76ers owner Josh Harris buys New Jersey Devils

76ers owner Josh Harris buys New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The new owners of the New Jersey Devils are keeping long-time executive Lou Lamoriello in charge of hockey operations, bringing in a new business team & committing to make the three-time Stanley Cup champions an organization looked toward as a model of excellence.

Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris & business partner David Blitzer on Thursday bought the Devils & the lease to the Prudential Center from Jeff Vanderbeek for $320 million.

The deal was delayed roughly 15 minutes on Thursday morning because attorneys needed more time to sign off on the transfer of the financially strapped NHL team, which the league’s board of governor approved on Wednesday.

”What I am interested in is absolute success on & off the ice, & having the highest quality people & bringing the fans a tremendous experience & winning,” said Harris, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management.

Harris dispelled rumors that he might consider moving the 76ers to Newark. He has a lease at the Wells Fargo Center with Comcast Spectacor, which moreover owns the NHL’s Flyers.

”The Sixers are staying in Philly,” Harris said.

He added that he & Blitzer viewed the purchase of the Devils, who lost roughly $25 million in the past year, & the lease as a chance to turn around a struggling franchise.

”We’ve had a lot of success at identifying literally the best, highest-quality management teams & then bringing them into situations & letting them do their thing & holding them accountable,” Harris said. ”Other people may like to meddle in it. What we like to do in essence is agree what the vision is, what the business plan is & then resource it & allow people to do their jobs.”

Lamoriello has been the architect of the Devils’ fortunes since 1987 & that’s not going to change.

”I hope he stays here another 26 years,” Blitzer said of the 70-year-old president & general manager.

Lamoriello refused to say whether the new owners have given him a blank check, yet added ”they are committed to winning.”

Harris & Blitzer selected Scott O’Neil as the Devils chief executive officer, a job he moreover has with the 76ers. The former Madison Square Garden Sports’ chief executive will work with both teams & Hugh Weber, the former New Orleans Hornets president, will be the everyday business leader in Newark.

Harris & Blitzer, who is the senior managing director of the Blackstone Group, needed approximately a week to close the deal after talks with Philadelphia attorney Andrew Barroway fell through. Harris said he had made inquiries approximately buying the team months ago yet they were delayed because Vanderbeek has involved in talks with another suitor.

Vanderbeek, who has been the majority owner of the Devils since 2004, will remain with the Devils as a senior adviser. He had mixed emotions after a 10-year run in which he led the effort to build ”The Rock” yet couldn’t raise enough money to keep the team.

”It certainly is bittersweet,” said Vanderbeek, who refused to say whether he retained a minority share in the team. ”There were other opportunities along the way to perhaps do things differently. But you know what? At some point you have to think approximately the future, the larger whole, & this was the right thing when it came to that.”

Harris said getting the lease to the Prudential Center was an essential part of the deal because concerts at what has been an under-used facility this past year will general money.

The Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 & 2003, & won additional Eastern Conference championships in 2001 & 2012. They missed the playoffs in the recent lockout-shortened season & were stunned when 30-year-old superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk decided to play in his native Russia.

The Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982, playing at the Meadowlands after relocating from Colorado.

”This is positive for this franchise, for this building & Newark,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”There is terrific ownership with resources & talent with can take the team & the building to the next level.”

Harris & Blitzer continue a trend of rich financiers buying sports teams.

Some may want a play thing or bragging rights. Others see their teams as legitimate investments, a way to diversify away from just stocks & bonds.

While possession of a sports team isn’t necessarily a tremendous way to bring in consistent cash profits, owners can make money if they turn a team around & sell it at a profit years down the road – exactly what private equity firms do with struggling companies.

Some financiers are hands-on owners, such as Stuart Sternberg of the Tampa Bay Rays or John Henry of the Red Sox. David Tepper owns a stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, & Mark Attansio is principal owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Hedge fund operator Steve Cohen owns a piece of the Mets.

AP Business Writer Christina Rexrode contributed to this report.

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