Sitting in his corner office at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Peter Luukko is at home in the epicenter of Philly good times, with a view of the world.
Luukko is president/COO of sports and entertainment giant Comcast-Spectacor and chairman of its key subsidiary, Global Spectrum, the fastest-growing business in the field of public assembly management.
From his office within the venue, home of the NHL's Flyers and the NBA's 76ers, Luukko also is within cheering distances of such Philly institutions as Lincoln Financial Field (home of the NFL's Eagles), Citizens Bank Park (home of the MLB's Phillies) and Xfinity Live! Philadelphia, where fans party before, during and after events - or if there's no event at all.
Xfinity Live!, a partnership between Comcast-Spectacor and the Cordish Cos., is the dining and entertainment district situated near these landmark venues that represents the state of the art for contemporary live entertainment.
For Luukko, who grew up as a hockey kid in Worcester, Mass., dreaming of a job in sports, coming to work every day in the sphere of all this has to feel good.
Luukko, who's marking the third decade of his career at a time of rapid growth for Comcast-Spectacor, entered the sports world through the facilities door, and never left. He went to the University of Massachusetts to learn the business, turned an internship at the New Haven (Conn.) Coliseum into a real job in 1981, then made the move to Philadelphia, by way of Providence, R.I., in 1985.
The businesses of sports and venue management came together in Philadelphia under Ed Snider, who founded the Flyers and owned the Philadelphia Spectrum and who, today, is chairman of Comcast-Spectacor.
In 1980, Snider created Spectacor Management Inc. (SMI) to provide facility management services to venues nationwide. A 1988 merger with Hyatt and FMG led to the creation of Spectacor Management Group. Aramark took an ownership stake in SMG in 1991. In 1996, Snider joined with cable giant Comcast to create Comcast-Spectacor.
While Snider sold his interests in SMG in 1997, he returned to the venue management game in 2000 when Comcast-Spectacor joined forces with Florida's Global Facility Services and Global Spectrum was born.
Luukko has been part of this corporate journey since 1985, helping guide the remarkable growth of Comcast-Spectacor, a multifaceted firm that touches every portion of the fan experience, from venue management (Global Spectrum), concessions (Ovations Food Services), ticketing (Paciolan, New Era) and marketing and sponsorships (Front Row Marketing).
"In its upcoming fiscal year, Comcast-Spectacor entitites are projected to account for more than $4 billion in combined revenue," according to a company prospectus.
Luukko spoke about his journey and the evolution of sports and entertainment along the way.
How did you end up in Philadelphia?
I was hired here in 1985 by Tony Tavares, who had just been named president of SMI. He was running the Centrum in Worcester for a long time, and I was in Providence. Tony brought me into this organization. I was a regional manager in '85, overseeing marketing efforts and then facilities.
I first met you in 1988 when you came to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Sports Arena.
I was Western regional VP of coliseums and sports arenas. We won a bid for the coliseum at SMI, and FMG had Long Beach [Calif.], Salt Lake City and the Moscone Center in San Francisco. I went out west when the merger [with FMG] happened, mainly because, to make the deal equal, we had to hit certain numbers at the L.A. Coliseum, so Tony sent me out to make them.
Thanks for the parking at the Who, by the way.
[laughs] We had so many great shows at the Coliseum. One year we had eight outdoor shows. I don't know if that will ever happen again. Four were the Rolling Stones, plus Amnesty International, the Who and Budweiser Superfest.
I bet you learned a lot in L.A. then.
For me it was probably the best thing that had ever happened in my career, to deal with running two major facilities and the [NFL's] Raiders and the [NBA's] Clippers. But to be able to get to know all those agents and managers socially - you get to know the person, and then if you're working on something, you can say, "Just come down and we'll have lunch," which every other place in the world doesn't get to do. That was a really fascinating time in L.A.. I was there '87 through '93 and those relationships carry over to today. Every now and then we have an issue somewhere and [Creative Artists Agency managing partner] Rob Light, for example, has his people dealing with it and we've got ours, and Rob will call me up out of the blue: "Let's work on this."
