Flyers founder Ed Snider dies at 83

Ed Snider, 83, the billionaire entrepreneur who co-founded the Flyers and displayed more passion than many fans sitting in the nosebleed seats, died Monday morning after a long battle with bladder cancer.

The news was confirmed by the team, which issued a statement written by Mr. Snider’s children.

"Our Dad was loved and admired for his big heart, generosity of spirit, and dedication to his family," they wrote. "Despite his considerable business achievements and public profile, he was first and foremost a family man. He never missed a birthday, important family event or the opportunity to offer encouragement. We turned first to him for advice in our personal and professional lives. We grew up tagging behind him in arenas, stadiums and locker rooms; and his players, management and team personnel were our extended family. He treated his employees with respect regardless of rank or position, and the man they called ‘Mr. Snider’ always would have preferred simply to be called ‘Ed.’"

Just a few days before Mr. Snider’s passing, the Flyers completed an improbable late-season surge to clinch a trip to the playoffs. Many players and team staff members cited Mr. Snider’s failing health as an inspiration for doing so.

"With every game during the push to make the playoffs this spring we hoped he would survive to see the Flyers win just one more game," Mr. Snider’s children wrote. "He gave the last ounce of his indomitable energy and strength to live through this hockey season, but now the Flyers must win without him. He fought his last years, months and days with courage and grace and recounted his love for many, including his Flyers family and fans. We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support from the community, his friends and all those who were fortunate to have been touched by him in some way, large or small."

Mr. Snider, known as one of the most enthusiastic sports owners in Philadelphia history and chairman of the Flyers’ parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 and over the years received numerous honors for his philanthropy and business success.

Most of all, though, the Flyers were his baby. Nothing made him prouder. He was there for their birth, and he watched them grow into one of the National Hockey League’s most respected franchises.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Snider "the soul and spirit of the Flyers, who have reflected his competitiveness, his passion for hockey, and his love for the fans from the moment he brought NHL hockey to Philadelphia in 1967."

"Ed created the Flyers’ professional, no-nonsense culture, fostered their relentless will to win and set the highest standard for every activity on and off the ice, including such initiatives as the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and the Flyers Wives Carnival," Bettman said. "While the loss of Ed Snider tears a hole in the heart of the Flyers and the city of Philadelphia, and leaves a massive void in the city’s sports landscape, it also challenges all who knew him to carry forward the great works that are his legacy."

Just before the current season started, Mr. Snider told the Inquirer that his cancer had returned and that he had to undergo more treatment. But he did not want it publicized. He wanted the focus to be on the team, not his health issues.

Born in Washington and the son of a grocery-store chain owner, Mr. Snider had a net worth that was reported at $2.5 billion by celebritynetworth.com. He was the treasurer and vice president of the Eagles when he and Eagles owner Jerry Wolman helped bring an expansion NHL team to Philadelphia for the 1967-68 season.

When a parade was held to celebrate the Flyers’ arrival in Philadelphia, about 25 people showed up.

Seven years later, two million hockey-crazed fans attended a parade after the Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup as NHL champions.

Before Saturday’s playoff-clinching 3-1 win over Pittsburgh at the Wells Fargo Center, Lauren Hart sang "God Bless America" and was joined by a video of Kate Smith to form a duet. As she held her iPhone, Hart face-timed her stirring rendition to a failing Mr. Snider, who was surrounded by his family in California.

Hart said she asked Mr. Snider’s daughter, her close friend Lindy, for permission to face-time with her father.

"It meant a lot to me because I was out there in February, and there was some hope he might be able to come home, and at some point, I realized that wasn’t going to happen," Hart, whose father, the late Gene Hart, was a Hall of Fame Flyers broadcaster, said by telephone Monday. "I just couldn’t imagine him never being there again. It broke my heart. I just wanted to bring that feeling to him. I wanted to give it to him one more time, what it felt like at the beginning of games."

Hart said she will always treasure singing to Mr. Snider one last time.

"I knew in my heart that that was his last game," she said. "I have that memory forever now, and I’ll hold it dear."

Lin Snider said she was "overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and admiration" for her husband, and she expressed thanks for their thoughts and condolences. "He was a man of tremendous vitality. At the core, he was a wonderful family man," she said. "Our time together, while far too short, was filled with extraordinary moments and wonderful adventures. We loved each other deeply."

Earlier this season, two days before the Flyers played the Kings in Los Angeles on Jan. 2, the players, coaches and support staff visited with the ailing Mr. Snider at his mansion in Montecito, Calif. They traveled on a bus after a practice at the recently opened Snider Rink, or Ice in Paradise. Mr. Snider was one of the rink’s largest donors.

At Mr. Snider’s residence, team captain Claude Giroux said one of the first things he noticed was the huge Flyers flag hanging in the driveway.

"The passion he has for hockey and Philadelphia hockey is really great to see," Giroux said at the time. "He’s been a really good leader for us and to spend time with him today was really good."

Giroux said he didn’t discuss much hockey with Mr. Snider that day. "We talked more about life," he said.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said the visit was "tremendous" for the team. "It was great to see the light and fire in his eyes," Hakstol said of Mr. Snider.

