Peter Luukko instructs kids in the art of hockey while with the Philadelphia Flyers.
On March 1, Peter and Casey Luukko will relocate from West Chester, Pa., to a condo on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where they will live the downtown, walk-to-restaurants lifestyle they’ve been dreaming about since the kids left the nest. And he will resume full-time, high-intensity work life as the new executive chairman of Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, with responsibility for the business of Florida Panthers hockey, the operation of BB&T Center arena and the work of fielding a winning hockey team. Luukko told Venues Today the opportunity ‘came out of nowhere.’ His new position is immediately official and his phone has been ringing off the hook. Luukko is well-connected in the sports and venue world, having served as president and COO of Comcast-Spectacor for more than 25 years, overseeing the Philadelphia Flyers, Global Spectrum, Ovations Food Services, Front Row Marketing and New Era Tickets. Luukko, 55, will not replace anyone, working with current Chief Executive Officer and President Rory A. Babich and Executive Vice President and General Manager Dale Tallon. Here are his initial thoughts on this new chapter in his career.
What do you mean when you say this opportunity came out of the blue?
It is unbelievable. I have to tell you this story. Gary Bettman (National Hockey League Commissioner) called me a couple of weeks ago and said, 'I’d like you to meet Vinnie Viola. He’s owned the [Florida Panthers] for a year and I’d like you two guys to get together. You are very similar and he needs help.’ And I said, ‘You know, Gary, I have all this other stuff going on. I don’t know if I want to do that right now.’ And he said, ‘Do I have to ask you to do me a favor or do I have to order you to go meet with him?’ and we started laughing. I have so much respect for Gary, so I went to meet with this guy and we just hit it off. It was unbelievable.
This sounds familiar, as in Gary Bettman asking you to help the Phoenix Coyotes out when you were with Comcast-Spectacor?
Yes, it was. Gary is a big supporter. So I hit it off with Vinnie and he was very straightforward and said, ‘Hey I’m a new owner and there are a lot of things I could have done better. And I just need somebody with your expertise.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ He’s an entrepreneur from Brooklyn, a blue collar kind of guy who’s done very well for himself, a West Point guy. He’s just a good guy.
Why else did this appeal to you at this point in your career?
The situation — the team, arena, and they own the training center. From a hockey standpoint, they haven’t had much success for a number of years, but you have the makings of a very good young team, which is very attractive.
You are not replacing anybody? He just has a thin staff?
That’s what’s great. This isn’t something you have to break down and build up. It’s really a situation where you just have to build it up, reinforce and support the staff that’s there.
What did he particularly say he wanted your help with?
Hockey on the business side, including the arena. That’s a big part of it. All pieces need to go to the next level. The team, the business of the team and the building. It’s a beautiful building. I’ve been in it with the Flyers. It’s a gorgeous building.
You met with Vinnie without going to the building?
He lives in New York, so I went into New York City.
Where will you be located?
Ft. Lauderdale, in a condo on the beach. We will keep our shore house in Avalon (N.J.) and sell our Philadelphia house in West Chester. The kids are 23, 20 and 19 and they are never there. In the summer they go right to the shore. This works out great.
What are the specific moves at Sunrise Sports & Entertainment that you have in mind already?
It’s all facets. Getting the arena more active and then building up a good sales staff to sell tickets, suites and sponsorships. We need a salesforce and to reinforce what they have there and make additions. On the hockey side, we have to build a team that can win.
Have you already gotten calls from people who say hire me?
Oh yeah. Lots of ‘Hey, I’d love to go to Florida.’
What’s the reaction at Comcast-Spectacor headquarters?
Ed (Snider, chairman) is fine with this. The only noncompete I have is facility management, food service and ticketing. If I went to a team that had an arena, that was okay. (Luukko’s noncompete with Comcast-Spectacor reportedly runs through the end of 2015.).
Is Vinnie thinking in terms of becoming another Comcast-Spectacor?
Not exactly that but, down the road, he would like to get into other sports-related businesses. But, frankly, the first thing we need to do is get this running on all cylinders.
Any immediate ideas for improvement of the arena in Sunrise?
I think the building is beautiful. It’s just a matter of putting in more content, more events. I haven’t seen all the numbers yet. With my arena background I’m excited about that, but I was really brought in to get the game cooking. Once I get down there, there will be upside in the building. I’m pretty excited about that.
What about your other commitments since you left Comcast-Spectacor?
I’m on the board of Philly Sports Holdings and Danny Wimmer Presents and I will continue to do that. I was working day to day with Pointstreak Sports Technologies and I will just move over. I will still be an active board member. That’s not a conflict. It’s a board seat. My day-to-day focus will be on the Panthers and the arena. A lot of what I was doing for Pointstreak was helping them get new accounts, which I still can do calling people I know and meeting to set our strategy with bankers and investors. I wasn’t operating the company day to day; I was really helping the company with its structure going forward. Scott Secord is president and CEO and he will continue to operate day to day. He was happy for me. He said, in the back of his mind, he thought someone would call at some point. There will be no void at all.
Are you becoming the Tony Tavares of the National Hockey League? (Tavares left Spectacor Management Company to run several teams in baseball and hockey and consult with even more.)
That’s funny you said that, someone else said that. That is something I am proud to be called. Tony was so good to me in my career; he’s the guy who hired me at Comcast (Spectacor then). We’re two blue collar, New England boys made good. Me and Antonio.
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