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MELTZER: What Ed Snider Stood For

by Bill Meltzer / Philadelphia Flyers

Whenever the Philadelphia Flyers’ brand is invoked, team supporters and even many people whose loyalty lies with other organizations use adjectives such as tough, passionate, fiercely competitive, self-confident, bold, pugnacious, team-oriented and proud of team tradition as defining traits of the last 50 years. Residents of the Delaware Valley also note the team’s strong bond and service to the community, often with no publicity attached to it.

Those same terms have been used to describe Flyers founder and longtime Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider, who passed away on April 11, 2016 at age 83.

It is no coincidence. Over the years, the Flyers took on the same traits as the man who shaped the franchise.

“Follow your gut. If you have an idea, take a chance. More often than not, the reward will be worth the risk,", Snider said in a speech to students at the University of Maryland, his alma mater, on September 29, 2015.

He was not born into wealth. Snider’s fortune came from his tireless work ethic, ability to recognize and differentiate between short-term and long-term opportunity. An entrepreneur at heart, Snider was willing to take risks when he believed strongly in something.

Snider did not place his trust in just anyone, but when someone earned his trust, he backed that person to the hilt. That was a big part of why Snider created enviable loyalty among most people who worked with and for him.

TAKING WHAT HE DID WELL AND GROWING IT
Edward Malcolm Snider was born on January 6, 1933 in Washington, D.C., to parents of Russian Jewish immigrant backgrounds. His father, Sol, owned a small local grocery store, which grew over time into a supermarket and then a franchised chain.

“I was actually living with my mom and dad on top of my father’s grocery store in Washington, D.C. Slowly, but surely, he moved to another store which was a little bigger, then he acquired a supermarket and then he got two more supermarkets. I grew up in the grocery business and worked side-by-side with my dad, Sol C. Snider, for many, many years,” Snider recalled to Philadelphiaflyers.com in 2004.

ED SNIDER REMEMBERED

     A Statement from the Snider Children

     A Statement from the Flyers and Comcast Spectacor

     A Statement from Ed Snider's wife, Lin

     A Statement from NHL Commissioner

     Ed Snider Remembered

     Ed Snider's Legacy

     WATCH: Official Tribute to Ed Snider

     WATCH: Hextall's Emotional Words

     WATCH: Collection of Memories of Ed Snider

     PHOTOS: A look at the life of Ed Snider
     

The toughness for which he was noted as an adult was bred in him from childhood. When confronted with bullying and anti-Semitism as a youth, he fought back with his tormenters – with his bare fists, win or lose. Before long, he was left alone by the bullies to seek easier targets.

If that sounds a bit like the early development of the Philadelphia Flyers, once again, that is not just a coincidence. During the team’s beginning phases, the Flyers were a defensively sound team that relied heavily on its goaltending and sound two-way play. They were not, however, especially pugnacious relative to the norms of the era. The St. Louis Blues were.

Watching the Blues pulverize and intimidate the Flyers twice in the playoffs, including a brutal 1968 incident in which St. Louis’ ruffian Noel Picard blind-sided and viciously attacked small finesse forward Claude Laforge because he happened to be the closest bystander in a tussle between other players, Snider privately vowed that the team he owned would never again be pushed around in such fashion. That was the genesis of the Flyers assembling what became known as the Broad Street Bullies.

While he was never one to back down from a fight, Snider knew from a young age he wasn’t going to be an athlete when he grew up. That was not where his real abilities lay. Even a youth working with his parents in their grocery store, he had a head for numbers and entrepreneurial thoughts.

During Ed’s childhood, Sol Snider often told his son, “If you don’t do anything, you can’t do anything wrong.” These were not literal words of advice; rather, it was encouragement to follow his dreams. Years later, the Flyers hired a coach named Fred Shero who espoused the same philosophy: “To avoid criticism is easy: Say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Snider decided to take his first real entrepreneurial risk. He left the security of an accounting job and became a partner in Edge Ltd., a record distribution company. Snider was not exceptionally knowledgeable about the music business but he recognized an opportunity.

In 1964, after selling the record business, Snider received an offer he could not refuse. He relocated from Washington to Philadelphia and, for two years, became the vice president of the Philadelphia Eagles football franchise. His real ambitions, however, still were in ownership. Snider purchased a very small share of Eagles ownership.

DISCOVERING HOCKEY & CREATING THE FLYERS
Snider was not a hockey fan growing up. He’d never seen a game much less donned hockey gear and skated. But he became enthralled by the sport when he was finally introduced to it and, furthermore, saw a business opportunity when he attended a basketball game in Boston and saw fans lined up for advanced-sale tickets to a Boston Bruins game.