Light and CAA, along with the other agencies, now seem to turn to the building more than ever for help on the marketing side.
Absolutely. To Tony Tavares' credit, we were the first arena or stadium people to be dealing directly with the agents and managers. We supported the promoters, and we told them that. But they didn't always believe us and they'd get pissed off, and we didn't really care. And Rob, from the agency side, was very in tune with what was going on with the buildings. As were Dennis Arfa, Howard Rose, Irving [Azoff], [manager] Howard Kaufman. I'd say those are the five guys from the management/agency side that really got it. They saw you could work with the buildings, that arenas could help market events and also could be very heavily involved in the merchandising side.
Why did you come back to Philadelphia?
I came back here in '93 as president of the Spectrum and I had business responsibilities for the Flyers. The Spectrum was part of SMG in the merger, but still wholly owned by Ed and paid SMG a management fee. In '93 I came back as president of the Spectrum to work directly for Ed, so I kind of left SMG.
Was that a tough decision?
No, not at all, because I had come to the dance with Ed Snider. Ed had wanted me to come back here as they looked at building the new building [now Wells Fargo Center]. So we built the building in '96, and we were approached by [Comcast chairman/CEO] Brian and [Comcast co-founder] Ralph Roberts, who had an opportunity to buy the Philadelphia 76ers, and they wanted to know if we were interested in combining the Sixers and Spectacor and forming a joint venture. We did a deal with them to form Comcast-Spectacor, which [operated] the Wells Fargo Center and the Spectrum. Spectacor was the Spectrum and the Flyers and our one-third of SMG.
How did that lead to Global Spectrum?
In '97, we sold our interest in SMG and had a two-year non-compete outside of Philly. In 2000, Mich Sauers, who had left SMG and started his own company, Globe Facility Services . . . we bought that, and started up again with Global Spectrum. Then we started competing. We're at 113 facilities now.
What were the initial targets for facility management?
Anything that came out to bid. Any [venue] contracts that were up for bid, we were bidding.
What was the first building outside of Philly that made you feel like you were on your way?
[The John Labatt Center in] London, Ontario, in 2001 was a game-changer for us. The building has been an incredible success. Our next game-changer was getting the [University of Phoenix Stadium]. That was our first major stadium. Then the Greater Miami Beach Convention Center was our first major convention center.
In regard to parent Comcast-Spectacor, how long is the deal with Comcast?
Forever - they own 80% of the company. And Ralph and Brian Roberts are two of the greatest people you'll ever meet. What's great about them as a partner is, they're so big, financially our business doesn't mean that much to them, but they've taken a great interest in it. They like what we do, and they've supported us in the form of capital to give us the opportunity to grow.
Are buildings more than ever willing to risk and partner on shows?
Most buildings are risk-averse, which is probably our biggest opportunity at Global Spectrum: We do take risk. Most government [owners of public facilities] won't let the building manager take risk. We co-promote and we incentivize promoters. Here's what has changed since 1981: You don't sit across from the promoter, you sit next to them.
You've managed to be Switzerland in many controversial developments through the years. You understand that today's competitor might be tomorrow's partner.
That's one thing I've seen in this industry. From being a hockey player, I learned you don't take anything personal. All the chirping on the ice, the coach giving you a hard time - that's all part of the game. The one thing I would tell a young person, and I didn't understand until I was in it, is you should really try and avoid burning bridges. If you've got to get in a fight - and we'll fight if we have to - fight over the issue, not your ego. Because if you fight over the issue, maybe there'll be a rough time between you and someone, but at the end of the day you'll regroup with that person.
What's the next big development for the live entertainment business?
You'll see more development around arenas controlled by the arena owners. One, it provides another form of entertainment for your fans, and secondly it's another great revenue source, outside the arena. I don't think there's a new mousetrap in arenas right now. In the future there will be. Now the new mousetrap is developing [entertainment destinations like Xfinity Live!] around the arena. Where in the past you saw people negotiate arena rights, now you're seeing people do like we did and negotiate development rights.••••
For an extended version of this interview, go to billboard.biz.