Giving on the Main Line

Main Liners find unique ways to contribute.

(page 3 of 5)

Ed Snider grew up around Washington, D.C., where his father, Sol, lived the life of a Russian immigrant made good. A grocer, he pushed Ed into college, though his son, already a young entrepreneur, started out by working full time in the stores—first in the one below their apartment, then eventually in Sol’s three supermarkets. Ed graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Maryland. His in-state tuition was $50 a semester at the time.

Snider first arrived in Philadelphia as a vice president and chief operating officer for the Eagles in 1964. During a three-year stay, he saw his first hockey game at New York City’s original Madison Square Garden. “It blew me away,” Snider says. “I thought it was just the most spectacular sport. I still do.”

When he brought a hockey team to Philadelphia, no one thought the sport would come this far south, down from Canada and the New England states. “It was a crazy time,” Snider recalls. “I was scared to death and worried [that it wouldn’t work], but I was young enough to do it.”

Snider was the driving force behind construction of the Spectrum and later the $210 million Wachovia Center. In 1974, he created Spectacor as a management company to oversee the Flyers and the Spectrum. For the next 20 years, it was a national force in sports and entertainment. Then, in 1996, he merged Spectacor with the Comcast Corporation to form Comcast-Spectacor, later partnering with the Philadelphia Phillies to form Comcast SportsNet.

Most recently, Comcast-Spectacor has developed Global Spectrum (an international facilities management company), Ovations Food Services (a national concessions company), New Era Tickets (a provider of innovative technological solutions for box office, event management and customer communications), and the Flyers Skate Zone, a series of regional rinks.

This fall, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced the likely closing of libraries and recreational centers, including inner-city rinks. Snider couldn’t—and wouldn’t—allow that to happen. In an inspirational save, an 11th-hour public/private deal was struck for ESYHF to operate and preserve what would turn out to be all five facilities.

Now, in addition to Scanlon Ice Rink and Laura Sims Skate House in West Philadelphia, ESYHF is responsible for Simons Ice Rink in North Philly, Rizzo Rink in South Philly and Tarken Ice Rink in Oxford Circle. The foundation provides equipment and coaching, plus life skills and support services like homework and tutoring help. A signed contract states that hockey is a privilege, just like school. Report cards are submitted each time they’re issued. “Since we’re committing to them, we want a commitment from them,” Tharp says.

Programming runs seven days a week at the five city rinks and six additional area locations. This past summer, ESYHF hosted 12 weeklong camps at Flyers Skate Zones, providing free transportation from the neighborhood rinks. The results have been remarkable.

“Since we started, 96 percent have matriculated from one grade to the next—this in neighborhoods and schools where barely 50 percent do,” Tharp says. “Attendance has improved because the kids see hockey as a reward. We’re helping kids get on track for good.”

ESYHF’s $1.2 million annual budget comes from fundraising efforts, donations and gifts from other foundations. Snider matches every incoming dollar with $2 of his own, so when the initial capital campaign realized $2 million, Snider added $4 million.

Snider’s interest in kids is a constant. He’s been instrumental at the Riverbend Environmental Education Center in Gladwyne and the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education Center in Philadelphia, among others. Still, he firmly believes that ESYHF is the best thing he’s done for children. “If you can save one life, you have done something wonderful,” Snider says. “We have 2,500 kids involved.”

Tharp says it’s rare for a businessman with Snider’s acumen to have the vision to be successful in the social sector. “In business, money is an input and an output, and the amount of success is based on the bottom line,” he says. “In the social sector, money is important, but the output is so intangible. Ed’s vision extends beyond any bottom line.”

No, it’s far more personal than that. Mornings spent at neighborhood rinks remind Snider of his own rough childhood and the fistfights he once engaged in.

“But in these neighborhoods, if you get in a dispute, they use a gun and kill you. What could be more frightening than that?” poses Snider. “I feel for these kids. They’re doing something they’ve never done, and something they never thought they could do. We’re keeping them off the streets; we’re changing attitudes. There couldn’t be anything better—except winning the Stanley Cup.”

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