O’Neil Seeking Two-City Financial Turnaround as 76ers-Devils CEO

Scott O’Neil is trying to turn around the financial footing of two professional sports franchises in different cities and said he’s never been happier.

O’Neil became the chief executive officer of the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers in July when the team was purchased by Apollo Global Management LLC co-founder Josh Harris. He assumed the same role with the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils last month, when Harris and David Blitzer, senior managing director of Blackstone Group LP, purchased the debt-ridden franchise.

“The good news about having guys like Josh and David, they understand difficult situations, difficult turnarounds,” O’Neil said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “Their formula is pretty simple, you buy an asset that’s distressed, you restructure, you bring in really talented people and you have a long-term approach.”

O’Neil had been president of Madison Square Garden Sports, where he oversaw business operations of the company’s three professional New York sports teams -- the NBA’s Knicks, NHL’s Rangers and the Liberty of the Women’s NBA.

Now he’s working with teams in cities about 90 miles (145 kilometers) apart and sees similar opportunities.

“In Philadelphia, the business was down, they had struggled for 10 years or so,” O’Neil said. “You have a turnaround opportunity in a great market with a terrific brand with some real history and tradition to it.”

Devils Value

The Devils, who play at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, struggled financially under the ownership of former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. executive Jeff Vanderbeek. Forbes estimated in November that the Devils were worth $205 million, ranked 19th among the NHL’s 30 teams, with $122 million in revenue.

“You have a tremendous market,” O’Neil said. “You have 21 corporate headquarters based in New Jersey and the fourth-highest grossing arena in North America behind the Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center. We have a good history of attracting folks.”

O’Neil is taking part in the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit hosted by Bloomberg Link.

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