Earlier this season, there were signs that Mr. Snider’s health was getting worse. He missed the home opener for the first time in recent memory. At the time, spokesman Ike Richman said Mr. Snider was "choosing to remain at his home in California, where he is resting and recharging after recent medical therapy."

But he still kept close tabs on the team. He was excited by the Flyers’ effort and strong play in their season opener, a 3-2 overtime defeat to host Tampa Bay. "I said to him, ‘I never heard you so happy after a loss,’" Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said at the time.

Two nights after that tough defeat to the gifted Lightning, the Flyers were trounced in Florida, 7-1.

"He wasn’t quite as happy," Hextall said.

Mr. Snider and the late Wolman, who helped secure the financing, were also the driving forces behind the construction of the Spectrum, the Flyers’ first home in 1967-68, and Mr. Snider assumed control of the building in 1971.

Mr. Snider and Wolman later became bitter enemies. Wolman was part of the ownership group that founded the Flyers, but he sold his 22 percent to Mr. Snider before the team played a game.

Bob Clarke said it was "hard to put into words" what Mr. Snider meant to the players.

"He was a great owner, and it wasn’t just because he wanted to win all the time," said Clarke, the captain of the Flyers’ 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cup champions who later spent stints as the club’s assistant coach, general manager, and president, and is now its senior vice president. "He treated us as players so much better than all the other teams when we first got started. We were the first team where the wives got Christmas presents, the first team to fly on the good airlines and stay in the good hotels."

Before the salary-cap era started in 2005, it wasn’t unusual for Mr. Snider to spend more money on players than other NHL teams. That, combined with the way he treated players and their families, made Philadelphia a popular destination for free agents.

Clarke recalled when Flyers goalie Bruce Gamble suffered a heart attack during a 1972 game and how Mr. Snider stood by him and his family.

"Obviously [Gamble] had to retire, but Mr. Snider kept paying him after he was done and educated his children," Clarke said. "You’re talking about a time when athletes in most places weren’t treated like they are today. He went way out of his way. You can go through so many players that he helped. Some didn’t play very long, but when they left, money was sent to help raise their children. Nobody ever heard those stories, but I knew because I was on the inside.

"Those types of things, they were human things. They weren’t sports," said Clarke, one of numerous ex-Flyers — many of whom played in the "Broad Street Bullies" era in the 1970s — still working for the organization. "Those weren’t things that other owners were doing. That was [done] for the love of his players and their families. Those kind of things, I don’t know if they happen today. But in those days, they didn’t happen" around the league."

Mr. Snider would sometimes get involved in negotiating contracts with players in the franchise’s early years. Terry Crisp, a center who played on the Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1974 and 1975, said Mr. Snider was "always fair." At Mr. Snider’s suggestion, Crisp said, he negotiated with him directly on his last deal instead of using an agent.

‘All good stuff’

Mr. Snider has said that one of his proudest accomplishments was the creation of the Ed Snider Youth Foundation, which provides youngsters from urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Camden with the opportunity to learn and play hockey.

After all those years, Mr. Snider said in a 2009 interview, he had found something as rewarding as the consecutive Stanley Cups his Flyers won in 1974 and 1975.

Asked to compare winning those titles to the joy he sees on the children’s faces as they play hockey at the rinks, Mr. Snider smiled.

"I can’t compare," he said. "It would be like trying to compare your children. It’s all good stuff."

He paused.

"But at my age," said Mr. Snider, who was 76 at the time, "I want to leave something behind as my legacy, because I think this will grow and will continue to grow and will be a regular thing."

The foundation, which started in 2005, partnered with the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2010 to complete a $14.5 million construction project, completely refurbishing four public rinks for year-round use. The project included new classrooms, learning labs and public meeting space.

The young players get ice time, uniforms, instruction, skates, and sticks for free. "Even before we took over the rinks, we did programs each year, and it’s been a big thrill for me because for years we wanted to do something for inner-city kids," Mr. Snider said. "I feel sad for what they have to go through in life. … The ice time helps them improve skills and keeps them off the street."

On Feb. 11, in honor of the franchise’s upcoming 50th anniversary, the Flyers’ alumni association pledged to donate $2 million toward building a new rink for the Ed Snider Youth Foundation.

Brad Marsh, a former Flyer who is the association’s president, said the alumni wanted to help area youths and "show our appreciation to Mr. Snider, who has made such a vast impact on our careers and lives."

Mr. Snider was honored for his charity work by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association in 2012, when the annual Ed Snider Humanitarian award was created.

Before becoming involved with the Eagles and then the Flyers, Mr. Snider was in the record business in the 1960s. While in New York on business, a sales associate took him to a hockey game at Madison Square Garden, where they watched the New York Rangers face the Montreal Canadiens.

"It was the greatest spectator sport I had ever seen," Mr. Snider later said.

A seed was planted, and, according to Jay Greenberg’s reporting in the book Full Spectrum, it grew after Mr. Snider attended a 76ers-Celtics matchup in Boston one Sunday afternoon. As he left the Boston Garden, Mr. Snider saw a long line of people waiting to buy tickets to the Bruins’ hockey game, and it left an indelible impression.

