to Stanley Cups in Season Seven and Eight.
Having given up his Spectrum shares before the Flyers’ first game in exchange for a majority cut of the hockey team, he headed a partnership that rescued the building from bankruptcy in 1972, paid off every creditor 100 cents on the dollar, and turned it into one of the busiest and most profitable sports and entertainment centers in the nation.
That led to the 1974 genesis of Spectacor, the arena management company that has spawned nearly a dozen related businesses that today have 300 clients and run 400 properties throughout the world.
With Flyers’ home games as a programming centerpiece, Snider in 1976 pioneered PRISM, one of the first regional sports and entertainment networks in the United States. During the mid-nineties, he built the $210 million CoreStates Center, now the Wells Fargo Center, using only $25 million in public funds.
The Flyers got big because their majority owner thought big, his foresight demonstrated not just by the Stanley Cups but by the fact that in the season of that first championship (1973-74) none of the other five clubs that joined the NHL at the same time even had a winning record.
Since emerging as a power in 1972-73, Snider’s team is tied with the Canadiens for the most Stanley Cup final berths (eight) and Philadelphia’s 16 trips to the semifinals are the most of any club. Even after the last championship in 1975, only Montreal has a higher regular season percentage of points won and no team has had more semifinal appearances (13) than the Flyers.
It also is fair to say that no club has spent more money, shed more tears, and had such sustained success end in so much heartbreak, Snider taking it harder than anyone.
“It been like someone’s putting pins in a doll to keep us from winning,” Snider said in 2014. “Injuries, offsides goals, weird goals. That (bad angle, Cup winning) goal in 2010 was after our goalie had three shutouts (in the conference finals) against Montreal. I thought we were outplaying Chicago (in Game Six) when that happened.
“If you are in the finals six times, you’d think we would luck into one. With the effort we’ve put into it, it’s very frustrating. But I also understand that it’s gotten more and more difficult. There are more teams and parity and the quality of the executives and coaching around the league is outstanding.
“I think ours is a pretty damn good record. I am extremely proud that the franchise is known throughout the world. I am extremely proud that a lot of young people think we are a part of the Original Six.
“We have kept our colors. We’ve kept our logo.”
Even more important than consistency in the Flyers’ good looks has been the maintenance of their philosophy. Forged by Snider in his relationship with Allen, it didn’t waver as their expansion brethren set a goal of making the playoffs while the Flyers weighed everything in context of winning the Cup.
For his brilliance in making hockey a huge success in the nation’s sixth-largest metropolitan area, Snider was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame (1988) and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame (2011).
But a greater contribution than just to the game came in 2005 with the launch of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, which has coupled participation in hockey with life skills curriculum and supplemental educational services for more than 10,000 high-risk boys and girls from Philadelphia, Camden and Chester.
“He said to many people that Snider Hockey is his legacy, the best thing he ever has done,” said CEO and President of the ESYHF, Scott Tharp. Considering all Snider built that is a considerable statement.
“I grew up in tough (District of Columbia) neighborhoods and had to be in a gang to survive,” he recalled. “I was scared and in lots of fist fights.
“I wanted to do something for the inner city kids and thought the best way to help was through hockey. Paul Vallas, (CEO of the School District of Philadelphia from 2002 to 2006) worked with me to get it started.
“The city was going to close rinks. We said we’d remodel them and run them at our expense. Now they’re beautiful, like the young men and women we’re developing kids are doing something they never thought they could do, graduating (at a 90 per cent rate) from high school, going onto 4-year colleges and trade schools. It’s phenomenal.
“This was the first time I ever put my name on anything. I want it to last forever.”
He was named philanthropist of the year by The Philadelphia Business Journal and was a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, awarded to Americans of all ethnic backgrounds who have made significant contributions to society.
“People have no idea of half the things he did for former employees, even for people who randomly wrote to him,” recalls Ann Marie Nasuti, Snider’s long-time executive assistant. “Many times, I had to tell him to say no.”
Snider wasn’t good at no, that’s why the Flyers have became what they are, and why Philadelphia mourns the most dynamic and beloved franchise owner it ever has had.