Dave Scott is going all in as the Flyers’ boss

September 18th, 2018

Dave Scott is talking as if he's a millennial. He's on his feet in the conference room at the top of the Wells Fargo Center that once served as Ed Snider's office, enthusiasm spilling from every pore of his 65-year-old body as he raves about players on his esports team —  "Carpe," "fragi," "Poko," and "snillo" — the latest stars of Comcast Spectacor's ever-increasing empire of sports entertainment.

"Here's a picture. Come over here. I'll show it to you," says Scott, Comcast Spectacor's chief executive officer and chairman, pointing to a computer screen. "Look, I'm in there with all these kids."

He laughs. Scott, who heads up the Flyers as part of his job, is a million miles and an ocean's worth of cable-industry sea changes from being a laptop-loving gamer, a million miles from being a millennial. Yet he speaks of the Philadelphia Fusion, Comcast Spectacor's entry into the esports forum, as a founder or a fanatic would — as Snider once spoke of his new expansion hockey team — convinced of its long-term viability and of his company's chance to be a pervasive part of that.

"Brian has given me all the runway I need," he says.

The son of Comcast's late founder Ralph Roberts, 59-year-old Brian Roberts is the chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp. — and a big Dave Scott fan since hiring him in 1993. But, after a career of moving his family from his native Cleveland to Atlanta, to Detroit, to Florida and finally Philadelphia, of being a major player in Comcast's ever-expanding reach into cable, entertainment and digital enterprises, Scott wasn't looking for any more runway. In October 2013, he was looking to get out. He had made lots of money, had achieved more than he could ever have imagined when he started.

They held a big retirement party for him that month, and he and his wife, Marcia, headed to their home on Florida's Gulf Coast. There, he hired a broker and mulled all types of investment opportunities brought to him. Restaurants. Real estate. A golf-cart company. A marina.

"You've kind of made it," he said. "You've done your thing. I had a good career helping to build this company and was kind of thinking about what's next. I wanted to do something else.''

Three months into Scott's new life, his old boss called him with something else. Something completely different from what he had cut his teeth on. Something, he concedes, was a bit scary: Scott would oversee Comcast Spectacor's expanding business of owning and managing venues and teams, working to reinvent the arena fan experience that had, to millennials at least, run out of runway, too. He would work alongside Snider, the late Flyers owner, filling the cracks left by the sudden departure of Flyers team president and Snider's right-hand man, Peter Luukko, while creating new revenue opportunities.

He would also be groomed to run the Flyers someday, maybe sooner rather than later, as Snider's prolonged battle with cancer became more desperate, his imminent death becoming more probability than possibility.

"If you would have told me 20 years ago that I would be chairman of this sports and live entertainment company — I couldn't even have imagined it," Scott said. "I loved sports. But I was a cable guy."

Scott had never run a franchise. At any level, any sport. Cleveland, where he grew up and attended college, had an AHL team, but the Browns and Indians, in that order, satisfied his sports passion, if it could even be called that. From a blue-collar background, he worked through high school and while commuting to Cleveland State University, eventually becoming a CPA.

"I've never used it," he said, laughing, and for good reason. Hired by a local newspaper company that had expanded into real estate and something called "cable television," Scott gravitated toward the latter. When a family feud became a litigation nightmare, a judge ordered the company's assets to be sold off — without the family's involvement.

Scott brokered the sale of their cable holdings, which involved Goldman Sachs.

He was 34.

"He is just a competitive winner," Brian Roberts said recently, explaining his reasoning for luring Scott out of retirement. "And he had two significant prominent roles before. One was when he was a division president, which is the highest operating job in the company. Today, we have three of those for the entire nation. And they run the business.

"You can have tens of thousands of employees, and you can have financial responsibility that dwarfs many, many public companies. It's just inside of a bigger company. So that is one of the most coveted positions we offer. And he was the very best at that position in motivating people, establishing a vision, holding people accountable and beating the competition. He was that, and a CFO in an era in which the cable business was being de-transformed and being disrupted by Verizon Fios and AT&T U Verse and DirecTV and Dish Network. That was frankly a sea-change moment for our company. How were we going to compete? How were we going to change our 40-year culture to respond? And we had to be quick, nimble, try things, throw things away, try different things. Accept some loss and disappointment that we weren't accustomed to. Because we never had that robust change before."