A couple of years later, the Flyers were born.

"It seems like yesterday," Snider said in February when the Flyers celebrated the 50th anniversary of the franchise being awarded in 1966. The team started playing the following year. "In our first season the Hockey News thought we would be the team least likely to succeed, but were they ever wrong!"

In a statement he sent from his California home, Snider said his "favorite part has been sharing these moments with all of the players who define Flyers hockey, with the hundreds of employees who work tirelessly to create a great fan experience, and with the millions of dedicated, loyal and passionate Flyers fans who have made our first 50 years so incredible. Together we truly have something special."

Respected for his shrewd business acumen, Mr. Snider created Spectacor in 1974 as a management company to oversee the Flyers and the Spectrum. In the next 20 years, Spectacor grew, as did its impact on the sports and entertainment business. The company developed and acquired nearly a dozen related companies.

In 1996, Mr. Snider merged Spectacor with the Comcast Corporation to form Comcast-Spectacor, which initially consisted of the Flyers, 76ers, the American Hockey League Phantoms, the Wells Fargo Center, and the Spectrum. The company later joined with the Phillies to form Comcast SportsNet, one of the nation’s highest-rated regional sports cable networks.

Mr. Snider received the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s William Penn Award in 2005. It is considered the region’s most prestigious business honor.

In addition to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Mr. Snider was named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia and Washington Jewish Sports Halls of Fame, and the Flyers Hall of Fame.

Under Mr. Snider, the Flyers were one of the NHL’s most successful teams during the regular season, but they have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975. Since winning their first Cup in 1974, the Flyers have reached the Finals eight times, the most of any NHL franchise in that span.

Since the Flyers’ inception in 1967, only Montreal and Boston have a better winning percentage than Philadelphia.

In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Flyers’ first Stanley Cup, Mr. Snider took part in a conference call with reporters in the spring of 2014. He said he was disappointed that it has been so long between championships but talked about the team getting close on several occasions.

"While we didn’t win the other six times in the Stanley Cup Final, we’ve reached the Final three times in the 1980s, once in the 1990s [and] in 2010," he said. "I think it’s a pretty damn good record and one I’m very proud of."

Earned respect

In addition to their California home, Mr. Snider and his wife, Lin, lived in suburban Philadelphia.

One of his sons, Jay, served as the Flyers’ president from 1983 to 1994 and is now CEO of the Airsoft Megastore, a Southern California online retailer that specializes in air guns for sport, according to its website.

Mr. Snider was married four times. SportsInput.com reported that Mr. Snider proposed to Lin Spivak at a swanky Santa Barbara, Calif., restaurant late in 2012. He reportedly excused himself to the restroom, at which point a group of singers came over and sang "Marry You" by Bruno Mars before Mr. Snider returned, got down on one knee and proposed.

Over the years, Mr. Snider remained close with his players, going into the locker room after each game, giving them hugs and handshakes and starting conversations to find out about their lives.

Because of his health problems, he was at only a handful of games this season.

Some have suggested that Mr. Snider and the most famous player in franchise history, Hall of Famer Clarke, had a father-son relationship.

Clarke smiled when it was mentioned.

"I used to say he probably treats me better than his kids," Clarke said with a chuckle. "I mean, being a father, you have to discipline your kids. With me, he just kept doing good things for me."

Because of the way Mr. Snider’s treated his employees, it "led the Flyers to be a team that players wanted to come to and play for," Clarke said. "We won a lot of games, but a lot of teams won a lot of games. When players from other organizations became free agents… they wanted to come to Philly. And it was because of what Mr. Snider established and years of taking care of the players and their families. Look at [Peter] Forsberg. The same thing with Jeremy Roenick. Lots of teams wanted these guys, but they wanted to come here."

Clarke said Mr. Snider would regularly give $50,000 to the Flyers alumni association for former players "who needed help."

Last year, Mr. Snider said he didn’t understand why most people didn’t call him Ed. He said he wanted folks to call him by his first name instead of "Mr. Snider."

Clarke said he called him "Mr. Snider" out of respect, like seeing one of your old teachers years after graduating from school. It just seemed natural to call him by his last name.

"From the time I turned pro, he was always ‘Mr. Snider’ to me," Clarke said. "It just didn’t seem right for me to call him Ed — and we were close — even to this day."

General manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers would wear patches on their jerseys in the playoffs, which start Thursday in Washington, to honor Mr. Snider. There are lots of memorials in the works, including a possible statue of Mr. Snider. There is also a chance the Wells Fargo Center rink will be named in his honor.

"Would I be in favor? One hundred percent," Hextall said. "Damn right."

In addition to his wife and son, Jay, Mr. Snider is survived by former wives Martha McGeary and Christine Decroix; sons Craig and Samuel; daughters Lindy, Tina, and Sarena; and 15 grandchildren. His first wife, Myrna Snider, predeceased him.

The family is to hold a private service. There also will be a public service at a date to be determined at the Wells Fargo Center.

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