Arena Honcho Turns To Movies

Among the new corporate faces on the Croisette this year will be Spectacor and Ed Snider – a corporation and a face that will likely provoke the response, “Ed who? Spectawhat?”

Like many newcomers to Cannes, Snider and company have a walletful of business cards and a few film projects under their arms. Unlike many of their fellows, though, Spectacor and Snider have deep pockets and a track record of almost unparalleled success, but in an industry that Hollywood doesn’t understand – arena and stadium management.

Since taking over management of Philadelphia’s Spectrum in 1967, Snider has built Spectacor and its affiliations into a $150 million-a-year business. Along the way were successes in cable tv programming (Prism Pay-TV, Z Channel) and radio stations (Philadelphia’s WIOQ).

A substantial chunk of Spectacor money – what one exec estimates at tens of millions of dollars – has been carved off for the fledgling Spectacor Films.

“We are determined to own rights and create a library that we can exploit in the long term,” says Michael Jaffe, Spectacor Films general partner and CEO, the man who, along with Spectacor Films prexy Joseph Cohen, is Snider’s Hollywood headman.

Snider created Spectacor Films in 1988 and rolled out a selection of moderately successful tv movies and miniseries, among them “The Hijacking Of The Achille Lauro” and last year’s “On Thin Ice: The Tai Babilonia Story.”

Hot at this year’s American Film Market was the company’s “Wedlock,” a sci-fier toplining Rutger Hauer and Mimi Rogers that sold to 46 territories. Domestically the project will roll out on HBO cable and Media Home Entertainment video. Spectacor’s exposure was $3 million – half the project’s budget – all of which was recouped.

Although the company has 24 hours of tv movie programming in development, Spectacor is “dedicated this year to making a strong move into the independent feature market,” Jaffe says. Upcoming films, some of which will be unveiled or put up for sale at the Cannes festival, include “The Algonquin Goodbye,” a $7 million thriller to be helmed and toplined by Rutger Hauer, and the $6 million “Ride The Lightning,” about a burned-out newspaperman and the psycho killer he’s investigating.

“We are not willing to take fees and walk away from a film,” Snider says. “We are not willing to get involved – unless there is a huge amount of money on the deal – unless we end up in control of meaningful rights into perpetuity. We’ve seen that the companies that survive are the companies with libraries.

“So far, we haven’t lost on one project yet,” Snider says.”‘Wedlock’ was our biggest exposure yet. We’re going to try to do a lot more of that kind of thing.”

“Snider is a guy who knows how to work the edges,” one admirer says. “He knows how to work a business without endangering his investment.”

The son of a grocer, Snider, now in his 50s, is fascinated by the writings and philosophy of Ayn Rand. Her books line a shelf of his Los Angeles office and her laissez-faire determinism informs his entire business outlook, according to one former associate.

“He absolutely believes in the morality of pure, free capitalism,” says Aspen businessman Dick Butera, who once co-owned Philly radio station WIOQ with Snider. “That is his religion. Every decision he has ever made, from the beginning, has been based on that.”

The beginning was modest enough. In 1967 Snider, then owner of the fledgling Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, took control of the city-run Spectrum stadium after a storm blew the roof off it. He got the city to give him a 50-year lease for $100,000 a year and to throw in a few ancillaries like two-thirds of all parking revenues.

Today the Spectrum is the country’s busiest shed, home to over 300 events a year, and is one of 19 facilities that Spectacor manages. Others include the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Sports Arena, the New Orleans Super-dome and Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium.

From it were spawned a handful of profitable related businesses like Spectaguard arena security, Spectacor Electronic Protection Systems and Spectathlete retails sports equipment. Spectacor Broadcasting runs Philly’s WIP 610 All Sports Radio; a cooperative venture with Ticketmaster sells tickets to Spectrum events.

“Ed Snider is a brilliant, brilliant businessman, as good as anyone in the country,” says a former associate. “He’s a small-town guy who just happens to be worth $100 million. He will approach the industry scientifically, learn how to make money off it, and then make it. He’s not interested in having a bunch of movie stars hang out at his pool.”

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