Peter Luukko has spent most of his career managing sports facilities, almost all of which include ice surfaces. So his connection to the ice is via the boardroom, not the dressing room. But his love of the game played on that ice has burned strong since he first laced on skates as a boy in Worcester, Massachusetts.
He’s come miles from his blue-collar beginnings, and now operates in the business stratosphere as a partner and co-chair of the Oak View Group’s Arena Alliance, a global arena and stadium management and consulting company. Luukko is one of the movers and shakers in the sublime world of mega-million dollar sports infrastructure.
Talk to the man for five minutes though, and you discover he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. His extraordinary combination of success and humility, clout and the common touch, has earned Luukko the honorary Certified Hockey Professional (CHP) designation for 2017. Created by the Business of Hockey Institute (BHI), and its academic partner Athabasca University (AU), the CHP designation is a professional standard for hockey management, in service of the BHI’s mission: “to improve the economic viability of professional and amateur hockey through education, research, consulting, and advocacy.”
BHI confers the CHP designation on graduates of AU’s hockey-specific, MBA program. Luukko will be presented with his honorary CHP at the Prime Time Sports Management Conference in Toronto on November 12, before a crowd including the likes of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fassel.
He’s delighted to receive this honour, especially given the professional standard it represents, and “to see what the [Business of Hockey Institute] is trying to achieve, where management students can be exposed to professionals in the industry.” Ritch Winter, BHI co-founder and leading NHL player agent, explains BHI’s choice for this year’s honoree: “Peter is one of hockey’s most accomplished executives over the past few decades. He was a key player in Comcast Spectacor’s growth into a global competitor. Peter’s character, integrity and sensitivity to others set him apart as one of hockey’s business icons.”
Peter Luukko’s journey from impassioned amateur player to hockey business icon began with a degree in sports management from the University of Massachusetts. He played club hockey during his college years and knew he wasn’t going to make it to the professional ranks, so he saw his education as a path to a career in sports. While at UMass he got a management internship at the New Haven (Conn.) Coliseum, home to the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL. This led to his first, post-graduation job at the arena in Providence, R.I., where he got to know Lou Lamoriello, the hockey coach and athletic director at Providence College.
As a Boston area kid, Luukko confesses that his “dream job was to work for the Bruins.” But with the exception of a five-year sojourn to the west coast, where he helped manage the L.A. Coliseum and Sports Arena (respective homes of the NFL Raiders and the NBA Clippers), he spent almost three decades in Philadelphia. He was hired by – and eventually partnered with – Flyers’ owner and NHL legend, the late Ed Snider. Together, these men built Comcast Spectacor, the parent company of the Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center. Under Snider’s mentorship, Luukko rose to become the Flyers’ longest serving president, and ultimately, chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor.
As he reflects on lessons learned from this titan of the hockey business, Luukko cites values such as “honesty, integrity, and playing for the long term.” He says Snider wanted “everybody to win” in his business dealings, especially his fellow NHL owners, whom he viewed not only as competitors, but also as partners. As for personal characteristics, the one that impressed Luukko most about his mentor was that although he was a “strong man,” Snider was “one of the best listeners I ever met” and had the smarts to “hire good people and let them do their jobs.”
Luukko practiced these values throughout and after his Philadelphia tenure, when in 2013 he sold his interests and left the Flyers to serve on various boards and pursue personal investments. He also spent more time at “ice level,” watching his two sons play hockey in the NCAA and minor professional ranks. He was lured back into the NHL by Florida Panthers’ owner Vincent Viola, and headed south to Fort Lauderdale in 2015 as the Panthers’ executive chairman, charged with building a new brand for a franchise struggling in a non-traditional hockey market.
After two years in Florida, he moved on to become a partner with the Tim Leiweke-led Oak View Group, taking on the role of co-chair of its Arena Alliance division. The Arena Alliance manages 27 of the largest arenas in North America, handling booking, ticketing, security, marketing, and much more for their clients. Luukko is energized by his firm’s venture into the “bricks and mortar” work of sports infrastructure, and is focused on two high profile projects: the $600 million renovation of Seattle’s KeyArena into a modern, NBA- and NHL-ready building; and partnering with the New York Islanders on a proposal to build a vast, hockey-centric sports and entertainment facility at Belmont Park on Long Island.
These massive financial undertakings on opposite coasts call for superlative negotiating skills and a big boardroom presence. And although Peter Luukko has found great success in this rarified atmosphere, he’s still a pleasant, soft-spoken man who relates like a regular Joe from Worcester, Mass. As Herb Pinder, board chair of the Business of Hockey Institute, says about him, “Peter’s record and humility clearly demonstrate what it means to be a CHP. He is precisely the kind of person that all CHP recipients should strive to emulate in their careers.”
“I’m a sports entrepreneur,” says Luukko, “but I always want to be around hockey.” More apt and inspiring words could scarcely be spoken by BHI’s 2017 honorary Certified Hockey Professional.