When Snider learned that the National Hockey League planned to expand from six to as many as 12 teams, he eagerly became part of a group of franchise bidders doing business as Philadelphia Hockey Club, Inc.

During the bidding process, the Philadelphia group was told in no uncertain terms that having a first-rate modern rink was a prerequisite for any franchise to gain approval from the NHL Expansion Committee. No such facility existed in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Arena in West Philly, which had been the home to a series of failed minor league hockey teams, was decrepit.

Snider’s initial role in the ownership group was to negotiate behind the scenes with the City of Philadelphia to cut through red tape in getting a land deal in place for the construction of a new arena. On Feb. 9, 1966, the NHL granted conditional approval of the Philadelphia bid; originally considered a dark horse compared to bids from other locales, including Baltimore.

The condition: getting the arena that came to be known as the Spectrum built in time for the 1967-68 and making good on a payment of a $2 million franchise fee; neither of which were a certainty.

Very quickly, Snider’s role grew to that of primary owner. He mortgaged his home, brought in highly respected businessman Joe Scott, worked feverishly on financing and acquired the controlling franchise rights to what became known as the Philadelphia Flyers.

Everything was on the line financially for Snider and he knew it: it was all-or-nothing risk.

“If the team didn’t make it, I was finished,” Snider recalled in 1990. “I’d have been ruined.”

The name “Flyers” was suggested by Ed Snider’s sister, Phyllis Foreman, during a dessert stop at a Howard Johnson’s on the New Jersey Turnpike on the way back from a Broadway show. The Flyers ownership partners loved it. Names previously considered included Liberty Bells, Lancers, Raiders, Royals, Knights, Sabres, Huskies, Blizzards, Icecaps, Bashers, Bruisers, and Keystones. For publicity, the team subsequently held a name-the-team contest, with the winning entry chosen among the handful who picked Flyers or Fliers as their suggested name.

The club had a name, ownership came up with the franchise fee in full and soon it had a home. The Spectrum was, almost miraculously, completed in time to open for the 1967-68 season.

Now all that remained was the “small” matter of making the Philadelphia Flyers an on-ice and financial success after every other hockey team in Philadelphia, including a short-lived NHL team called the Quakers, had failed.

In their first season of existence, the Flyers won the newly created Western Division during the regular season, defeated each of the “Original Six” teams at least once and survived the month-long closure of the Spectrum after high winds caused damage to the roof during a March 1, 1968 performance of the Ice Capades.

Although the Flyers had a degree of on-ice success in their early years, the Spectrum operated in the red. In 1972, Snider takes control of the Spectrum, using his own financing, and bought the arena out of bankruptcy.

In their seventh season, the Flyers became the first NHL expansion team to win the Stanley Cup. A ticker-tape parade with over 2 million attendees followed and then was surpassed the next year when the Flyers repeated as Stanley Cup champions and an even larger crowd came out to celebrate. In 1976, the Flyers defeated the supposedly unbeatable CSKA (Soviet Red Army) team at the Spectrum and, despite key injuries to Hall of Fame goaltender Bernie Parent and scoring star Rick MacLeish, reached the Finals for a third straight year.

A MAN OF PHILANTHROPY, IN TOUCH WITH HIS ROOTS
The tradition of people calling the Flyers’ owner “Mr. Snider” started with the players of the 1970s, and stemmed from a gesture of respect. Snider himself, however, disliked being addressed so formally.

“Call me Ed,” he said countless times, to no avail.

He also had a wry sense of humor. One year at Flyers training camp, he decried predictions that the team would miss the playoffs by saying, with his trademark intensity, “We’re not chopped liver.”

Then he paused and smiled.

“Actually, I like chopped liver,” he said.

There was much more than just the business side of his life that made up Ed Snider’s character. Those who knew him best said he was someone who never lost touch with the values his parents taught him.

“Ed was a man with incredibly deep values and sense of caring about what is right and wrong in the world. He had a very deep love for his family and his kids and for causes in which he felt strongly about. He’s been extraordinary generous in many ways because he’s had the means to be but all of that is driven by a real sense of care and concern for the world in which he lived,” said Phil Weinberg, Comcast Spectacor’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel.

The philanthropic side of Snider’s life was something he cherished but rarely discussed publically. Neither was his activism in promoting understanding between people of different cultural and religious backgrounds. He wanted his deeds to stand for themselves, because they were not done for publicity.

In 2016, the Flyers Alumni Association, with players representing every decade of franchise history, decided to pledge a $2 million gift to the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation – Snider’s own biggest gift to underserved communities in the Delaware Valley – as a gesture of gratitude to Snider.

“Very simply, we wanted a way to say thank you to Mr. Snider for all he’s done for us, and this seemed like the most appropriate way to do it,” said Flyers Alumni Association president Brad Marsh.

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