Mike Sielski: In replacing Dave Scott, Dan Hilferty has to change just about everything about the Flyers

Mike Sielski, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Hockey

After Comcast Spectacor hired Dan Hilferty as its chief executive officer last month, it didn’t take a genius to see what was ahead and what happened Monday morning: the announcement that Hilferty was succeeding the retiring Dave Scott as the Flyers’ chairman and governor. This wasn’t writing on the wall. This was phantasmagoric spray paint coating three sides of the Comcast Tower and all 200 feet by 85 feet of the Wells Fargo Center ice surface.

Hilferty’s mission here is simple, even if the work ahead of him will be far from it. As the former head of Independence Blue Cross, as the point person for Philadelphia’s successful World Cup bid, Hilferty has established and reaffirmed his reputation as a mover, a shaker, and a problem solver. That last role is his most important in this new position, because as much as the Flyers need to rebuild the team that they put on the ice, they need a civic fixer.

For all of his good intentions, for all the measures he took to mitigate the reality that he wasn’t a “hockey guy” — you can fault him for choosing the wrong advisers, but at least he understood he needed advisers — Scott had become the symbol for an organization that had lost its way and didn’t know how to recover. The atmosphere around the Flyers for years now has been a toxic mixture of indifference and anger: People had stopped caring about them, and those who did still care were furious with them, and that backlash went beyond the subpar product on the ice.

It was a reaction, in part, to the changes to the fan experience inside the Center. Some of those changes were obvious: the creation of a mascot, for instance. But there was a subtler shift, too, a sense that the longtime fans who just wanted to watch the Flyers play winning hockey were no longer the organization’s highest priority. Those fans didn’t need or want an in-game host or hostess donning an orange shirt and screaming into a microphone. They didn’t need Gritty. To these die-hards, the measures that franchises take in the modern era of professional sports to make a game an “experience,” to draw in casual fans, felt contrived and condescending. Stop asking me if I’m ready for some hockey. Just go draft a top-line center, please.

Hilferty is charged with restoring at least some of the sense of the way things used to be. “He brings back a little of that Ed Snider feeling,” one source who has worked closely with him said. He’s from Ocean City, an alumnus of St. Joseph’s University, the kind of guy who spends his summers down the shore and would be happy sitting in Section 223 of the Wells Fargo Center, having a Yards and cheering after every Carter Hart save. Those local connections give him credibility, but it’s his track record as what this source called “a Philadelphia champion” that matters more here. He has to get stuff done in this new job, and he usually gets stuff done.


“He’s no bull[bleep],” the source said. “He’s a big-picture guy, and he can read a room and get people excited.”

Comcast Spectacor and the Flyers could use someone like that. The team’s terrible condition has hampered the company in the public-relations battle over the 76ers’ desire for a new arena and their plan to build one at 10th and Market.

Yes, David Adelman and the Sixers are facing fierce opposition from Chinatown’s residents and civic leaders — opposition that clearly caught them off guard — but they’ve had an advantage over the Flyers from the moment the arena proposal was made public. The Sixers were the competent franchise, with a superstar in Joel Embiid who is beloved locally and who gives them a chance at a championship. The Sixers were offering to help the city, to make it more dynamic and vibrant. The Flyers were stuck. The Flyers were fading into irrelevance. The Flyers couldn’t even handle the trade deadline properly.

That has been the perception. That has been pretty much the truth. That is what Dan Hilferty has to change, starting now.

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