Said Scott: "I had my competitive fire through business. I want to win more than anybody. Being in this job it's not enough to love sports. You have to be passionate about business, too. I mean, I'm not running the team. I'm not running the front office. But I like seeing the stars align."

Hockey types

With the Flyers, aligning the stars has meant placing trust in people he barely knew, hockey types and arena executives who saw in his career of accomplishment not someone who would transition easily to their world, but someone who would try to insert his world into theirs.

He was eyed warily at first by the management team Snider had assembled to rescue his franchise from the salary-cap hell into which it had descended.

"You never know, when you first start a working relationship with somebody, their thought process," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said earlier this summer. "So for me it was like, OK, let's sit down and think about where we were, where we are, and where we believe we're going."

Hired by Snider and quickly promoted to radically revamp both the Flyers' roster and operating philosophy, Hextall did not take a smooth road as the team's general manager. Since replacing Paul Holmgren in that role in the spring of 2014, Hextall has traded away a 25-goal all-star, replaced a coach who once played for the team with a longtime college coach who had coached his son, and added some mostly unimpressive veterans, all the while adding draft picks to the already impressive reserve the team has built through several middling seasons.

He positioned it on a long-term plan to achieve long-term success, and last year, the Flyers returned to the playoffs with a roster that had, in a relatively short amount of time, transitioned from among the NHL's oldest to one of its younger ones. That alone, though, has not insulated Hextall from questions about his plan or path — including, famously, from Scott last November, amid a 10-game winless streak.

Three years before, Snider himself had made waves when he said after a late-season team photo session — his last one, as it turned out — that "being patient with kids, draft picks — they're not our answer right now. … I mean, for us to give up now and say we're not a playoff team and we've got to be patient and all that kind of thing, sends the wrong message, I think. To our guys who are here, to the fans, to everybody."

But whereas Snider's challenge was public and produced a firestorm of attention, Scott's questioning of his GM did not become public until he mentioned it while celebrating the $15 million of improvements made to Skate Zone's training facilities last spring. By then, the Flyers had righted themselves, their young stars such as Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick shaking off slow starts to aid a second-half surge into the playoffs. By then, Hextall's vision and Scott's vision seemed to be, well, aligned.

"I think hockey as a sport is more cautious," Scott said. "And I think it takes a while to build those relationships. You have to make it happen. From where I was sitting, my expectations were that I wanted to hear about everything. I may not know everything, but I can be used as a sounding board. I can be another resource for you guys. I don't want to read stuff in the paper. I want to know what's going on. So I set that tone pretty early with Ron and Paul. It's my job to challenge him. But I wasn't there to disrupt anything. If I learned anything from Ed, it was, if you're going to act like the GM, you don't need a general manager."

You do need an owner, though, Roberts said, or at least someone who speaks for ownership.

"We don't want to run it by committee," Brian Roberts said. "And that's why one person for our company should have the authority — financially, legally and in every other way — to step in and make the tough calls. Not have to check with somebody. And that buck has to stop with somebody, and it stops with Dave.

"Nobody questions Ron's knowledge or passion or enthusiasm. It's important that he, the team, and the fans know that Comcast absolutely is committed to the Flyers' well-being. And that's why, frankly, Ed structured this the way he did, with me and with my dad."

Which made this past offseason particularly intriguing. For the first time since he took the reins, Hextall had enough room under the salary cap to pursue a coveted free agent. For the first time since taking over for Snider as the team chairman, Scott attended the NHL draft with Hextall and Holmgren.

They tried to put together an offer that would lure the most coveted free agent on the market, John Tavares, to the Flyers, Scott said. Instead, they acquired 36-goal scorer James van Riemsdyk, Hextall delaying Scott's trip out of town to make his pitch.

"He was feeling the pressure because I had said I want something to happen," Scott said. "We've got an opportunity here."

It's not exactly Snider pounding on his desk, as he famously did. But Scott's expectation level for this season has heightened, as has his public profile. The new face at the top of the Flyers' food chain might be hard-pressed to scare you with a scowl as his predecessor could. But Dave Scott didn't become one of Brian Roberts' most valued generals by settling for inertia, or mediocrity.

"I'm a people person," Dave Scott said. "But I'm also pretty candid. I've learned a lot over the course of my life. And you really have to tell people what you expect. If you see something you don't like, you really owe it to them to tell them. I'm not Ed.  But I want to win more than anybody."